Five top tips for job-seeking IT graduates

At the start of 2013, Australian ICT graduates faced a worsening job market as companies cut back graduate programs. Added to ongoing discussions about skilled migrant workers filling local jobs, and announcements of industry job cuts, it’s no wonder new employees entering the market may hold some concern about their prospects.

The prospects need not be so grim however. On a global scale Australia still holds its reputation as a lucky country, with a current unemployment rate of 5.5 per cent. The 457 visa remains the country’s best mechanism for meeting temporary skill shortages which continues to present issue to the local IT industry - among others. The local job market has steadied in recovery since 2009’s economic downturn, and according to the latest figures, over 76 per cent of bachelor degree graduates were in full-time employment within four months of completing their degrees.

One recurring criticism is a lack of investment by industry to commit to training, taking on interns and graduates, and up-skilling employees, but this aside, there is a number of basic skills that students of any major – or anyone who simply wants a leg-up on the competition – can use to instantly become more attractive to employers.

1. Writing

Hone in on your writing skills. In the Internet world, so much is communicated through web pages, social media and via email marketing, and good writing skills can put you step ahead of other job seekers. When someone I’m interviewing tells me they have a blog, I’m particularly interested. While it demonstrates a practiced passion – whether its technology, food or sport, it also gives me an opportunity to review their content, style and skill.

Having a blog is a great chance to stand out from the crowd and it gives your prospective employers a much deeper insight into your capabilities.  Blogging shows off a skill that can be put to use immediately and candidates with blogs have a much better chance of getting noticed and hired.

2. Web marketing

It has become fairly de facto for companies to invest a lot of time, energy and money into marketing on the web as a means of reaching potential customers because most consumers and businesses will start, and most probably finish, their search for a product or service online. Creating  content online, be it in the form of advertisements, website content, online marketing or conversion optimisation  are skills that can certainly land you a job, especially since these skills are generally not taught in schools.

3. Search engine marketing

Search engine marketing (SEM) and optimisation is closely entwined with web marketing. SEM broadly refers to getting traffic on your website through paid search ads and free web optimisation techniques. It’s important because this is what gets customers through the door to look at a company’s offering.  

Most companies today have a healthy budget for SEM activities, and while good SEM can make or break a company there is limited formal educational training to become a SEM professional. This is a skill that can be acquired through a bit of self-training however.

There are plenty of learning resources online relating to SEM, however, I say there is no better way to learn than by doing it. Start by marketing something on the web. It doesn’t have to be a capital-intensive product like a car. Create an e-book and market it online using paid search techniques and website optimisation. Another hint: since 65 percent of search is still done on Google, get real good at SEM on Google!

4. Social media

Who would have thought that all your hours of tweeting and “liking” would make you a hot commodity? Many companies are just realising the importance of social media for attracting, engaging and selling to customers, and are scrambling to put together their “social strategies.” Adept users of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn quite possibly have the skills to help companies with their social strategies.

Furthermore, many employers look at potential candidates online to see how prolific they are on social media. Today, a high Klout score may be more important than where you went to school and what you majored in. A Klout score can tell potential employers how relevant you are in social media and the blogosphere.

So the next time someone tells you to quit spending so much time on Facebook and Twitter, just tell them you are making yourself more employable. That’s not too far from the truth.

5. Programming

People mistakenly think that you need to be a computer scientist to be a programmer.  The fact is, most talented programmers out there are “left brain,” creative thinkers that are not technical majors. Programming will become a required skill, and you would do well by learning it rather than being considered skills deficient.

Businesses have become automated to the point where almost every task is done on computers running software applications. These applications need to be customised to suit a particular product or segment and this is where computer programming skills add value. HTML is the language for developing web content and other marketing collateral, and a form of programming that is a must-have skill.

While programming is taught in school, it is often skipped over by non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) majors. Today, there are many ways to learn programming – especially with online education sites such as Coursera and Udacity, where you can learn programming for free from some of the best instructors in the world.

The landscape has certainly changed for graduates today. Graduate program cutbacks are expected to continue in 2014, and finding the right role to kickstart a career is no easy feat. It’s important however to consider what skills will put your employment prospects ahead of the game, and these five tips are foolproof ways to go from being a statistic to a success story.

Raj Sabhlok is the President of ManageEngine and Zoho.com. 

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