4 Key Steps to Landing Your First Job in Tech
Trying to get into the tech industry can seem like a daunting task, but here are some tips to help you on your way.
The technology industry is one of the fastest growing sectors. Tech jobs are well paid and in demand, and other than earning a higher-than-average median annual salary, people who are passionate about technology will enjoy working with some of the most amazing innovations the world has ever seen (such as AI, blockchain, self-driving vehicles, and much more). Whether you want to become a cybersecurity specialist, a data analyst or a web developer, however, there are some steps you should take to maximize your chances to get into the tech industry (hint: Spending a lot of time on YouTube and Facebook are not among them). Let's have a look.
1. Get Some Experience (And Know How to Showcase It)
So, you want to land your first job, but you don’t have enough experience to be a good candidate. Still, you can’t get any experience until you land your first job, right? Well, although that’s a critical dilemma in many industries, in tech that’s not necessarily the case. That doesn’t mean you can get experience without working at all. But you can get enough experience by working on your own, and ultimately provide proof that you possess the technical skills needed for the job even if you’re a rookie. (Check out one man’s story of breaking into the tech industry in How I Got an IT Job Without a Tech Background.)
For example, Stephen Tullos, service manager at My IT suggested that building a lab in your home may be a great way to show a potential interviewer “passion, hunger and hands-on knowledge.” You can start tinkering, working on small projects, and gain some useful experience that you can easily describe. Don’t forget that, after all, most people who work in tech are just as nerdy as you are (myself included).
Similarly, making a good portfolio of projects you’ve completed can be a terrific way to showcase your expertise. Even if those projects (such as indie video games or homemade websites) are far from perfect, they can go a long way toward demonstrating the progress you’ve made as a professional. The more time you spend on these projects, the more passionate you will inevitably be when it comes time to describe them to your interviewer. A uniquely witty presentation will also show your intelligence and personality.
2. Preparation Is the Key to Success
When tech companies need to select their ideal candidate, the first thing they look for is a person who fits. He or she must fit the industry, the company, and the role – in this order. How much do you know about the industry you’re going to work in? Let’s say, for example, that you want to become a social media manager. A question such as “What do you think about VK’s role in Russian social media?” may seem outlandish but – well, you’re expected to be knowledgeable about all social media, not just Facebook or Instagram. Even apparently innocuous small talk about Zuckerberg’s latest projects may be a trick that your interviewer is using to probe how much you fit into that industry. All the time you spend studying your industry is time well spent.
But that’s just the most evident issue. If you’re knowledgeable about the industry in general, how do you demonstrate that you belong to that particular company? Your ideals, motivations and goals should meet those of that brand – and this is something that you should demonstrate with much more than saying “I love [insert brand name here] and your products.” Take your time researching the company’s core values and understanding them. Read up on the most important events involving them, the most recent news about them, and look at what they’ve accomplished so far. Your goal is to find out what overlaps with your own values, experiences and skills. You’re in it for the lifestyle, not just the wage.
3. Get Ready for the Actual Interview
Even if you’ve got the right skills and knowledge to aspire to a role, the actual interview still represents a stumbling block for most candidates. Actually, it is the stumbling block for all candidates except the one that gets hired. In the technology world, education is less important than your ability to learn, grow and evolve in due time. So get ready to answer questions about how you could solve practical problems rather than go on lengthy explanations about your education level and degrees. Networking may help you find out what recruiters are looking for, and tell them something that will really impress them and help you demonstrate role fit.
One of the trickiest questions you may eventually end up facing is “What is your target salary?” Personally, I always hate hearing this question. Being asked it first always puts you in the weaker position for negotiations, and you will never know if you asked for too much or too little – unless you’ve done some salary research. Take a look at Glassdoor – you can find a lot of info from people working in similar positions, or Payscale for a more generalist approach. But the best answer is always to be flexible – never fire off a straight answer like “I want at least $X.” Saying something along the lines of “My ideal salary range is $X to $Y, but what I really want is a company that will provide me with the opportunity to grow together with the team, and that will give me the chance to improve myself and my career” usually works much better.
4. Ask for an Internship
Sometimes you’re simply not experienced enough to aspire to a role – especially one with lots of responsibility – on your first job interview. However, do not despair. Many tech companies love to hire young interns to “grow” their own future employees, building their loyalty over time. Even if they weren’t actively looking for an intern role, don’t be afraid and just ask them. An internship before graduation is an amazing way to gain industry experience and that much-needed know-how the larger brands will require from you.
You will also learn a lot about the actual labor market and how demanding the working life is in reality. A good internship will teach you how to be competitive and can prevent you from making mistakes that you will regret later in life, such as spending too much time specializing in a field that you may not like in the long run. And don’t forget that it doesn’t really matter if the internship is paid or not – if you get the chance to work for Apple or Microsoft, just don’t miss the opportunity. (For more advice, see Take Charge of Your Career - Advice From Experienced IT Pros.)
The best piece of advice I can personally give to all the young tech enthusiasts looking for a job out there is – don’t stress too much about it. Although it is true that this industry is highly competitive, the tech world is nevertheless full of “enlightened” people and is, therefore, one of the most approachable ones. People who work in tech must necessarily be open-minded individuals who are flexible enough to adapt to changes continuously.
So, don’t worry about finding the best job on your first try. If you’ve got the right talent and abilities, it is only a matter of time before someone will “discover” you and offer you a role that really suits you.