Getting your first “real” job: 0 – Introduction
Having recently finished a job search that has taken waaay too long, I will probably have some advice in the next few months for recent grads which I will want to share while it’s still fresh. So I’ll probably kick off a series on this topic and touch on a few different areas.
(Image source: http://s0.geograph.org.uk/photos/29/83/298363_f4ceabc2.jpg)
I’ll try to not reiterate things that are already out there and probably better presented (such as resume samples), but instead focus on more “high-level” and personal advice.
Also, this will probably be more helpful to computer science (and related) grads than to the rest of the world, but I think some advice may be worth taking away regardless. We can always build up based on questions from the “audience”.
To start you off, if you are or were a CS student, you need to read this article. Now.
Still here? Okay, here’s a few points to get started.
Grades aren’t really that important.
I had two CS degrees, some research experience and a published paper; I was first in my class with the highest GPA that year, best senior design project, magna cum laude, Dean’s List, ACM president and quite a few other academic distinctions, awards and latin words to feel smug about at Christmas parties.
While these are all good and they do say some things about me (things that some – read a few – companies do care about), I must stress that your grades will not get you a job.
There are two take-home messages here.
* First, if you have really good grades, good for you, they will give you a slight boost, but will not be even close to enough to get you a job. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.
* Second, if you don’t have really good grades, don’t worry about it for one minute, it doesn’t matter (or rather, it doesn’t matter as much as the other things you may have done).
The economy you say? What economy?
If you’re looking for a job now (as in around the time that this post is published), you need to face the fact that the world kind of sucks. I can’t help you with that. Companies don’t have much money to throw around and whatever money they have will rarely be used on hiring entry-level developers, which are always a bit of a gamble (an entry-level dev could be a really good, yet-unknown talent and you get yourself a great deal, but more often than not they are not good at all, and you’re losing money on bringing them up to speed).
You’re also more expensive to your employer than you think. Sure there’s your salary, but they also need to invest in your training, in the time that other people will spend helping you out in the beginning and in the fact that you are probably not as efficient as people with at least one year of experience behind them. So if your salary is disappointing, keep that in mind.
If you don’t think you can take it, go get a PhD if you want and hope that 6 years from now things will be better. Otherwise man-up (or woman-up) and deal with the fact that getting a job will be very difficult and you may not land the opportunity that you were dreaming about in freshmen years.
I just can’t get a job!
Don’t allow yourself to become desperate! At some point an opportunity will come your way and you will be tempted to hug it immediately because it’s the first one to come out of a potentially long period of silence. Don’t rush into it and think about it first!
It may not be what you wanted to do and that’s not necessarily a disaster, as long as it’s in line with how you see your career going in the next few years. If you want to be a developer, will this position involve coding or interacting with code? If you want to be a consultant, will this position let you interact with the businesses? How will this job help you get trained? What’s the possibility for growth? If you’re in the kind of work that needs certifications, will this job help you get them? etc.
Again, yes money is important, but money is short-term and just one part of the picture. You’re just starting out, make sure you’re going in the right direction and in the long-run you’ll get more satisfaction and more money. Don’t sell your future for a few extra thousand.
You can ask these questions during the interview, if anything they will show that you know what you’re looking for and are genuinely interested in understanding the offer. You can also negotiate some of these things.
At the very least, make sure you will like what you’re doing. Otherwise, as stressful as it may be, keep looking.
I bombed that interview!
Keep growing even while you already involved in the job search process. If you get a technical question on an interview that you can’t answer, look up the answer later. If it shows an entire area that you’re not as strong on as you should be, read into it before you schedule your next interview. Be prepared for “soft” questions such as what is your strength/weakness. If you find that you seem to be lacking on an area of experience and have some time to spare, try to get on that (this could be anything from learning about design patterns to getting involved in an open-source project etc.) More on that when we get to the interview part.
Next up, I’ll give you some points about resumes and getting started.