Making the Leap from IT Education to IT Employment
Whenever I find good career advice, I like to pass it on, leavened with my own observations and recommendations. This time, it's a shout-out to ace training company Pluralsight, where I recently discovered a blog post advising grads on how to land their first IT job. The post proffers pearls of wisdom worth pondering — and sharing! — as well as a nice diagram for career planning at all stages of life. With one notable exception.
The Pluralsight post in question, published July 27, is titled 8 tips for landing your first IT job. Along with the tips, there's a nifty diagram aimed at upping one's employability:
This diagram makes the telling and useful point that many factors converge in determining employability. [Source: Pluralsight]
The items that appear in the diagram provide the key insights from the blog post, so I'll review and comment upon them starting from one o'clock, because that's the one that changes as soon as you start looking for your second (and subsequent) jobs in IT:
1. Grades ( which becomes "Education" plus "Experience" or "Track Record") basically establishes what you've already accomplished and how well you did your job. Coming out of school and perhaps for as long as 3-to-5 years thereafter, grades will matter. The older your transcript becomes, however, the less those grades will matter — at some point, the degree or degrees those grades document remain important, but that's about it. By that time, your on-the-job experience, positions occupied, lessons learned, and so forth will matter a lot more, and will remain important for the rest of your career.
2. Technical Skills also embraces IT certifications and related credentials later — for those who graduate without also earning one or more certification — or sooner, for those who come out of school with one or more certs finished as well as one or more degrees. Over your career, this is an area that will grow with time, and change along with the relentless forward march of tools, platforms and technologies.
3. Ability to Learn can be hard to document or demonstrate — though ongoing certs and training or self-study do provide importance evidence of this ability — but is nevertheless quite important in IT. The technical details and minutiae you know today, or upon graduation, are unlikely to remain relevant for more than 5-to-10 years. So what you learn as time goes by becomes increasingly important to what you know and can do tomorrow. A dip into graduate school or academic training programs from time to time is helpful here, too.
4. Problem solving skills. If there's one common thread to working in IT, it's in identifying, documenting and solving problems, preferably in the context of a well-developed understanding of IT processes and procedures, if not outright governance. This is an area where you should be prepared to talk about problems you've dealt with, and how you managed to work your way through that process. This is also a subject matter that explains why digging into ITIL, governance, risk management and so forth, is a worthwhile endeavor for most IT professionals.
5. Soft Skills refers to one's ability to communicate in written and verbal form, and to manage oneself and possibly others, either in the context of project management or people management. I've blogged and written about this topic extensively and would recommend that you run this Google search to get the benefit of those writings. And please, heed this admonition: "Though hard technical skills are an important focus for IT professionals, soft skills are every bit as important to career development and success in IT, as in most other fields."
6. Networking is not just packets moving from sender to receiver: it also refers to connections between humans based on friendship, work, school, family, community, shared interests and more. Developing your personal and professional networks is a vital activity because most jobs — including all of the really good ones — come from word or mouth. That is to say, building and maintaining your personal and professional network is the best and smartest thing you can do at any stage of your career to find your next job, promotion, assignment, project, or whatever it is you will move on to when your current gig is over.
7. Stick-to-it-iveness aka "persistence" or even "doggedness" refers to your ability to see projects and assignment through to completion or delivery. Nobody likes a quitter, especially when it comes to paid work. Make sure you understand you must finish what you start, and show evidence of this ability, throughout your working life.
8. Passion is another intangible quality that employers look for in prospective employees at all levels, from brand-new graduates to senior executives. Beyond showing interest and enthusiasm for work and life, you'll need to demonstrate that you are fired up about what you're being asked to do, and that your interest is in learning, doing and improving yourself, not just in punching the clock or doing things by the numbers.
If you take each of these things (or their post-graduation replacements, as I've suggested in some of the discussions for the preceding items) seriously, then you'll really boost your employability throughout your entire working life. Information this good is not just for recent or pending grads, friends, it's for everybody in IT!