Job-Search Techniques for New Grads

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Even with a degree in IT, finding that first job can be a daunting and overwhelming task. But with a little focus and patience, it doesn’t have to be.

The first step to landing your first job is taking a basic personal inventory: What do you want? What must you have to get what you want? How do you present both to a prospective employer?

In addition to assessing personal strengths and weaknesses, potential IT pros should look at their own institution’s career service departments, IT job sites, clever back doors into the industry and the massive (yet often untapped) government IT job bank.

A common misconception with college graduates is that once they leave campus, they can’t use any of their school’s institutional services.

This is not true — career placement and development centers offer their services up to a year after graduation. They can provide everything from personal counseling sessions to passwords for subscription-only job search sites.

After exploring that avenue, there are many job search engines such as Dice.com and ComputerJobs.com that specialize in IT careers.

Whether it’s a part-time Web design gig or a full-time programming job, these sites accommodate all levels of IT employment.

Other staffing services, including Robert Half Technology, go a step further through direct alliances with large IT companies such as Microsoft, HDI and Unitek. Beyond.com is another site that offers a niche-specific career network. Its philosophy is a move away from generic, national job sites to local, job-specific ones. CEO Rich Milgram said although many recent grads grew up on the Internet, that experience doesn’t translate to the fundamentals of a job search, which still begins with a strong resume.

“The three biggest mistakes new grads make when looking for jobs online are not taking advantage of niche sites catering to entry-level positions, underutilizing available resources to develop a powerful resume and, finally, performing too limited of a job search,” Milgram said.

For example, IT pros should consider government opportunities when looking for a job. This approach, however, might not be best for folks who can’t afford to wait for the right opportunity.

Typically, with government employment, candidates complete proficiency tests at a local employment center. Afterward, the center will follow up when a job opportunity arises in their area of expertise. But it’s difficult to know exactly what the demand is at any given time — you could end up with an immediate opportunity or wait for weeks for a match.

In addition to job search engines and government opportunities, trade shows offer direct, face-to-face contact with employers. This approach allows both you and employers to assess each other immediately.

As a result, you’ll have a much better idea of the company’s culture and practices. Trade shows also offer employers a chance to see aspects of your personality that are difficult to convey online: enthusiasm, communications skills and personal appearance.

When using any of the above job-search techniques, a perfect supplement is your portfolio. Have you built a Web site? Programmed extensive code for fun? Make sure anything you’ve done that exhibits your talent is in the forefront when communicating with potential employers. The better sense you and a company have of each other, the sooner you’ll know whether it’s a situation worth investing your time and efforts.

–Ben Warden, bwarden@certmag.com

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