Support Site for The Unemployed & Underemployed
Wednesday January 23rd 2019

Career advice for a fresh IT graduate from a hiring manager

Han Wei,

I previously posted a reply to a 40+ years IT person looking for a job and Gilbert excerpted it and called it career advice. It was not. But with this reply I hope to give you some career advice that may help you.

You are just starting your career and a new chapter in your life. You should be excited and not bitter about low wages at McDonald’s (unless you are planning to get a job there).

First, you need to decide whether a career in IT is what you really want. Your degree is in software engineering and so your first job will likely be that of a programmer. It is a hard job, with long hours. You may be spending hours staring at screens of code trying to figure out why the program is not working as expected. You may go for days without seeing the sun in order to meet a deadline. On top of that, you have to be constantly updating your skills to keep up with the technology. Your social life may suffer. Some people enjoy these challenges, many do not.

If you decide that you do not want to be a programmer after all, you can stop reading now.

If you still decide that it is what you want to do, then it will help you a great deal in your job hunt if you can understand the mindset of an IT manager. I have hired and managed hundreds of programmers in my career so I can share some of it with you.

When a manager makes a hiring decision, she is taking a bet as well. If the person hired turns out to be inadequate for the job, her own career may be affected.

One indisputable fact is that a top programmer can be five times as productive as an average programmer, especially when taking into account the cost of testing and on-going maintenance, support, and upgrade. And that is before the opportunity cost if a project is delayed.

Another fact is that in most companies it is easier to get a few extra thousand dollars a month to hire a top programmer than to get permission to hire two. So it is hard to imagine a competent manager would hire a foreigner with dubious credential or ability just to save a few thousand dollars and risk her career.

When I was hiring and given a salary range for the new hire, I would always try to find the best person at the high end of the range to make sure I get the best possible person. If that person happened to be a foreigner, I would go through the necessary paperwork. But relevant ability and experience are always the first two things to be considered.

Given the above, what can you do to maximize your chance of getting a job? You are graduating in February so some of my suggestions really should have been started earlier, but it is not too late.

You have to admit that a degree from Informatics is not the same as one from MUS or NTU. This is not discrimination. I have had employees from schools such as Informatics that are better programmers than their NUS colleagues. But there is a general perception that NUS or NTU students are better. So you need to overcome that perception and demonstrate that you can be as good as – or even better than – the other job seekers.

A few decades ago, when IBM dominated the IT industry, one of the IBM salesman’s pitches was “No one ever get fired for buying an IBM.” The idea was that if you did not an IBM computer and project failed, then you would have to take the blame and likely get fired. But if you bought an IBM computer and the project failed, then you could point to the computer and say that if even an IBM could not do it, no other computer could. The same may apply here to NUS and NTU graduates.

One way to do this is to have actual programmes that you have written available for the hiring manager to see. I have replied to another post saying that it is not expensive these days to get a website. So get yourself a website (I am assuming you know how to do that) and post your programs there. Don’t post your school assignments unless they are major projects. Most school assignments are too simple. Pick a few things that will be relevant to the companies to which you will be applying. Use as many different languages as you have learned to show off your versatility. Show your source codes to highlight your programming style. Include the URL in your CV and then print up some business cards with your name, e-mail address, phone number, and the URL on it so that you can hand it to the hiring manager during the interview. If possible, show it to her on your phone during the interview.

A hiring manager may see 10 to 20 applicants in one day. So anything you can do (within reason, of course) to stand out from the other applicants will help you.

Always try to anticipate what the hiring manager is looking for. Keep your spirit up. Do not blame foreigners. Do your best.

Best of luck.

This 2 shall pass

Editor’s note: The above article is extracted from a comment posted on our site.

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