Whether you’ve just graduated, are gearing up for commencement or have a few years left before you receive your degree, it’s never too early to begin preparing for a successful entry into the IT workforce. Here, CompTIA AITP members Candace Fountaine, learning and support specialist at Docebo, and John Sterrett, CEO and principal consultant at Procure SQL LLC, share the lessons they learned starting out in their first IT positions.
- Tap into your school’s career resources.
Even with a degree in hand, it’s not uncommon for it to be difficult to land that first IT job. But for students who take the time to tap into resources that provide them access to the industry—such as joining their CompTIA AITP student chapter, attending career fairs and participating in internships—the job hunt can be a little less stressful.
Candace and John recognized the value of these resources and found their first IT positions by attending their schools’ career fairs. Getting to know the recruiters and establishing in-person relationships proved effective.
“I interacted a lot with recruiters and found that meeting face-to-face was a good way to get in touch with someone. Once we talked and exchanged cards, they were able to get a feel for me and they knew who I was before the interview, which was a definite plus,” said Candace, who began her IT career as a client service analyst for athenahealth.
John began attending his university’s career fairs as a freshman. “By senior year, I knew everyone,” he said. His efforts landed him a position with Deloitte—one of the three companies he targeted.
- It’s never too early to have a career plan.
John also credits career planning with his success landing a job at a top consulting firm right out of college. Having a plan can help early career and entry-level IT professionals narrow in on what jobs are a good fit for their interests and strengths.
“I think it’s crucial to have a career plan,” said John. “It gives you the opportunity to figure out what makes you happy so you can do what you enjoy, instead of just making a paycheck. If I’m happy and satisfied, I’m a better employee because I’m more interested in the work I’m doing.”
As a student, it can be difficult to know exactly what you want to do long term, but use internships, courses and industry events to help guide you. And remember, “That plan is fluid and changing,” said John. “You should revisit it every six months to a year to make sure you’re on track or determine if something needs to change.”
- Be humble, adaptable and willing to learn.
After years of hard work learning about the latest technology, students are eager to jump into a position that uses their skills and knowledge. But technology is constantly changing and professional positions will require soft skills that may not have been taught during school. Entry-level IT pros need to remember that on-the-job learning is inevitable.
Candace found that staying humble and asking for help went a long way toward helping her succeed in her first IT role. “Tech changes every day. [At athenahealth], everything changed every week. We had new releases and new processes, new bug fixes, and I had to learn every single day. Students have good classroom knowledge, and it’s important to take that knowledge into your first job while keeping an open mind about how much you’ll have to learn once you're there.”
- Focus on the people.
With tech always evolving, John says he looks back and realizes that building relationships was key to both landing his first job in IT and having subsequent opportunities to grow into new roles.
“I was blessed with great mentors who are still friends today. Tech is always evolving and changing and it’s knowing people that matters the most. Relationships are by far the biggest asset that anyone can have in IT,” said John. “This should be a priority for anyone entering the IT field. Find good mentors and hold on to them.”