How Computer Science Grads Can Job Hunt Like Experienced Pros

There’s potentially a big payday ahead for computer-science (CS) graduates who navigate the job market like mid-career pros rather than novices. With many top students receiving multiple offers, those who target specific companies, compare deals, and negotiate effectively can ensure that they accept the very best offer.  

Most 2018 graduates earning engineering and computer-science degrees are expected to command the highest starting salaries at the bachelor’s-degree level, according to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Salaries for engineering majors are projected to average $66,521, while computer science graduates are expected to average $66,005.  

Are you wise beyond your years? Here are a few strategies to make your first job search a huge success.

Don’t Jump on the First Offer

Employers are hiring earlier and earlier to get a jump on the competition. For instance, some companies are already extending offers to members of the 2019 class at Wake Forest University, according to Brian Mendenhall, the school’s assistant director of Personnel and Career Development for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, Medicine, Data Analytics.  

“Finance and banking are ramping up their recruiting activities to get a jump on the consulting crowd, and so forth,” he said. With that in mind, the sooner you begin surveying the market, connecting with prospective employers and making plans for your future career, the better off you’ll be.

Nearly every company or organization, regardless of industry, is looking to hire CS grads, according to Rachel Wobrak, program director for the University of Maryland, College of Computer, Mathematical & Natural Sciences.  

With so many options, it’s important to know what your priorities are and what’s truly important to you. Many employers will give you a road map to a potential offer, even if you’re two or three years away from graduation, if you stop by and visit when they set up in a department lobby or at a campus job fair.  

“Don’t jump at the first offer that comes along,” Wobrak advised. “It’s no longer a one-way street. Take enough time to evaluate the location, salary and career potential, and be prepared to negotiate.”

Top students need to be able to entertain several job offers without burning any bridges with potential employers, since your paths may cross again in the near future.

Take a Strategic Approach to Internships

Internships are still a great way to get your foot in the door, especially with a prestigious or desirable tech company such as Google, Apple, Microsoft or Facebook. But since many companies extend offers based on how students perform, don’t accept just any opportunity. Figure out your targets and the experience you need, then then try to land internships at those specific companies.

Hit the Right Hot Buttons

Employers want to see class projects on your résumé, and they expect to review portfolios and code samples on GitHub. Especially this year, demonstrating initiative outside the classroom is a key differentiator that inspires companies to select one soon-to-be CS grad over another.  

Specifically, enrolling in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), building an app, or tackling side projects are great ways to show initiative. Employers also show preference for students who participate in hackathon events.

“You don’t necessarily need to win the hackathon to impress an employer,” Mendenhall said. “They want to see that you can use your skills to make an impact.” For example, a hackathon can help you showcase your ability to collaborate with diverse teammates, test out new ideas, and develop solutions to real-world problems in a quick turnaround environment.

Hiring managers also want to see that you can communicate what you’ve done to a variety of audiences. “It doesn’t matter if you have a 4.0 GPA, employers are looking for client-facing skills and empathy,” Mendenhall added.

Having leadership or project management experience can also set you apart from other graduates. “Those skills are the tipping point for many employers,” Wobrak said.

If you’ve helped organize tasks or project teams as part of a class project or internship, or served in a leadership position (even as a volunteer), you can absolutely use that experience to garner interest from employers and negotiate the highest salary possible.

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