Help Wanted: ‘T-Shaped’ Grads

Although the job market for new technology grads has improved, it’s still difficult for aspiring professionals to land an entry-level position.

A lackluster economy, off-shoring, productivity pressures and Baby Boomers’ delayed retirements are partly to blame for the dearth of entry-level opportunities. Yet the main culprit is the shift in the way companies procure and manage technology, which is altering the skill requirements in a labor market where new grads often have to compete against unemployed veterans.

Specifically, companies want specialized generalists often called T-shaped people, because they’re deep  in one particular skill set and possess general knowledge in other areas.

Have you found that having the right mix of general and specialized skills helps in your career? Share your thoughts below. 

Not sure if you’re T-shaped? Well, here’s Scott Ambler’s definition of a “generalizing specialist”:

A generalizing specialist is someone who: 1) Has one or more technical specialties. 2) Has at least a general knowledge of software development. 3) Has at least a general knowledge of the business domain in which they work. 4) Actively seeks to gain new skills in both their existing specialties as well as in other areas, including both technical and domain areas.

So, how can you convince employers to give you a shot?

“New grads need to emphasize a technical specialty to get their foot in the door,” says Judit Price, partner at Berke & Price, a career coaching firm based in Chelmsford, Mass. “Then, they need to demonstrate their flexibility, emotional intelligence, as well as their ability to learn new things and master a generalist role during the interview.”

Price keeps new grads from spinning their wheels during a grueling search by steering hard-core technologists toward opportunities in the high-tech industry, while guiding affable grads with varied expertise toward T-shaped positions in other industries.

Colleges are trying to adapt their curricula to meet shifting employer demands, said Joyce Gioia, president of the Herman Group, a human resource consulting firm based in Greensboro, N.C. But in the meantime, Gioia says grads with limited business experience or coursework need to close knowledge gaps and alter their job hunting strategy in order to become the “candidate of choice.”

“Current students should acquire business knowledge by interfacing with clients and finding a mentor during internships,” advised Gioia. “While recent grads should enroll in business courses at community colleges, listen to TED lectures, take free online courses at KHAN Academy and offer to work at local businesses for free so they can become T-shaped candidates.”

Unrealistic salary expectations and a lack of real world knowledge are also keeping new grads from scoring entry-level jobs, according to a panel of CIOs interviewed by TechRepublic. New grads should be flexible so they can acquire marketable skills and be ready to pounce on a better opportunity as the labor market improves.

Shelley Ladin, president of Contemporary Careers, a staffing and career coaching company based in Manalapan, N.J., notes that new grads need to network and consider any and all opportunities to overcome competition from experienced workers.

“Start with a list of 100 people and expand your networking circle from there,” says Ladin. “Plus, you have to persevere and be patient at the same time, because there are still plenty of people out there with two to five years’ experience who would be glad to have an entry-level job for half their former salary.”

Comments

15 Responses to “Help Wanted: ‘T-Shaped’ Grads”

May 07, 2012 at 4:49 pm, Fred Bosick said:

There are no such things as “T-shaped Grads”! A 3-6 month internship is not enough time to pick up business knowledge/sense to any greater degree than veteran employees already have. And, a new graduate just spent the last 2-3 years stuffing in as many core classes in to his/her schedule as they can handle. Survey level business classes, if taken at all, are only to satisfy elective requirements and distribution.

“..flexibility, emotional intelligence, as well as their ability to learn new things..”

Is this known to exist to a greater degree in new graduates than in veteran employees?

“Start with a list of 100 people and expand your networking circle from there,” says Ladin. “Plus, you have to persevere and be patient at the same time, because there are still plenty of people out there with two to five years’ experience who would be glad to have an entry-level job for half their former salary.’

So, now impending graduates have to glad hand like used car salesmen and play those miserable dinner conference business card swap games? And why are those 2-5 year experienced developers not working? Maybe because they were let go because some genius thinks they can replace them with half cost newbies.

“Unrealistic salary expectations and a lack of real world knowledge are also keeping new grads from scoring entry-level jobs…”

Where do those so-called unrealistic salary expectations come from? Could it be salary surveys from those IT broadsheets and articles from DICE, itself? It just might be that those graduates racked up some hefty bills and would like to pay them off. Can you blame them?

Those newly minted grads just got out of a classroom environment. How can they be expected to have real world knowledge? And how can that be expected for an entry level position?

And, finally, let’s just step back and think about some higher level issues. All this talk about acquiring mentors and networking and making one’s own personal brand, etc. is fine for salesmen and wanna be executives. They love the glad handing and back stabbing intrigue. But a real code wizard just wants to master his/her problem and make something really cool. They do this by themselves and need uninterrupted time to build up “state” in his/her head and then start cranking out code. They don’t like pointless socializing and filling up their Rolodex with corporate idiots. Couple this with the requirement of IT being forced to “learn the business”.

What is there, then, left for the executives to do?

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May 08, 2012 at 5:41 pm, Mark Feffer said:

Well, you know, this comment is just wrong. It has nothing to do with the realities of how people get hired.

Nothing here says an internship gives someone the same experience as a seasoned worker. Indeed, one reason to get an internship is to help balance the lessons learned in academia with the realities of the real world. The idea that survey-level classes are only taken to satisfy requirements ignores the fact that someone in college needs that high level view. I’d like to say that when I was 20 I understood how things got put together in real companies, but I didn’t. It was those basic courses that helped me out.

Similarly, I think what you say about flexibility, etc., is a red herring, for lack of a better term. Yes, experienced workers certainly understand these things better. But does that mean young people shouldn’t start to learn, or that they don’t have to show employers that they understand these things? I’d say both of those things are important for them.

As for what you say about networking, well, the idea that networking is about “glad handing” like a salesman” has nothing to do with what networking is really about. Is meeting people at a conference, or a meet up, or a user group a waste of time? If someone suggests you call their colleague about a potential opportunity, is that meaningless backslapping? The people I’ve gotten to know professionally over the years have introduced me to clients — or BECOME clients. Some have become contractors for me, or pointed me to someone who could help out in one way or another. So, was my meeting those people a waste of time? I beg to differ.

Finally, whether or not a “real” code wizard just wants to do really cool things is kind of beside the point when you’re talking about finding a job. Do you expect companies to just know you exist, without your doing anything to tell them? Do you expect them to recognize your skills as you keep your time “uninterrupted?” People have rent to pay. Whether you like it or not, the way you get a job is to put yourself out there in every way you can think of.

Networking isn’t “pointless” and contacts aren’t “corporate idiots.” In my experience, those who approach their job search with that kind of attitude tend to be the people who don’t get the job.

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May 08, 2012 at 1:28 pm, Leslie Stevens-Huffman said:

The bar has been raised for IT professionals especially for those who prefer a career in the private sector. It’s no longer enough to have great technical skills you need to understand the big picture. While I understand your frustration–stop arguing and start networking–if you need a job. Networking has been the hallmark of successful business people since the dawn of time and now, it’s a survival strategy.

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May 08, 2012 at 2:44 pm, James Green said:

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May 08, 2012 at 3:47 pm, Mark Feffer said:

James: I’ve deleted your post because I’m not going to allow any comments, from anyone, that insult people, call them names, accuse them of being somehow nefarious, or are off the topic of the post in question. In cases where a comment poses a legitimate question in an insulting way, I may edit the comment to preserve the question.

Best,

Mark

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May 08, 2012 at 7:23 pm, RMS said:

“A lackluster economy, off-shoring, productivity pressures and Baby Boomers’ delayed retirements are partly to blame for the dearth of entry-level opportunities. Yet the main culprit is the shift in the way companies procure and manage technology, which is altering the skill requirements in a labor market where new grads often have to compete against unemployed veterans.”

Once again I find myself scratching my bald(ing) head and rhetorically asking why employers are so despondent over the lack of skills, soft or otherwise, possessed by recent grads when there are obviously many un(der) employed veterans who possess the skills they seek.

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May 09, 2012 at 11:07 am, Fred Bosick said:

“T -Shaped” Grads is just another confounding phrase by industry pundits used to justify a CIO’s excuse not to hire established professionals who expect to be paid properly. To US Corporations, an ideal IT candidate has the degree from a significant brick and mortar school and, simultaneously, 5 years experience in disparate languages and technologies(Oh, and you’ll need to maintain the PBX and take a few shifts at the help desk.). They also must be malleable/suggestible and have low salary expectations. Since they need to have real world experience and a knowledge of the business, they are behind before they even start. It keeps them desperate and scrambling.

Or companies can take the easy way out and complain to Congress that these dum ‘murrican graduates are virtually unemployable and didn’t get enough taxpayer funded schooling.(Saves on the in-house training budget!) Then they lobby for an increase of the H-1B cap.

You don’t have to wonder. Businesses know exactly what they’re doing.

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May 09, 2012 at 1:12 pm, James Green said:

Watch out Fred, criticize amercan corporations hiring practices. Mark will delete your post. .

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May 09, 2012 at 1:47 pm, Mark Feffer said:

James, I don’t delete comments simply because they’re critical. I delete them when I believe they’re off-topic, or when they’re insulting to the author or another commenter. I’ll also delete them if they take unsubstantiated shots at the post’s subject when it’s a company, organization, or a person. Anyone who disagrees with my trashing a post is welcome to email me.

BTW, when we post a story meant to help people identify opportunities, then get comments that discourage people from pursuing those with no good reasons attached, I’ll deem those off-topic. If you want to tell us we’re wrong about something, go ahead. But you have to argue something more than “this trend is part of the conspiracy by hiring managers to push down salaries so they can pay slave wages” or something like that.

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May 09, 2012 at 3:53 pm, RMS said:

Fred,
I have no idea what are the motives behind the label “t-shaped” but I do know that much of what I read seems contradictory. Companies allegedly can’t find qualified folk with (so-called) legacy skills, soft skills, business skills but they seem to be looking for those skills in recent college grads. Meanwhile there are veteran “IT pros” who do possess those skills along with a proven ability to learn and utilize technical tools, but for some reason they seem invisible. Perhaps for some their network is a notwork; perhaps for some their salary requirements are unreasonable or they don’t want to move. I truly have no idea but I do know there are folk out there with talent and experience who are hurting.

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May 11, 2012 at 8:06 am, Marland said:

I’ve made this suggestion before. I think dice should follow a real unemployed/underemployed IT worker search for a job, I volunteer. Perhaps someone like Scot Henrick can look over my resume see what I’m doing wrong advise me I in return will report my progress to dice on the job hunt.

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May 11, 2012 at 8:25 am, Mark Feffer said:

Marland, you’re right. Can we reach you at this email address?

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May 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm, Fred Bosick said:

Cool! I hope this happens.

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May 12, 2012 at 4:31 pm, Marland said:

Thank you, I could use the help.

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May 11, 2012 at 9:09 am, Marland said:

That is my email address.

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