Career Advice to Hubert, an IT Graduate

By Eoin on 27 April 2017.

Hubert is finishing up his college course at Limerick Institute of Technology. It’s a course in software development, focusing on internet technologies. He’s doing a six-month internship as a web developer.

But then what? How does he get into a career in IT? He hasn’t been home to Poland in seven years due to money being tight as a student. It’s obvious he wants to fit into an interesting career in software (and of course make his career work for him, like being able to get into owning a house). He doesn’t give up. He’s willing to learn.

So I asked some friends, colleagues and former colleagues for advice for Hubert. Below is their kind advice to him (highlighting is mostly mine), and it might help you. The advice is ordered roughly in shortest to longest to let the reader get stuck into the post and go from there.

Contents of this article:

Limerick recruiter’s advice

Hi Hubert, I recommend:

You have to be aware when you are a graduate, that you are competing against a very wide range of people who are all graduating with somewhat similar experience at the same time all over the country. You’ve got to stand out somehow to be noticed. That might be through a great CV that has very good academic results combined with a relevant internship in an IT company, or things like relevant summer jobs, volunteering at Coder DoJo, showing you have a real passion for technology with side projects of your own that you are doing etc.

More on this article: Graduate IT Programmes in Ireland (on Linkedin.com).

Aodh’s Advice

Aodh is a senior software engineer.

Hey Hubert,

Eoin asked me to write a few notes of advice to help you in your foray into the job market. The biggest thing to figure out that’ll help you with the scary job market is what you enjoy doing. It’s a simplistic approach but it works! Have a think over your college work, your projects from your spare time and your internship and jot down things that you found interesting or fun to work on. That’ll help you aim towards what area of software development you would be a good fit for. The reason for this is, in an interview you can prepare to cover questions about what the company does or their tech stack but its a major plus if you can talk passionately about some area you enjoy working on yourself, even if it doesn’t apply directly to their business (yet).

Speaking of side projects, it also looks really well if you can show examples of some work you’ve done to build on what you’re learning in your course e.g. some public github repos / contributions, any little widgets or tests you’ve been hacking on. At my current employer we don’t prioritise academic scores when searching for new entrants. What we really want are motivated people, eager to learn, who can show a background of exploration and inquisitiveness. The software industry evolves rapidly so keeping up on the latest trends and techniques is very valuable and being able to talk and show actual projects you’ve worked on and what you learned from them is invaluable.

It’s also great if you research the company you are applying to (particularly the job spec they have advertised) and see how you can tailor your application and experience to fit what they’re looking for. You may not have the exact requirements on their spec but if you have covered very similar topics in your course or internship, then you could show how you can quickly get up to speed with their approach. What you really want to show is that you can pick things up rapidly and are eager to learn new technologies and methodologies.

That’s about the best advice I can give along with one more thing which is to perserve. In my experience, day-to-day software teams are very busy with deadlines and commitments. Sometimes making a call on hiring junior staff can be put off in lieu of other pressing commitments so don’t worry if you don’t hear back quickly from an application or interview. Just keep actively papering and applying.

Best of luck!

Jacek’s Advice

Jacek is a software development team lead.

As far as the are you want to be in this should really be your decision. From my experience it’s best if you are doing what you like or are interested in, you will never be as good in doing what you don’t like. I think these days smaller companies prefer “full-stack” people, that is people who can do front-end, back-end and db. This may be slightly different in bigger companies where you may be more compartmentalised, which has it’s good and bad points… I think a good idea would be to start a small project on your own, this would allow you to get to know many technologies and would be an asset during a job interview.

I am not sure if I would be going to a “big” company in my first job, I would be looking for flexibility so I can try different things (front-end, back-end). But I may be biased as I am not a fun of big companies. Also I think you should try different jobs early in your career. Don’t think of your fist job as a thing you are going to do for the rest of you life, think of it as a vehicle to get your experience and don’t be afraid to change. You can always come back if you part on good terms if that job turns out to be your ideal one.

But how to get your first one… It is hard to get a job straight out of collage as you have very little experience. I think what would be important to me is to show the initiative. You need to show your potential employer that you are interested in what they are doing or you are interested in something similar. Again having a little project of your own that you are treating as a learning opportunity would be a good sign for me. In the meantime you could invest in learning something on your own, you could say you are trying to “learn this in order to do this little project…”, but make sure you do actually try to learn, don’t try to bluff your way as experienced people will realise that fairly quickly.

I think that’s roughly it. Good luck!

David’s Advice

David is a Software Engineer in Quality.

Getting your first job isn’t easy especially if you are hung up on getting a “good” first job. A smaller, local business might be the perfect place for you to get your hands dirty. The working conditions might not be great, the benefits might be non-existent and the salary might not be competitive but right now that’s not what your main focus should be - get your feet on the career ladder and start climbing. I’d advise getting yourself a job in a local business, proactively ask yourself; is this work satisfying, is this business sector of interest to me. A software development job is often only as interesting as the business sector it is in. With that in mind, you might not like the business sector you are working in but you might enjoy the type of development you are doing so be mindful of that distinction.

In addition to this, be sure to identify the tools and technologies the field of software you are interested in use most. Once you know this I recommend you create a blog and you write small, basic articles about the things you’ve learned relevant to the tools and technologies you identified. At the beginning of my career my blog got me interviews, which was the hardest thing to do regarding getting a job when I had no professional experience relevant to the companies I was applying to. A blog helped me communicate my commitment to learning and was often the core topic to interviews I sat.

Lastly, consider reaching out to recruitment agencies for help with your C.V. I’ve found senior recruiters who know the business sector intimately often give great advice on tailoring your C.V. regarding content and style. They may also be able to help you identify a business sector or type of development that might suit your personal tastes. With my first point in mind, be sure to reach out to local recruitment agencies first as they will know the local businesses and job availability for your skill set.

All the best in finding your first job, David

Dave’s Advice

Dave works in Data Analysis.

Hi Hubert,

Congratulations on your choice course and and work placement.

Finish the course! I have sat at both sides of the selection process. A combination of little or no experience and no qualification doesn’t even make it past round 1.

Job hunting ;

There is no magic never fail formula.. This is just what has worked for me

Dont be disheartened. Persistence pays off. It took me 6 months to find my current role and had many ignored applications. I once chased a job in a company for 18 months before getting it.

React to job ads quickly. Employers want to fill the position as quick as possible and get on with running their business.

CV:

Sell yourself, mention your achievements, especially anything you think was a cool solution to a problem . Embellish, you are selling yourself after all but do not lie and do not over exaggerate.

Don’t apply with a generic CV . This has never worked for me . For each position you apply for tailor your CV for the position. Read the job spec carefully. Note the key technologies and terminology in the job spec. Where appropriate in your CV ensure you mention the key technologies and or terminology contained in the job spec. For example, if the job spec mentions PHP ensure PHP appears in your CV if you have training and or experience in PHP. Employers and agencies get so many CV’s they simply CTRL+F and search for the keywords.

Mention skills you have, things you have done. Use terminology that indicates you have experience with past tense phrases like ‘I have ..’, I was responsible for …’, ‘I developed …’

Spell check it, read it, re read it . Check the grammar before sending. Sloppy CV = sloppy code and documentation.

A cover letter can be used to mention things you are working towards.

Job Specs:

This is where employers ‘crazy’ comes out …

OMG, they are often wild wishlists that mention every technology under the sun with demands for years of experience and expertises in each.

Think of that approach as casting a big net in the sea .

If the mythical job seeker exists that has all the desired skills and experience in the job spec it is doubtful that he or she would work for the salary offered.

If you meet 50% + of the requirements (and must include the key requirements) apply

Employers have to compromise and take the candidate with an acceptable subset of skills available at the price (wage) they are offering .. (They are of course moaning there is a skills shortage , take that with a pinch of salt, they just need to get real)

Whoever they hire, its going to take at least 6 month for the new employee to become productive.

How do you know what the core skills required are? By reading , re reading and parsing the job spec carefully. No magic. However only the employer knows authoritative answer to that

Experience:

The first step on the experience ladder is the hardest and you have done it with Bitesize.

Become the IT resource for friends and family… Paid (take a token payment). Unpaid.
This will increase your general IT knowledge - basic windows troubleshooting etc . it also will lead to widening the list of people you interact with. At some stage someone will refer you on.

There is so much freely available software out there, download install, configure build . That is all adding to your experience.

Do some charity work.

See can you work weekends etc for PCWorld , StarTech etc .. It may not be development work but you are moving in IT circles

What type of developer should be become (initially - evolve its the nature of our game) ?

Ideally which ever tech you enjoy working with the most. You will have to spend time expanding and enhancing your skills inside and outside of work so you might as well enjoy it.

I.T. in general requires life long learning.

Analyse the IT job ads for the region (build a database - query it - more experience) . What is the most sought after skill ? Which job ad is running for weeks, are they finding it hard to find that skill ? Does an ad appear and then reappear a couple of weeks later, did they make an offer that fell through ?

Best wishes for the future. It will happen.

P.S. Eoin’s Advice

So, Hubert, I hope this gives you good motivation of getting into your career. It’s obvious from the generous advice above that there are things that you can do to improve your chances of settling into a career with satisfies you and where you maximise your usefulness.

My own advice would be to read a summary of the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”. Specifically in this case I would point out the habit of begin with the end in mind. Like Aodh suggested, actually get out a pen an physically write down a list of things you liked from your course. From there, write a specific goal of the type of job you’d like to work in, and the type of people you’d like to work with.

You’ll have seen lots of overlapping advice, which makes those points even more important:

Hubert is currently setting up his blog at hubertinit.com where he’ll be sharing his learnings and experience in getting started in an IT career. Keep it up, Hubert!

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