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IT Graduates: What are recruiters looking for? A how-to guide to scoring your first job in the tech industry

Author: Danielle Nixon
It Blog

Trying to find work can be brutal for fresh-faced graduates. 

31% of degree holders end up in a job they are overqualified for - often because they’ve had no luck despite hundreds of applications for their dream job. It’s time to change that statistic. 

Although fairly steady throughout the pandemic, the technology recruitment market has certainly bounced back and is very much alive and kicking. As a result of the pandemic we are seeing a rise in technology vacancies, and we want to help you prepare for what’s to come: increased competition. It can sound a little intimidating, knowing you might be pitting yourself against scores of people or perhaps candidates with more industry experience - but there are plenty of ways to give yourself a “leg up” and get ahead of the competition. You are young, skilled and you will be an ideal candidate for a number of businesses and tech roles - so it’s imperative you’re visible and that you stand out from the rest.

Here’s our how-to guide to scoring your first job in the tech industry:

Step 1: Get new experience

Most recruiters or hiring managers will look for some kind of experience, even for entry-level roles. They want to see initiative, and they want you to be able to demonstrate a clear passion for the work you do (or want to do). 

Expectations are high with the industry growing at 2.5 times the rate of the rest of the economy, and it can be tough when you’ve studied so hard for a degree only to receive rejection after rejection, or worse - silence. 

There’s a misperception that graduates who didn’t do a year in industry are inexperienced - but we know that’s not always the case. We’ve learned that most technology graduates do already have experience, and bags of it - but it’s often left off a CV or professional profile because it wasn’t official employment or a paid project. Showcasing any type of relevant work or project, whether undertaken at home, at university, or in a voluntary capacity, is a big thumbs-up for recruiters.

Think about examples where you’ve shown practical skills. Have you built your own computer or developed an app? Are you the go-person for your friends and family when it comes to their IT Support needs? Do you have your own server room at home? Have you written blogs or articles on your specialism? Think of the juicy projects you undertook at university. Don’t forget to showcase these - they all count! Keep a log every time you do something industry-specific, even if it seems inconsequential at the time. This way you can build a portfolio of experience and testimonials that might just put you ahead of the other candidates applying for that entry-level role.

There’s also another way to gain experience, whilst also earning an income in the meantime - freelancing. Recruiters and hiring managers love to see innovative candidates who have shown true confidence in their abilities and ventured out by themselves on wobbly knees. Young freelancers get a chance to prove their work ethic and their ability to deliver excellent service… by working for themselves. Freelancing might not have the job security you desire for the long run, but it’s an easy solution to gaining new, intense experience that’ll make you stand out from the rest. 

Step 2: Make your CV industry or even job-specific 

Industry and job-specific CVs are more likely to stand out and impress recruiters and hiring managers. 

It can be tempting to include a backlog of all those part time jobs you did at Uni or the paper round you did when you were twelve, on your CV. Recruiters and hiring managers do want to see hard work, independence and commitment, but make sure these roles are not the main event of your CV. Recruiters would much rather see industry-specific work experiences - such as the coding projects you did in University, or a mention of the thesis you wrote on a relevant topic. Talking a little about the skills you gained from past IT challenges will help hiring managers measure how you’ll handle the dynamic job role they’re interviewing for.

Step 3: Expand your certifications and skill set

For some companies, it’s not enough to just have a degree. In the IT industry, there are thousands of further qualifications or certifications that could help you score a job over similar graduate applicants. Pay close attention to job requirements and see which specialisations crop up over and over - and then get some training in that area, or look up what further training / certifications are available in the specific field you want to enter. Offer to shadow experts, write to target companies and volunteer as an assistant, or work on your own home project that will challenge you and expand your skill set. Read, learn, start a blog - just use your time wisely if you’re not currently working. Actively taking on new qualifications, participating in courses or taking on your own projects to further your skills/experience, shows your passion and your willingness to learn. Another big thumbs up from potential recruiters! 

Step 4: Build your connections and actively network

Networking isn’t just for small business start-ups or CEOs looking for new job opportunities. It’s often a great “in” for job seekers. Being visible and connecting with technology managers, recruiters, and HR Managers that swarm LinkedIn in their thousands gives you a huge advantage over the competition. Share your thoughts on current technologies or trends. Write some interesting blog posts that will inspire, educate or entertain people in the field you want to work in. Start conversations, encourage discussions, comment on people’s articles - just get to know people! Being visible and forging online relationships can open many doors! You could also consider in-person networking groups where you’ll get to meet a variety of interesting and helpful people. As they say, sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know, and it only takes one connection or one conversation to open a door to great things.

No more facing “the void” alone. 

Step 5: Don’t give up

It can be easy to lose hope. 

Many graduates have no choice but to apply for other jobs if they've so far been unsuccessful in getting the role they want. After all, the rent needs paying! But once you’ve scored that income generator - still chase your dreams. Don’t stop applying for the types of role you want, networking, gaining further experience, and adapting your CV until you’ve secured the job you truly want. Settling for your first job could have lifelong consequences, so actively keep up your job search. There’s a perfect role out there for you! 

Start your networking and contact your first recruiter - us. At Forward Role, we’re always looking for ambitious IT graduates who are ready to dive into the right working environment. We have positions across multiple sectors and are currently recruiting graduate roles with big brands, we would love to help you score your first job!

Get in touch for CV, interview and career advice from our team of experts!

Danielle Nixon is Senior Recruitment Manager on the Technology Recruitment team at Forward Role.

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