Preparing for a Job in the Computer Science Industry

Preparing for a Job in the Computer Science Industry was originally published on College Recruiter.

Deborah Anderson photo

Deborah Anderson

It is tricky finding a job anytime, but especially in this economy (which goes back to the crash in 2008). Fortunately, straight out of college, with no experience, graduates will find that the going is a bit easier than those with experience.

Why is that? As you gain experience, it sometimes becomes trickier because companies prefer the lower salaries (easier on their budgets) of educated, but inexperienced employees. Understanding that, as you start on your career path, helps you in the long run.

Technology Jobs, especially, have their exciting aspects and their challenging aspects. Coming from a background in information technology, I’m going to share some insights that I have learned, through my experience.

First of all, as with any industry, let’s look at three areas: 1) definitions; 2) requirements and availability; 3) understanding what employers want.

Definitions and IT Industry Breakdown

It is always interesting to me when someone outside the computer industry hears that someone inside the computer industry is looking for a job. When I was in that position I would often have well-meaning friends who would say something like, “I saw a billboard advertising that such-and-such a company was hiring and they had 30 jobs.” That is fine and dandy but if it is not the type of job that you are qualified to do, then it doesn’t really apply to you. Trying to explain that to someone who doesn’t understand the breakdown of jobs within the generality of “computer industry” is really futile. To them, and to much of society, anything that involves a computer is the same as anything else that involves a computer. They do not understand the difference between a software programmer, mobile app developer, and a network administrator, to name a few.

Fortunately, for most of you reading this, to whom “computer industry” applies, you already know what you are qualified to do and what you may not be qualified to do, so no further explanation would be needed. But, it is helpful to understand, if you are requesting friends and family to help you by letting you know if they see any advertisements for job openings, that they may not understand exactly what you do. This is even helpful to understand when soliciting help from recruiters and even hiring managers. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a job advertisement that is expecting a “jack of all trades” and no clue where one specialty starts and the other ends.

Requirements and Availability

The next piece of the puzzle is the availability of those jobs that suit you and the requirements (technical skill set) that those jobs require.

When examining this, be sure to keep your career path in mind. Let me explain…

As an example, I am versatile within the computer industry, because of my education and my experience. I am qualified to be a entry level support engineer (many of us are, eh?), but that would not look quite right on a resume right after the position of Chief Technology Officer. The question that my future employer would ask would be, “Why did you go from being ‘at the top’ to an entry level position?” Again, this is something that may not be understood by friends and family who say, “But, you can do that job, can’t you?”

Two thoughts on this subject: First, if you can, gain experience in related areas of the industry. So, if you are a programmer, see if you can also gain experience in hardware and networking so that you are more well rounded. If nothing else, as you gain skills in other computer industry related areas, you can become a one-stop-shop for contract work. Also, many times clients expect you to be knowledgeable in all areas that have the word “computer” in them, so this would help you if you want to be a contractor, consultant, or even fill that role while you are looking for what our parents may call a “real job.”

Secondly, referring back to the scenario of being an entry level support desk “engineer.” You do not have to turn down a job that is “beneath you.” When it comes to your career path and in particular, your resume, it is all about presentation.

Here is an example as it relates to presentation of your resume and experience. First, if it is really good money to be a help desk technician, then by all means, take the job! Also, if you are desperate for the income, consider taking the job. You can present it on your resume as a self-employment period (make sure you are actually offering services, as a contractor, to qualify that statement). It is ok to reference that you are a contractor and be providing help desk support for a well-paying job. This is especially true if it is a client-contract type position.

In other words, look at your resume as a complete story and ensure that the story presents itself in the most favorable presentation for you. Obviously, don’t be dishonest, but there is nothing wrong with highlighting that during one particular period you were gaining additional education and working a side job in a position that may look like it is a step down from the previous position you held.

There is also the concern about locality. You need to understand the jobs that are available in other regions or countries to find out if relocation is something that may interest you. Obviously there are several factors, like demand, cost of relocation, and how well you fit what is available. For example, reading an article about what is going on in another country, with a field that applies to you (in this case app development), is a great place to start to ensure that you understand what is available and how that may (or may not) fit into your future plans.

What Employers Want (Virtualized Human Resources)

This topic relates to many fields and not just the computer industry. That is, what is it that the employer wants? Many times what the employer wants relates to soft skills. Soft skills include your ability to get along with others and your ability to communicate. The technical skills (non soft skills) are easier to identify. You either have them or you don’t and proving it can be as easy as referencing your portfolio of computer projects. Soft skills are best demonstrated in your interview and in references from others whom you have worked with in the past.

Soft skills are even more essential in online and virtual environments. More and more companies are hiring what they call teleworkers or virtual employees. According to a Forbes article written 18 months ago, the rate of work-from-home employees was 30-45% back then and it has risen and continues to rise. This gives a clue to what employers are looking for, whether for convenience or their bottom line (profit).

These soft skills are of particular interest because they are skills that become even more essential with the increase of virtual teams and remote staffing that has become more and more prevalent. Now, more than ever, it is important to understand how to work with others and how to do that well. Part of that importance is the existence of the technical skill set and the soft skills.

Fortunately, acquiring these soft skills does not need to be an impossible task. Checking out some examples in this article about soft skill improvement may give you an idea of what we are talking about with soft skills. The panelists identified three areas of focus: Communications, Trust, and Team Work.

To recap, focus on understanding the limitations of the definitions within the computer industry. In addition to that, understand the requirements of the particular “job of your choice.” Where there is room to enhance your skills set, do so. Also, understand how to present your skill set and particularly your job history in a way that most accurately represents how talented you are. Finally, understand what the employers want and aim to fulfill those desires, especially in the area of soft skills.

By Deborah Anderson

@techauditcom and @socialwebcafe

About the author:

Deborah Anderson is on her way to finishing her doctorate in I/O Psychology. Along the way, she has served as Chief Technology Officer in the financial industry (in Beverly Hills), Director of Marketing in the health industry, Host of an iHeart Radio marketing talk show, and even a #1 Jazz Singer (Deborah E). From this background, she shares insights to help others overcome their challenges and succeed in their personal and professional lives.

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