The tech industry is a great place to work and not only because you don’t have to wear a tie every day. It’s one of the most progressive places to work where you get to work on solutions to problems that can affect up to millions of people and it’s also an incredibly fun place to work. I regularly get asked how to get into the tech industry by students — it’s a little different to how most other industries work — so here are some tips if you want to start or change your career in tech.
Have a public persona.
To show that you’re interested in the tech industry, you need to use tools and sites made by the tech industry. Unfortunately, if you’re not using Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr or have a public Facebook profile, companies may look over you. It’s surprisingly important.
You don’t need to have hundreds and thousands of followers but just keep it up to date with opinions or media and links that you find interesting. No posts about what you’re having for dinner. It can be uncomfortable at first if you’re a private person, but the best way is to dive in. Start by following interesting people and copy how they use the platform.
Employers will Google you and find things even if they’re not linked on your résumé or website. I’ve seen applicants who are racially abusive and who post hardcore pornography on their Twitter accounts. If you wouldn’t do it in front of a potential boss, don’t put it on the internet publicly under your name.
Show off your skills.
Similarly to above, if you’re a developer, show off your skills on Github. If you’re a designer, sign up for a Dribbble or Behance account. If you’re neither, maybe try writing a blog post or two on Medium or Wordpress. Anything you can do to make you stand out from other candidates is a bonus.
Have a project to talk about.
Again, like showing off your skills, have a side project. Show that you enjoy creating things and have the skills that you say you do on your résumé. Work with other people on their ideas. The reason I had my first interview was that I built my college’s student body website while at university.
If you’re not a designer or developer, use skills to help people online. For example if you’re in marketing, try and improve the marketing for a small business online. If you’re a copywriter, improve the copy on a band website. In the words of Simon Whybray, “don’t wait to be asked to do something”.
Any experience of working on tech projects will improve your validity for a tech job by factors of 10. A friend went for an interview recently and the interviewers were more interested in a cottage website she made for a friend over her years of advertising experience.
More not-working than networking.
Apologies to Glug for stealing the heading, but an easy way to get into the tech industry is by meeting people. Go to events (in London, events like Glug, Design and Banter, HN London, Silicon Drinkabout, etc.) and meet people.
If you’re beginning to be good at social networking, it might be a good idea to arrange with people on social media to meet there so it isn’t as daunting. Even if you arrive on your own, have fun and get a drink or two with other attendees.
Connections like this are great to help you to get a job. Just don’t go to events with the sole intention of finding a job though, go to have fun. Don’t be the tech-equivalent of a pick-up artist.
Find companies you want to work for.
Not all tech companies are created equally — some are small startups that don’t have a business model, some are large tech companies that generate millions a month. The level of security you want will mean you will apply to different companies.
However, I would honestly say that working at a startup and a large tech company are a lot closer in security than most people believe. Large tech companies regularly make cuts and redundancies.
If you work for a startup, make sure they have a decent business model. A company burning through thousands without an idea of how to generate revenue is a huge risk and is rarely likely to succeed without pivoting.
Using job boards is a perfectly valid way to find work too. Good international job boards include Work in Startups, Smashing Mag Jobs, Authentic Jobs, Dsgn Jbs, We Work Remotely, Hire My Friend and Designer News Jobs. There will be local job boards too (e.g. in London we have Hacker Jobs, Built in London and 3 Beards), do your research and ask on social media for the best ones.
Present your résumé well.
Your résumé will be one of the first thing an employer will see. Make sure you present it well. Think about the information you need on there. You don’t need your grades from when you were 16 if you went to university and you don’t need that summer job if it isn’t relevant.
It’s good practice to keep your résumé as black and white as companies will print it out. Pick a nice, readable typeface and don’t make it too small. The standard 2-page rule to résumés applies. I once received a 10 page résumé and didn’t read past page 2 so I imagine most other people would be similar.
I would suggest putting a photo on your résumé too, especially if you’re planning to give it out at a job fair. People are a lot better at remember faces than names when they have a pile of résumés staring back at them.
Unless relevant to the company, I would even suggest removing any “activities” and “interests” section. I’ve worked with people in the past who’ve had different interests but work together well, plus it may give some employers a wrong impression of you. And of course, try to avoid the résumé clichés in any of your wording.
Your first email.
Once you’ve done your résumé, it’s time to send it off. Depending on the company, the submission process will vary. Some will be email, some will be submitting a form. If it’s the latter and the company is small enough, it may be worth finding the person in charge of hiring on LinkedIn and emailing them directly. Be apologetic but it is a good way to get attention.
Be friendly in your emails. No “Dear Mr Lomas” or “Yours Sincerely”. Write as if you know and respect them. Focus on why you could help the company rather than how good you are. You want to help their team grow, not just have a job for the sake of having a job.
Just like your emails, wearing smart-casual to an interview is usually fine if the company is small enough. When I went for my first interview, I did the mistake of wearing a full-on suit. It was also the middle of summer so I was sweating because I was nervous and boiling hot. The two guys who interviewed me laughed it off because I was new to the industry.
In your interview, you will get open questions, so it’s a good idea to have strong opinions. If you believe that user experience is vital for a project, tell them that. If they agree with you, then it’s a good fit. If they don’t, it’s somewhere you wouldn’t want to work anyway.
Get a gut feeling about the company and the office. Ask questions to see if it would be a place you’d want to work — ask about the company culture, ask about the business model, ask about who you’ll be working with. If you sense any red flags, don’t pursue the job after the interview.
It’s easy for me to say “don’t pursue a job” — I don’t have a mortgage and kids, I don’t even have cats to look after — but I have seen people accept jobs to end up hating them and missing out on better opportunities.
Don’t be disappointed.
The nature of the tech industry, especially at a startup level, means that things change very quickly. That job that you applied for may not be there, even pre- or post-interview. Priorities change for tech companies quicker than most other industries. Just remember that there’s plenty more fish in the tech sea.
You will get knocked back several times too. I’ve had a few interviews that I thought I’d be a great fit but didn’t get the work because I wasn’t good enough at the time. I interviewed at Poke in 2006 back when my PHP was very rough and they told me that my back-end skills weren’t good enough. I could have accepted their decision and just carried on applying to jobs but it made me more determined to hone my skills. If you get a rejection from an interview, ask them for an honest opinion. It will really help you long term.
It may take time, but it will be worth it. For me, there’s two great sides to the tech industry.
The first is the lifestyle. You don’t need to wear a suit or dress. The hours can be flexible. You could work remotely. You’ll have friendly, passionate colleagues who really care. You’re going to have fun while you’re in the office.
The second is you’re contributing to something bigger. A way to change the something about the world. You’re helping people that you may never meet, either in a small or huge way, and that’s the reason I love working in the tech industry.