CompTIA AITP member Tom Brady has been an instructor at Trident Technical College in Charleston, South Carolina for more than 20 years, serving as the faculty advisor of the school’s CompTIA AITP student chapter from 2007-2014. It that time, Tom has learned what it truly takes for an IT student to get hired for their first job post-graduation—and it’s not all about the degree.
“When I agreed to be the faculty advisor for the [Trident Tech] student chapter, we were struggling with students who found the transition from school into the IT job market to be difficult,” said Tom. “I decided that the goal of the organization would be getting students employed.”
Tom realized that what was missing were opportunities for students to network with IT professionals and employers, and the student chapter of CompTIA AITP could fill that gap. So whether you’re graduating or just beginning your degree program, Tom stresses that networking is the key to finding your first position in IT and it’s never too late to get started—here’s how.
Start networking on day 1.
Graduating is the goal of enrolling in a college or post-secondary IT degree program. But ultimately that degree is a means to an end, and the majority of students are in school for one reason—to get a job—which is why Tom says networking should be a priority from the day you set foot on campus (even if it’s a virtual foot).
“I tell my students in their first class, their first semester, your job search starts today. They all look at me like I’m crazy,” said Tom. “But if you’re not starting today, you’re going to miss out on dozens of opportunities as you’re waiting to graduate. Classes are important—they will help you get you the skills you need, but it’s not the end. You need a job, so you need to start networking your first semester.”
Take advantage of CompTIA AITP student membership.
CompTIA AITP student membership is a simple way for IT students to tap into the industry. Student membership is free, and provides you with access to a variety of benefits, such as the powerful job search portal TechTalent, research and thought leadership, and career resources, such as the guide Your First Year on the Job: An IT Prepper. It also allows you to get involved with your school’s CompTIA AITP student chapter, as well as your local professional chapter. Through your school’s chapter, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in programs, events and networking and even take on leadership roles.
At Trident Tech, Tom led the charge to connect his student chapter with local tech employers. “We’d invite employers to come in and talk to students about what they need to do to get hired. They’d speak with them one on one, so that they can get to know students.” It was beneficial for the employers too: “Employers would say, ‘Look at all these students; we need to hire from this program.’”
Tom also focused on helping his students get hands-on experience in IT through projects that used their tech skills for service, partnering with a small company that provided pro-bono IT services for schools, non-profits and other community organizations. Students not only reinforced their tech skills in real-world situations, they could also add these experiences to their resumes.
Go to tech meetups, including those hosted by the local professional chapter of CompTIA AITP.
Your networking shouldn’t end with simply joining CompTIA AITP. According to Tom, to truly get the full benefits of networking, students must step out of their comfort zone and go where the professionals go—to local tech meetups. Once they do, students will typically find tech pros who are supportive.
“It can be intimidating for students to go to local tech meetups, but for our students, there will most likely be Trident Tech grads there. They will love that you showed up, because that is what they did to get their job,” said Tom.
Pay it forward.
For Tom, the ultimate reward is when a student lets him know that his advice led them to their first IT job. “I always tell students, in IT, the first job is always the hardest to get because no one wants to hire a person without experience. The involvement in the student chapter, networking, participating in these opportunities to gain real-work IT experience—you have to put it on your resume to show you have experience.”
Once students graduate and are hired, Tom looks to them to continue reaching back to the program for new talent. “I tell my former students, your job is do great, and when you get promoted, we want a Trident Tech student to replace you.”