Getting a job in the IT field can be really difficult unless you know people or know how to market yourself. It’s not enough just to know your stuff. The people who get the jobs are the ones who either know someone who can get them a gig or are really good at promoting themselves.
You might think that promoting yourself means being a big egomaniac and bullshitting people into hiring you. Some people get jobs this way, true enough, but they don’t get to keep them. The really good people are the ones who know their skills and can communicate those skills in a comprehensive way.
Here are some tips I’ve given to people in the past.
Do more than course work
There’s a lot to be said for getting good marks in school and having that great GPA. However, if you come to a job with only course work, you’ll be seen as someone who’s green and inexperienced. As much as the faculty like to pretend they are giving students real-world experiences, they are not. In class, if you make a mistake, you might lose some points or fail the test but in the real world, people lose their homes, their insurance, their medication, their life savings, or their lives.
Get experience doing some consulting. There are lots of opportunities for you out there if you just look for them. You can learn things on your own and then go get a freelance job.
Join an Open-Source project
When you go to an interview, wouldn’t it be nice to show people that your name is out there? It is for me. When I talk with people, I can reference articles I’ve written, patches I’ve submitted, and mailing list questions I’ve answered.
I hire students at the university. Most of them who have left me for the summer to go on internships say the same thing over and over… “I learned more here than I did on my internship… it was so easy. All I did was sit around.” Internships often provide a chance for a job, but don’t count on learning anything useful there. You might end up working on legacy VB 4 code like one guy I know, or just copying documents all day. Neither of these guys got jobs at the place they interned. They did get jobs elsewhere, but they got them because of the experience they earned working for me and going above and beyond the call of duty on their own.
Close your Facebook and Myspace accounts
Employers look at these to see what kind of a person you are. Are you a potential liability to them? Do you get drunk and stoned after work? Do you have political beliefs that clash with those of your supervisor? All of these are factors when job hunting because it’s part of a background check.
Oh, employers also look at your friends’ pages too. They might find some dirt on you on a friend’s blog.
Now, I’m not telling you that you can’t drink, get high, or vote Libertarian or Democrat or Republican… I’m just saying that you might want to watch what you have up there about you out there on the Internets.
Keep your skills sharp
The thing that’s paying your bills right now won’t always pay the bills later. While you’re the master Java guru, someone else is learning Ruby. While you’re making table-based web sites, someone else is doing things with CSS and Ajax. You simply cannot allow yourself to rest on your laurels for any time. Your job does not end when you leave work. You have an obligation to yourself to keep up on the new technologies or you will find yourself outsourced. In the eyes of your managers, an Indian programmer can write better code than you because he can write it faster for less pay. What are you going to do to keep your job?
Think of the most innovative thing you can do to sell yourself to a potential employer. Think about how much effort software companies put into marketing their products and do the same for yourself. Make some color copies of screens you’ve made or websites you’ve built. Think about “personal brand identity.”
If you want a job, you have to earn it. Everyone else is graduating with coursework under their belt. What sets you apart from them? Just because you’ve gone through a degree program doesn’t mean anyone owes you a job. Go get yours.
Now that I’ve depresed you a bit, here are some job hunting resources.
Top IT Organizations
Seven Tips for Social Networking Online
Social Software and You: The Virtual Handshake
Resume Tips for Technology Professionals
Show Your Skills on Your IT Resume
Showcase ROI on Your Resume
10 Tech Interview Errors
Tips for Technical Job Interviews
Are You More Than Just a Techie?