Although signs point to another year of job growth for computer science (CS) and engineering majors, executing a fundamentally sound search that emphasizes your potential can mean the difference between landing your dream job and settling for one that’s just okay.
“A highly motivated ‘C’ student with a crazy portfolio can prevail over someone with a higher GPA because employers hire new grads based on their perceived potential,” explained Brandon Labman, co-founder of ROCS, a staffing firm that specializes in placing new grads.
The following checklist will not only help you anticipate the expectations of prospective employers, it will allow you to conduct an effective search that highlights your future contributions.
Before You Head Out
Employers value attention to detail and conscientiousness, so accomplish these things before you leave campus:
First, request recommendation letters and endorsements from professors, employers and companies where you interned or worked on student projects.
Also, register with your alumni association and career center so you can continue to access directories and participate in networking events. (As part of this, make sure any school accounts are paid up and your transcripts are accurate.)
Request a résumé and cover letter critique, and remember to create customized versions for each specialty or job you plan to pursue.
Take a Strategic Approach
“Focusing on small batches of three to five companies that match your passions and interests is more effective and easier to manage than a random approach,” advised Helen Oloroso, assistant dean and director of the McCormick Office of Career Development at Northwestern University.
Research companies thoroughly. Demonstrate your insights, alignment and enthusiasm by tailoring your storyline, value proposition and résumé toward each environment.
Emphasize transferable skills and experiences that predict on-the-job success, such as project management, documentation and report writing.
Network your way to an interview; use informational interviews to convey your sincere interest in working for the company and the contributions you intend to make. Broaden your network of contacts by asking for referrals as you go. You never know when someone you meet will help you land the first job of your dreams.
Create a Robust Online Presence
Recent studies show that 90 percent of employers research candidates online before initiating contact. These steps will help you build a robust online brand and professional image.
- Develop a compelling brand and value proposition, then weave those messages into your résumé, portfolio, website and project addendums as well as the profiles you create on professional networking sites.
- Provide frequent updates and add new coding samples, reviews, endorsements and projects in order to garner the attention of tech recruiters and managers.
- Clean up social media accounts, tighten your security settings, and post a professional photo (one in three employers have rejected candidates due to something they found online).
Demonstrate Motivation and Passion
Employers will look at your work outside the classroom to judge your initiative, drive and ability to work independently, noted Whitney Moore, career counselor for the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota. So don’t let up after graduation: continue to add skills and activities related to your career.
- Take certification exams while your knowledge is still fresh.
- Contribute to open source projects, participate in hackathons, or acquire new skills by taking free online courses through Codecademy, I.T, or Skillcrush.
- Strengthen hands-on experience by volunteering to build an app or website, or increase network security for a small business or non-profit organization.
Want a Job? Prepare to Engage
“Employers want to know how you’ll fit in and add value to their organization,” Oloroso said. “They usually ask behavioral-based interviewing questions to see if you have the soft skills to interact with constituents.”
- Prepare examples that illustrate qualities indicative of future success such as teamwork, resilience, critical thinking, problem-solving and the ability to influence others.
- Sharpen your interviewing skills by role playing and soliciting feedback.
- Write thank you letters, follow-up and keep your contacts in the loop as your search progresses because seeing things through is another way to showcase your potential.