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First Steps out of School
School is done, you've got your degree. Now what? What happens next? How do you land that first job? How can you stand out when it feels like every literally everyone is vying for that same position?
Congratulations! After years of hard
partying studying, you’ve graduated. You’re ready to start your career. Amazing! Now what? how do you get a job? How do you get an interview? How do you even get a reply email from a recruiter?
I recently spoke to a new grad who is in this exact situation. They’d pivoted in their studies and hence missed some of the benefits of counseling and interning. It hit me that I’d never really considered this kind of problem but it’s real. The job market is competitive and it’s not always a smooth transition from school to the workplace. So let’s talk about it!
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A career in tech can literally take you all over the world and I have great news for you; EVERY company is a tech company. There are almost no wrong moves when you’re first starting out but be warned it will take a little effort to get your career up and running so let’s tackle it together.
Internships and Practical Experience
I got incredibly lucky - I interviewed and landed a job in March of the last year of my undergrad. I hadn’t even taken my final year exams! That’s probably not the norm but why not jumpstart your job search while you’re still in school? Your school likely has tools to help you. Speak to your counselor(s). Make sure you take advantage of your school’s intern or job placement programs. An internship will set you up with valuable connections in the industry and may even be your first and most natural step into the professional world when you’re ready to graduate.
Set your intention
At every stage of your career try to form some general goal that you want to achieve, even in broad strokes, within a 3-5 year time horizon. This will align all your efforts towards that one consistent objective. Are you passionate about Medicine or Life Sciences? Do you want to work on Wall Street and see FinTech up close? Big Tech? Consumer Packaged Goods? Social Media or a Startup? If you can line up your job search with areas you’re genuinely interested in that’s just going to give you a huge leg-up in your conversations with prospective employers.
Who should you work for first?
If you know which company you want to work for skip this section and just get after it! If not I recommend the first few years of your career you try to get exposure to as many areas in as short amount of time as possible. A great way to get that exposure is to work for a consulting firm. You move from project to project, working for different clients in turn and learn their businesses and cultures along the way. That’s how I started. Consulting threw me in at the deep end, dealing directly with clients from literally my first day. It’s sink or swim and you have to learn on the job. Through that experience, I was exposed to a wide range of situations that otherwise could’ve taken decades and I really couldn’t have asked for a better start to my career.
Self-learning is going to be a necessary tool throughout your whole career so doesn’t hurt to develop those muscles early on.
“Show” don’t “Tell”
The best hires don’t wait around, they’re curious and they stay busy. It's much more powerful to demonstrate working code than to explain it on a resume. As you reach out to potential employers don't hesitate to highlight your passion projects or side-gig work and why that might align with the company you’re talking to.
For example: Are you a mobile developer? if you answered “yes” my next question is “Have you published an app?” You would not believe how many resumes I’ve seen titled “Senior Mobile Developer” from people who have never published an app in the Play Store or App Store. Developing even a simple app from start to finish and releasing it to the store is non-trivial and a valuable learning experience. It shows that you can get sh1t done. Employers call it “Bias for Action”. It also sets you up to have in-depth conversations with interviewers and talk about what you’ve done rather than just making vague statements about what you might do.
Don’t wait for your first official job to start coding. Explore on your own and build a portfolio that highlights your skills and interests. Your portfolio will take a lot of the heavy lifting and pressure off your resume. Together they are a powerful combination.
Tweak your Resume
You’re going to need to cold-call companies and individuals. Mostly these will be recruiters. Make sure your LinkedIn Profile is up to date as they will likely look this up if they are at all interested in talking with you.
Take the time to write a cover letter that expresses your interest in the company and the position. Be specific. Include your reasoning - why do you think you’d be great? Resumes, intros, and LinkedIn will not get you a job but will help you start the conversation.
If you do actually get a response and make contact with someone remember to send a follow-up email. A solid follow-up is a differentiator and again signals you can get stuff done. Highlight what stood out to you during the conversation and thank the person for their time. It goes a long way.
I was embarrassed to admit I only have a 4-year Bachelor’s degree. Followed quickly by surprise at my embarrassment! I’d never realized how I felt about it. Maybe it speaks to my chronic Imposter Syndrome.
Build your Network
Experienced hires don’t get a job through their resume, they get it through their reputation and their network. Someone knows someone who’s worked with you before. That puts you at a disadvantage when starting out but it’s never too early to start building your network. Connect with people, either in real life or virtually. Try attending Industry Events, Conferences, Meetups, Tech Talks, etc. in your local area. Make sure you keep a goal in mind when you attend these e.g. “I will talk to 10 people here and have meaningful follow-ups with at least 3.” when you’re done make sure to connect with them on LinkedIn.
You Don’t Need a Masters or Ph.D.
My son was doing a report for school recently and asked me how many years of education I had. I was embarrassed to admit I only have a 4-year Bachelor’s degree. Followed quickly by surprise at my embarrassment! I’d never realized how I felt about it. Maybe it speaks to my chronic Imposter Syndrome. Most people around me have Masters, PhDs, etc. and here I am with a simple BSc in Comp Sci. I’m still pretty happy with how my career’s been though and never once felt like it held me back. I think the lesson here is to get as much formal education as you think you need then march on. You will learn continuously on your job if you keep your eyes and ears open and that is always more valuable than a plaque on the wall.
Share your experience
Experienced folks, how did you get that first break? What would you tell yourself looking back? Share your thoughts/guidance/advice in the comments.
Stay Persistent and Embrace Rejection
The tech industry is competitive. Expect rejection - it happens and in the beginning, it will happen a LOT. Remember it only takes one “yes” to start your journey and once you get a foothold you’ll be off and running.
Stay focused on your goal, stay persistent, learn from rejections and I promise you’ll get there.