Well that four years went by fast, didn’t it? I hope you enjoyed your college years and that you made many lasting memories, but now the real fun starts. It’s time to get out in the world and find that dream job. So where do you start?
While the following advice could pertain to any industry, I’m coming from the perspective of someone with over 25 years’ experience in the tech world. Assuming you’ve majored in one of the computer sciences, you can code, and you have a good GPA, any tech company would be thrilled to have you. Also, due to the fierce competition amongst tech companies for talent these days, you’ll start at a very nice wage. But before you start spending all that great money, you must first get the job and before that you need to land the interview. So where do you start?
The first thing to determine is where you do and do not want to work.
Compile a list of these companies and put them in order. Which one is your number one company? That place you’ve been dreaming about working at forever. Which company is almost as good and therefore ranks number two, and so on. Do the same thing with the list of companies where you feel--for some reason--you would never work, no matter what.
Once you’ve compiled your lists do the research. When I first began my career this research required days at the library. With the internet, this time has been reduced drastically. Despite the quick and easy access to information, you’d be amazed at how many people don’t take the time to read up on the company they’re about to speak with. They go into the interview with very little knowledge about the company, what the company does, or what problems they’re facing within their industry. Honestly, though, that’s okay, because these people are your competition. Don’t make it easy for them to compete with you by making the same mistake.
So, what are you looking for in terms of research? Basically everything; you want to know all you can about this company. What are they working on? What problems are they trying to solve? Are these the kinds of problems you’re passionate about? Do your skills align with helping to solve these problems?
Also, if you don’t already know someone who works at the company you’re about to interview with, find out the names of some people who do. Who’s running the department you want to work in? Do some research on them. Maybe you have some things in common that you can bring up if you get the chance to talk to this person. You might also find out the names of people working on projects that interest you.
Once you’ve gathered information about your subject, what do you do with it? For starters, there are a couple of ways you can apply for a job. One is to go to the company’s career website, find a position that you want to apply for, and send in your resume. This is what most people do. Sadly, I think it’s because it takes the least amount of effort. However, this approach pretty much results in your resume ending up in a pile with thousands of others that the company is receiving, and your odds of being contacted for an interview drop exponentially.
Another way to apply is to get your resume to someone at the company you know. This person will hopefully put your resume in the hands of a recruiter to look at, or even better, bring it directly to the hiring manager. This would really increase your odds of getting an interview. But what if you don’t personally know someone at the company? This is where some of your research comes in. You found a few names and you found out what some of these people are working on, so send them an email. That’s right, send them email out of the blue, but with some context. “Hi my name is… I’ve been going to this college and I’ve been working on a similar problem to the one you’re currently tackling. I’d love to talk to you about your approach…” You’re not going to ask for a job. You’re calling to talk about something the person is passionate about. Most people like to talk about the things that light a fire under them every day. Of course, once you have them on the phone you really do have to talk to them about their project, but during that call it’s okay to ask them what it’s like to work there or what they enjoy about working there. You might even ask them if they’d like to be your mentor or if they know of someone who might be willing to be your mentor. You’re being genuine here--you really do have a common interest--but at some point, if the conversation doesn’t lead to work you’ll have to come right out and ask what it takes to work there. This may be possible during the first call or a follow-up call if you’re able to set one up.
Show Your Potential
At some point you’re going to be granted an interview, but how do you prepare? Because you did your research you’ll be able to talk about the company and why you want to work there. You’ll be able to talk about the projects they’re working on and the problems they’re trying to solve. You should certainly point out how your skills and experience will help them to solve these problems.
Bottom line is, when they ask why you want to work there you’re going to have a very good answer.
During your research you may even have stumbled across a few of the questions most companies ask. Be careful here, however, as having the answer isn’t always what your interviewers are looking for. Tech companies love to ask logic questions, but they’re much more interested in seeing how you arrived at the answer than the answer itself. So, if you find that a certain company likes to ask how many gas stations there are in the US, blurting out 168,000 isn’t going to score any points. What they want to hear is you saying something like “I don’t know exactly, but there are about 320 million people in the US and there are probably so many cars per person and so many gas stations per car.” As I said, they want you to show your work, as it were.
What if you feel you’re not ready to interview or you’re too nervous? There are a few things you can do here as well. If you know someone at the company you want to interview with or you were successful in turning a call into a mentor relationship, you can ask that employee if they’d be willing to do a mock interview with you. You can also set up roleplaying interviews with your friends at school using some of the questions you discovered online. You can also get out that second list you made earlier, the one with the companies at which you don’t want to work. You were probably wondering why I had you do that one. Well, what better place to practice your interview skills than at a company for which you have no intention of working? You certainly shouldn’t be nervous. You don’t care if you get the job or not. In fact, you don’t want the job. Most tech companies ask similar interview questions, frankly, so you'll benefit greatly and you'll be under much less pressure.
You may be asking if this is fair to the company. Am I not just wasting their time? Perhaps, but let me tell you this. The number one company on my list of companies I didn’t want to work for was Microsoft, and not only did I end up taking their offer but I wound up working there for twenty years. So, you may have some very good reasons for not wanting to work for a company but you may find out that some of them are incorrect. When I say you should interview with a company you don’t want to work for it doesn’t mean don’t take the meeting seriously. It’s not good practice if you don’t prepare for it as if it’s your dream job. Besides, who knows, it may actually end up becoming your dream job.
One important thing to remember when interviewing: make sure to ask for a business card or email address from everyone you speak to.
Follow-up and Learn from the Process
Once you’ve had your interview and you think it went well, what’s next? At the end of the day ask the last person you talked to what the next steps are. If they said they would get back to you in a few days, wait for those few days before checking back about the job, but the second you get home from the interview send each person you talked to a short email thanking them for their time. If you haven’t heard back in a few days it’s ok to call the hiring manager or recruiter and ask how things are going. Hopefully that won’t be necessary as they may have already called you and made you an offer.
What if the answer isn’t ‘Yes, you’re hired’, but rather ‘No’. It’s not the end of the world. Whether you received the ‘No’ in a form letter or in a call you must find out why you got the No.
This isn’t really a push-back but a request for more information, an opportunity to learn from the experience.
And that’s exactly what you say to the person. “I would like to learn from the experience. Would you mind telling me the reason for the No?” You never know what you might hear. You may hear that you lacked a certain skill and it may be true, but then you can either ask if you acquired that skill if you could reapply or you could point out that you do in fact have the skill or even explain why you think not having that skill doesn’t matter because you have this other skill. You never know. I received multiple No’s from Microsoft and each time I called them back and could explain why the reason they had said No shouldn’t matter, and eventually I got the job… the job I didn’t want, you may recall. The bottom line is that No doesn’t always end the conversation; sometimes No starts the conversation.
It may take some time and it certainly will take some effort but at some point, you’ll have the job you want. Once you do land the position, however, make sure you hit the ground running. Find out exactly what your job entails. Find out what it takes to meet the expectations for your new job, and more importantly, what exceeding expectations looks like. Find out what your company and boss value and reward in terms of work performance and then do those things better than everyone else. Do those things and soon your dream job could very well turn into your dream career.
George A. Santino helps people who want to break down barriers, including self-imposed barriers, to success. Check out his new book: "Get Back Up: From the Streets to Microsoft Suites” which was an Amazon bestseller. For more information go to http://www.georgeasantino.com.