Hear directly from CIOs, CTOs, and recruiters on what it takes to stand out during an IT job search.

Laurianne McLaughlin, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek.com

November 3, 2014

4 Min Read

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While midcareer IT pros often lament lacking precisely the right skills for an IT opening, beginning IT pros have the opposite problem -- a fairly blank experience slate. How do you find your way through IT's notoriously tough maze of time-pressed recruiters and human resources screeners when your resumé is so short?

We talked to recruiters and top CIOs to get their advice on how beginning IT pros can prepare to stand out in the interview process.

1. Network, network, network.

More than ever, it is not what you know, but who you know, say all sides -- hiring organizations, recruiters, and job seekers. "The best way to get into Kayak is to have someone refer you," says Kayak CTO Giorgos Zacharia. Use alumni groups of every kind, LinkedIn, and volunteer work to connect with people inside target companies who can get you past the initial screening.

2. Contribute to open source projects.

Seek out volunteer work on open source projects (maybe you can connect with people via GitHub, for example.) This not only helps you build a body of work, but also helps you meet specialists in a desired area such as mobile development. Even at entry level, employers expect you to have a portfolio of project work. Internship work also counts. "Show verve and a passion to learn," says Asal Naraghi, director of talent acquisition for healthcare services company Best Doctors.

3. Display energy and passion for tech.

Did you beat a school record in a charity fundraiser? Did you do robotics competitions? Have examples. Here's what ConocoPhillips CIO Mike Pfister says about standing out in the interview process as a new grad: "Most important is just enthusiasm for technology."

4. Prepare to code and take tests.

Expect to face some kind of test of your technical knowledge. And no, you can't study for it. At Best Doctors, you'll have to display tech acumen over the phone in interview round one, and you may have to whiteboard in front of the project team in round two, Naraghi says.

Companies may also ask you to take a written test that involves logic and problem-solving, says Tracy Cashman, senior VP and partner in the IT search practice of WinterWyman in Boston.

5. Show the four C's.

Recruiters and IT leaders use the "C" words to describe great candidates: creative, consistent, curious -- with great communication skills. Can you demonstrate those qualities through student leadership roles? Hobbies? Think broadly.

One example: Big data leaders and CIOs say that a fantasy baseball habit is a legitimate way to show curiosity and passion for statistical analysis.

6. Know the business and its projects.

Learn not only about the business but also the kind of projects IT people there grapple with on a daily basis. For example, if you were interviewing with online retailer Gilt, you'd do well to discuss online traffic spikes, says Lauri Apple, technology evangelism specialist.

"During the whole interview process, ask a lot of questions about the business, as opposed to letting it be a traditional Q&A process," advises Linda Burtch, founder and managing director of executive recruiting firm Burtch Works. "Go in almost like an outside consultant," who'd be trying to figure out what makes the business tick and where the pain points are, she says.

"Show some business acumen," advises Royal Caribbean Cruises CIO Bill Martin.

7. Don't pretend to know everything.

In fact, it's mature to realize that you don't know what you don't know. "What stands out for me is any evidence that an individual really appreciates they might not have the answer to everything," says Toromont Industries CIO Mike Cuddy.

8. Look to go deep.

Today's IT shops don't just want experience, they want deep experience. It's important to realize the value of specialization early in your career. "Try to go deep before you go broad," says McGraw-Hill Education CIO David Wright. "… Make sure you have an anchor that goes deep in one discipline."

9. Show resiliency.

If it's your dream job, you don't have to take no for an answer. Naraghi remembers a time when her company said no to a beginning developer candidate. He came back, having coded something to show that he had the skills to do the necessary work. "That impressed me," she says -- and that person turned out to be a "rock star."

For more advice on today's hiring climate, read our related story: The IT Talent Shortage Debate.

-- Laurianne McLaughlin

Read the rest of the story in the new issue of
InformationWeek Tech Digest (free registration required).

About the Author(s)

Laurianne McLaughlin

Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek.com

Laurianne McLaughlin currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Editor-in-Chief, overseeing daily online editorial operations. Prior to joining InformationWeek in May, 2011, she was managing editor at CIO.com. Her writing and editing work has won multiple ASBPE (American Society of Business Publication Editors) awards, including ASBPE's 2010 B2B Web Site of the year award for CIO.com. Previously, McLaughlin served as a senior editor, online for Business 2.0 and as a senior editor for PC World, where she started her technology journalism career in 1992 as a news reporter. She is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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