The Big Interview: Are You Prepared?

In my day job, I manage a very skilled group of computer professionals. On occasion I have a need to hire a new consultant or, more rarely, a new employee, and it’s sometimes shocking at how unprepared some people are for the real world.

Since my job does involve hiring people, I often get asked, "how do I get hired", "how much money does an entry level person make" and other similar questions. One of the questions that nobody ever asks, but should, is "how can I best be prepared to get a job in the computer industry?"

Let’s assume you have just decided you want to go into the computer field. You are not really sure what that means, but you’ve been reading that there are plenty of high paying jobs available. What do you do?

Creating an opportunity

Okay, you’ve got your education, your certifications and some experience. You want a new job. What do you do now?

It’s simple. Network.

That’s the only real way (in my opinion) to find a job. You see, I’ve found that those people who came to work for me through personal contact made much better employees than those I hired through headhunters or newspaper ads.

Even more important, by far most positions are made available without much advertising. These also tend to be the better jobs … and to get in on them you have to know someone who will recommend you.

So start going to trade shows. Get on the internet. Send emails. Go to lunch with people. Get some names from those people, then get more names.

If you don’t get the job from me, be sure and ask me if I know someone else who might be willing to interview you.

That’s the best way to get a job.

The resume – your first chance

Well, as an employer (whether it’s a consultant or an employee) I am looking for someone who fills a specific need. Your first chance to impress me is your resume – don’t blow it. When I put out an advertisement for a new person I usually get back over 100 (and on occasion over 500) responses. Believe me, at first I’m looking at resumes deciding who to cut, not who to keep. So make sure your resume looks good, fits on one page, and is simple and neat.

What am I looking for on a resume and perhaps the cover letter? Ideally, the perfect match for my job requirements. So make sure you scope out the position first. You don’t know how many resumes wind up in the trash can because it’s obvious that the writer did not understand what I was asking for.

And don’t make the mistake of listing everything you’ve ever done, every skill you have and every other little thing you’ve got up your sleeve. What I want is a fit, not a general know-it-all. Spend a few minutes before you send it off to look up my company on the web. Check out some news stories (most companies of any size will have something about them on the internet) and poke around a bit. At least read my advertisement and tailor your resume or at the very least your cover letter to what’s mentioned.

What general things am I looking at on a resume?

  • Education – this is important but not absolutely critical. If you’ve gone to college and completed a degree in computing, well, that’s impressive. But it does not mean all that much in the real world. Yes, you’ve got book knowledge, but hey, the system is down, the CEO is standing behind you, fifteen users have called demanding support on their critical projects, and you are the only person on duty right now. Deal with it.
  • Continuing education – This is very different from a college degree and can count for a lot more. What this means is you’ve been taking classes while you’ve been working. Let’s say you went to college, then dropped out and got a job as a computer operator. Now you decided that you wanted more from life than changing a few tapes, so you go to night classes to learn how to manage the computers themselves. What you’ve proven is that you are motivated and perhaps are willing to put in a little more than usual to get the job done.
  • Certification – This goes hand-in-hand with continuing education. Someone who has received his MCSE is much more valuable as a system manager (nothing else being different) than someone who went to college to be a system manager. Certification, assuming you passed the tests honestly, puts an edge on your knowledge and makes you more valuable.
  • Experience – This outweighs everything else by far. If you’ve got the experience in what I need, you’re halfway to the job. Remember, though, if your resume is crowded with a hundred other things I may not be able to determine that you do, indeed, have the experience. This is where targeting your resume comes in … the better your resume pinpoints my needs, the better chance you have of getting to the next step.

When all is said and done the important thing to remember is to be yourself. You have a personality and an opinion, use this to your advantage. remember I am hiring the whole person not their education or not the clothes they are wearing. Prove to me you are a decent person and half the battle is over.

For the next step in looking for an IT job see The Trick To Breaking Into IT

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