A step in the right direction

For a new IT graduate, getting a foot in the door to kick off that brilliant career is probably one of the greatest challenges in life. So where to now?

You've just completed a computer-related degree. Or maybe you're on the verge of wrapping up a Bachelor of Science in Computing Science, a Bachelor of Information Technology or an IT related course at a university, an institute or at Tafe.

You're probably pumped up with anticipation and mixed emotions of finally putting all the hard-learned knowledge and skills to use. Naturally, you're also likely to feel concerned that despite being newly qualified in the world's fastest growing industry, employment isn't going to instantly materialise. Maybe you're also worried that even with three or four years of hard yakka your qualifications could quickly expire, becoming redundant in a profession where technology changes at warp speed.

Regardless, what do you do next? And more importantly what steps should you take in trying to not only find, but get that dream job?

Obvious prerequisites that apply to any new graduate entering the job market include a concise, well prepared resume and a neat and professional looking appearance.

Sending your resume to known employers in the field in which you want to work, in conjunction with signing up with a few reputable employment agencies is playing safe, as are contacting the career section of your university or Tafe and attending trade fairs.

Perhaps more important though, is identifying the specific area you wish to work in and why, what skills are needed and what skills you can bring to the job.

According to Robert James, senior consultant, IT services at Drake Executive, the first thing a graduate in an IT related field should ask themselves is: "Why would somebody want to hire me in preference to each and every one of my fellow students, and every other graduate in the country? If you don't have the answer that a prospective employer wants to hear, you can't expect the answer that you want to hear."

Furthermore, making a decision to specialise right from the outset will make you as a graduate more focused than many of your peers who have only vague ideas about which field they would like to work in.

As Glenn Stewart, associate director of Information Systems Management Research at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) explains, when deciding on future career direction and orientation: "Don't say Ôanything in development'; say applications development in PC databases for small business; don't say Ôanything networks'; say Windows NT support. Even select the type of industry you wish to apply your skills to - finance, mining, hotels, engineering. In this way you will not only be selling yourself - you will have something to sell."

Also, becoming fully aware of what areas are currently in demand and focusing on one of them will greatly enhance your chances of immediate employment. Proactively looking in newspapers and liaising with employee agencies are two of the best ways of keeping one's finger on the pulse.

Expectations

Having thus taken your first steps, what should you then expect? As with any industry a graduate is hoping to enter, you will probably have to contend with a lot of competition and a lot of initial no's. If you expect to walk straight into a top-notch position you will invariably be disappointed. Not only are you competing with your fellow graduates, but also with past graduates of the same or similar courses with perhaps two or more years experience in the workplace. In addition, you will also often find yourself up against those with several years industry experience who have been trained in the specific field in which you want to work. Whilst your tertiary qualification should ultimately stand you in good stead, it is worth remembering, as Drake's James notes, that: "The aim of every business is to make a profit, not to provide somebody with employment. Experienced people (more likely to enable an employer to reduce costs and to increase revenues) are usually preferred to those with little experience."

Furthermore, as QUT's Stewart points out: "Qualifications are more than a degree and some technical competence. Qualifications include being able to work in a team, being able to communicate and to be flexible. Some employment areas are oversubscribed (too much supply for the demand)."

However, despite the hardships likely to be encountered, remaining optimistic and looking proactively should ultimately result in success. As John Hodgson, senior consultant at Robert Walters Tristar points out: "There are always jobs for well qualified and presented young people. Be prepared to work at getting a job - nothing will fall into your lap. Getting a good job requires tenacity and dedication."

Redundancy vs. adaptability

Another major consideration for any graduating student is the longevity of the qualification you have acquired in a rapidly changing industry. Whilst database application development and analysis, Java, Visual Basic, HTML, Lotus Notes applications and Unix systems admin might be the flavours of the month, this can change quickly. A classic example of this can be seen in year 2000 programming (especially Cobol), which is not only attracting huge salaries but is also in great demand at present. These skills will obviously become redundant once compliance dates come and go.

As QUT's Stewart puts it: "Students must embrace life long learning and have an active personal professional development program. Those who don't keep pace will join the outplaced queues very quickly. Once you're displaced from employment it's very hard to get back in. The only solution is to maintain your currency."

Conversely, graduates need to be aware not only of the prospective lifespan of the skills they hope to employ immediately, but also of new technology and the opportunities it will present. As Drake's James says: "When most new computer science graduates commenced their studies, skills in Web site development were as rare as a 56Kbps modem. Today both are common. What will differentiate you in the marketplace is your exposure to, and experience in, the new technologies and your ability to embrace change more rapidly than others."

Specialisation, combined with adaptability are essential for any graduate, yet even allowing for the myriad of challenges presented, a tertiary qualification should not be underestimated. As Tristar's Hodgson explains: "IT does change rapidly. However, university teaches not only technical skills but how to think."

How much will I earn?

Once you have gained employment, what sort of initial salary can you expect? Like any profession, IT graduates have to expect to start at the bottom rather than the top. Patience and diligence will dictate how quickly salary increase and/or promotion will eventuate. Yet IT graduates are fortunate when one considers that they have one of the highest starting salaries in the workforce. Depending on location, demand and skill set you can expect to earn between $26,000 and $32,000 in your first year, rapidly rising to up to $50Ð$60K within four years. Contractors can earn between $30 and $150 an hour, depending on supply and demand.

You have embarked on a career in one of the most dynamic and rapidly growing industries in the world and despite initial hardships likely to be encountered in breaking in, the rewards should ultimately far outweigh the drawbacks.

5 tips for job seeking graduates

1. Prepare a first class resume and have an immaculately neat and professional appearance.

2. Do a careful analysis of your skills and experience. Have a specific goal in mind. Try and list three specialist fields you would like to enter.

3. Practise your interview technique and know the company, its needs, its competition and what you can contribute. You can easily obtain a corporate profile from the internal marketing department.

4. Go for experience before salary. Dividends will be greater in the long term.

5. Be patient. Graduation is only the beginning of a long and hopefully successful career.

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