How to Get Hired in Tech
How do you prepare yourself to enter an industry that’s constantly evolving? Although job titles and programming syntax might change, there are still several steps you can take to become a compelling candidate and ace your application when looking for a job in tech.
Recently, we got to talk to Kaylee Yoon and Ryan Kleinberg, two former members of the CATLab who are now working full-time in the tech industry. We also got to hear from Anvitha Akurathi, a 10x certified senior Salesforce administrator, and Ian Monsoma and Andrew Clark, both from Robert D. Niehaus, Inc. (RDN). Here are their pointers for how to land a job right out of college.
1. Explore opportunities and build your resume
Before you even begin your job search, it’s important to have some relevant experience under your belt, whether that’s an official internship, a personal project, or another opportunity that supplements your coursework. Looking back, Kaylee Yoon shared that a strength of her Westmont education was that “it pushed me to get outside experience and do internships and projects.” Ryan Kleinberg noted that “getting some kind of personal project or extracurricular research under your belt is a great separator from the average resume.”
Anvitha Akurathi of AppFolio shared that a great strategy for building up experience is volunteering with nonprofits. Although perhaps not as prestigious as landing a competitive internship, offering your skills to an organization that needs them can provide a valuable exercise in understanding a business and helping them come up with solutions to problems. “In that process,” said Anvitha, “you will learn a lot about what you’re good at. At the same time, you are helping someone else.”
At the same time, especially in your final years of college, make the effort to reach out to people, hear about what they do, and investigate possibilities for the future. Kaylee suggested using LinkedIn to get a sense of everything that’s out there—pay attention to job titles or companies that pique your interest, and don’t be afraid to forge some new connections as part of this learning process.
2. Practice specific skills and get certifications
If you’re hoping to get a job that involves coding, don’t forget to keep up your programming and problem-solving skills. It doesn’t matter if you got good grades in your computer science classes if you don’t show that you can use that knowledge to solve problems. Kaylee shared that as she neared the end of her internship last year and began to think about finding a job, she used LeetCode.com to brush up on her skills.
While Ryan agreed that problem-solving was important, he also repeatedly encouraged us to remember principles and best practices, especially what Westmont teaches in CS 120: Space, Time, and Perfect Algorithms. “Anybody can learn how to code,” he explained, “but being able to understand how the data impacts runtime is what companies and development teams are looking for in the professional field.” He continued:
“The knowledge of runtime and how everything interacts with each other—that is something that will differentiate you.”
Another good way to stand out from among other applicants is to get certifications that prove your abilities. Anvitha, who herself has 10 Salesforce certifications and no intention of slowing down, shared that anyone going into the Salesforce ecosystem should try to get certified as both an administrator and a developer. Having those concrete credentials, she said, “will give you an edge” when you start applying for jobs. One improvement we’ve brought to the CATLab this summer is giving all our developers time to study for certifications and encouraging them to take the exams by the end of the summer.
3. Invest in soft skills, too
As important as it is to have technical prowess, you need more than hard skills to succeed in technology. First, technology is used to solve problems in almost every other field and industry. “Data science is very interdisciplinary,” Kaylee explained. To be effective, she said,
“You want to be able to have a broad view—you don’t want to be stuck in the minutiae.”
Second, building solutions requires a deep understanding that can only come out of constant communication with stakeholders. Unlike in the classroom, the tech industry “is all about the end product,” Kaylee said. Sometimes this priority means you have to read between the lines to see not just the problem you’re presented, but the bigger-picture problems that contribute to it. In any case, Ryan noted that “communication is invaluable.” He continued, “Especially starting out, nobody’s going to be an expert, so you need to be able to go ask for help and resources to go to. I think that’s a pretty universal trait that you need to display: you need to communicate well with your teammates.” As Ian Monsma, a program manager at RDN, said:
"You can be the best coder in the world, but if you don’t know how to communicate with other people who are not coders, then you’re not going to get very far.”
4. Lean into and grow your networks
“The most important thing,” said Ryan when we asked him about getting hired, “is you’ve got to network.” And to do networking well, you’ve got to do more than just attend a function and acquire some business cards (and, granted, even that is a big ask with current restrictions on gathers). Once you meet someone, follow up and strengthen the connection by adding them on LinkedIn or a similar networking platform. As Ryan said, “You never know who is going to help you get your foot in the door.”
Kaylee gave us similar advice. Especially for CATLab students trying to get a job at a local Santa Barbara company, Kaylee told us to “lean on Westmont connections.” These connections range anywhere from professors to the multitude of resources offered by the college’s career center, including career fairs, resume workshops, and interview advice.
Anvitha added that once you “understand the kind of problem you want to solve,” you can join relevant communities on LinkedIn, Salesforce, and other platforms that bring people together. As well as forging connections, these communities can keep you engaged with the latest developments in your field.
5. Do your research
One of the other reasons Anvitha recommends joining communities is that doing so will help you keep abreast of key issues and changes. It’s not enough to just be aware of these things, though; Anvitha advises:
“Dig a little deeper, understand why they’re introducing this new feature and how to use it—that’ll help you personally to improve your knowledge and also give you a really good edge over any other person in the interview.”
Kaylee shared that even though her job hunt is over, she still makes an effort to stay up to date. In fact, her whole team regularly reads and discusses scholarly articles as part of their normal cycle of work.
If you’ve gotten to this point in the process, you’re probably about ready to start sending off your resume or responding to job postings. Before you do, however, make sure you know the company and what it does, not just the one role you’re applying for. Kaylee shared that at her company, the very first hurdle in the hiring process is an interview to determine an applicant’s fit with the company. Andrew Clark, marketing manager at RDN, put it this way:
“Do your homework. If you were to have an interview, for example, with a company, spend an hour or two online trying to understand what that company does so that you’re able to articulate what you’re able to bring. That bodes really well.”
Ryan added that if you can display interest in the whole company, “it shows that you’re interested in more than just doing your job” and tells employers that you’re going to be a valuable member of their team. Again, seeing the big picture puts you at a real advantage—“Being able to understand how everything connects is important not just in a development environment, but in a professional one as well.”
Once you have done your research on a company, you’ll have some great material to use in your cover letter and interviews. Expressing a genuine excitement about something particular to the company or opportunity can help you articulate how you might fit in and can set you apart from the crowd.
In sum, here’s the most common advice we got from talking to multiple tech professionals: build up experiences, strengthen your resume, practice hard and soft skills, get relevant certifications, grow your networks, and research your field and prospective companies. We hope this article has helped you see all the ways you can prepare and give yourself an edge in the job application process even before you hit “apply.”
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