How to prepare for your tech career while you’re still in college

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A newly minted degree doesn’t guarantee a job—even if you have all the tech skills employers are looking for. And since finding a job always takes longer than you think (and student debt can up the urgency), it’s important to start your post-grad job search pre-grad.

The key: Begin applying for full-time jobs at the start of your senior year to boost your chances of having a job lined up before you graduate. 

However, many students worry that they won’t have enough (or the right) experience to impress employers. After all, over 67% of graduating college students haven’t accepted a full-time job offer before graduation. And surprisingly, that number is higher for CS grads, with over 72% without a job before flipping the tassel. 

So how can you market yourself to employers if all you have is a pending college degree and a bare-bones resume? Below, you’ll learn how to get a job after college while you’re still in college, including how to step outside the lecture hall to build a standout resume employers can’t ignore.

How to get a job after college (months before graduating)

If you’re supposed to start applying for jobs at least six months before graduation, how does that all work? Let’s look at the logistics behind getting a tech job even if aren’t available to start work until you graduate. 

First, know that lots of employers are willing to extend offers to qualified candidates even if they’re still in school. Why? The tech skills shortage is still very real, and hiring early in the academic year gives employers the chance to secure top talent before the competition heats up during grad season. Plus, there’s likely multiple rounds of interviews and coding tests to complete, so the hiring process itself could end up taking several months. In fact, the average hiring time for tech roles is 24.4 days (with many stretching well beyond that).  

So how do you know which companies hire students well before graduation? College career fairs and campus job sites are two good places to start, since employers featured here have a track record of hiring college students. You can also apply for entry-level or junior roles outside your university’s network by including your expected graduation date on your resume.

However, to make those applications worth it, you’ll need a solid resume with the right skills and experience. In the following sections, you’ll get tips on building up a winning college resume that impresses employers (even if you don’t have “real-world” experience yet).

1. Take advantage of your college’s career resources

Start by checking with your college’s career center to see what they have to offer. They can help you create a plan based on your major and career goals. Plus, they’ll be able to tell you the common timeframes and recruiting seasons for certain industries and roles. 

For example, recruiters at consulting firms, financial organizations and bigger companies typically start scouting tech candidates in the first week of senior year, but startups, nonprofits and smaller companies typically wait until much later. Likewise, recruiters start earlier for more in-demand roles, like software engineers and data scientists, while they might wait until the spring semester to recruit UX designers or web developers. Knowing this insider info on your desired industry and role could help you get a jump on the competition. 

Beyond job search assistance (e.g., resume reviews, mock interviews, career workshops), they’ll often have direct relationships with campus recruiters, as well as a list of campus and local job fairs, networking events and an alumni network you can tap into. They might even be able to provide intel on which companies heavily recruit out of your school in particular.

Career coach tip: Before you attend a career fair, choose the companies you want to target, research them and prep your talking points. 

2. Join student organizations

Employers are often more interested in real-world experience vs. a GPA score. That’s why getting involved on campus is a smart way to show that you can juggle school, work and other activities. Joining a club that’s in line with your desired career goals and interests will also open up networking opportunities, strengthen your leadership, teamwork and communications skills, and enhance your resume.

Your college campus might have hundreds of student organizations, so finding the right one (or two) can be overwhelming. To make it easier, search through your college’s online databases or go to student organization fairs, pick up brochures and talk to org members to test the waters. Ask your classmates and professors what clubs they recommend. If you want to eventually work at a specific company, see if they support any orgs on campus. 

For example, the Q++ group at the University of Texas at Austin is a student-run org out of the Department of CS for LGBTQIA+ people in tech. Students at UC Berkeley can join Blueprint, a club that develops pro-bono apps for nonprofits. 

3. Take on an internship

Tech internships are a great way to earn academic credits, extra money and valuable skills that can help clarify your career interests before you jump into a full-time role (and they boost your resume at the same time). Internships also show employers that you have experience in the professional workplace—i.e., you understand modern office etiquette—which can make the transition from college to the working world much smoother. 

According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), out of all 2019 graduates who received job offers during their senior year, 57.5% had an internship and 43.7% didn’t. So while you can certainly land a job without an internship under your belt, having one could potentially boost your chances of getting an offer before you walk across the stage.

4. Volunteer in your community

Data shows that 61% of all full-time “entry-level” jobs require more than three years of experience. But how can you get experience if you’re busy writing papers, studying for exams and trying to coordinate that group project? 

In your free time (even if it’s just a few hours a week), pitch an idea to a small company or local business and volunteer to take it on. You could offer to build or overhaul a local mom-and-pop’s website or mobile app, or you could teach coding to kids at an after-school program.

Volunteering isn’t just a great way to boost your resume and portfolio. It also gives you real-world experience working with clients and can help you make connections in your local community—which could lead to future job referrals.

5. Go on informational interviews

You’ve heard it before: Networking is one of the single most important parts of any job search, particularly while you’re still in college. So get to know the people who can help take your career further by setting up informational interviews.

Tap into your college’s alumni database by searching for contacts that match your location and desired career field. Ask your professors if you can chat with them about a certain role, industry or company. If you approach them thoughtfully, people are often more than willing to carve out time to talk to you about how they accomplished their career goals (and you might end up with a career mentor, future job shadow opportunity or even an internship). Note: You’re only asking for information and advice at this point—not a job referral.

6. Build your portfolio

Your online presence matters. And while you might’ve already taken down any unprofessional photos (or changed the privacy settings on your social media profiles), there’s more you can do to impress employers online, instead of hiding from them.

If you’re targeting developer roles, set up a GitHub account and start contributing code. If you’re looking for a UX role, show off your user interfaces and designs on Dribbble or Behance. You can also start a tech blog, answer questions on Stack Overflow or Quora or contribute guest posts to your school’s newspaper to build authority in your niche.

Take control of how you’re seen online: Check out our complete guide to personal branding for tech pros.

7. Play up your transferable skills during interviews

You might end up learning more at a retail job than during a tech internship. That’s because all work experience, tech or not, develops in-demand soft skills. In fact, the soft skills employers on the Seen platform look for most often when searching for tech candidates are management, communication, leadership, problem-solving and teamwork. And according to a recent Seen survey, 70% of all recruiters and hiring managers say adaptability is the most important quality in tech candidates. 

However, while tech employers want college graduates with these soft skills, they report having difficulty finding them. So even if you don’t have work experience that’s directly related to your desired career field, you’ll stand out if you add them to your resume and prepare examples that show them off during interviews.

Graduate with a diploma and a job offer

Too many students wait until May or June to start looking for their first job out of college. But with months-long hiring processes, student loans to think about and competition from other grads, the earlier you start your post-graduate job search the better.

And while you might be able to get away with procrastinating in school, the job search is an entirely different kind of assignment. Get started at the right time, use the free resources your college offers and put some effort into building up a standout resume and you’ll ace your college job search.

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