Don't get fixated on work experience as the only means of impressing recruiters.
If your applications have been unsuccessful or you have left it too late to apply, there are other ways to make yourself an appealing candidate. An IT sandwich placement or internship is just one way to develop the skills and experience employers want.
IT temp jobs
Small and medium-sized employers sometimes have paid temporary positions suitable for students, even if these aren’t labelled as ‘internships’. Ben Broughton, director of Premier Group Recruitment, comments: ‘I would suggest that people looking for these kinds of roles search directly on the companies’ websites or submit their CV to clients they are interested in working for with a strong covering letter explaining why that particular company. Following this up with a phone call would also be a good move.’ You could also sign up with a local or university temping agency. Read our tips on how to write a covering letter and guidance on how to put together a technical CV. Additionally, check out our example of a one-page technical CV.
IT work shadowing
If you can’t find paid work in IT, consider lining up a few days’ work shadowing. While not as impressive in graduate job applications as an internship, work shadowing will still show employers that you’ve been proactive and gained a feel for what the IT careers that interest you might involve. You could approach local companies on spec to see if they could arrange this, or seek help from networks of family and friends or university contacts. Your department or careers service is likely to have contacts in the industry, and might even have an alumni contact scheme to allow you to get in touch with former students in companies that interest you. A word of warning: work shadowing means observing a professional do their day-to-day job; it doesn't mean you doing actual work. If it turns into something that resembles actual work experience, make sure you know your rights when it comes to unpaid work experience and internships first.
Start your own IT project
Don’t get fixated on work experience as the only means of impressing recruiters. Think ahead to your final year, when you’ll face application form or interview questions such as ‘Give me an example of a time when you used your initiative to solve a problem’, or ‘Tell us about a situation in which you made improvements to a product or service’. The key is to have experiences worth talking about to draw on – but these don’t have to come from working in someone else’s business. Seek out opportunities that will let you use your IT skills – or even just your common sense – to bring about an improvement.
It could be lending a hand to a friend or family member with some aspect of their small business, helping a university club, society or event to function more smoothly, or offering your skills to a community group. Finding a project that allows you to use your technical skills is ideal – for example, improving how a website functions or designing a new database. However, bringing about a benefit in a non-technical way will also be well looked upon, especially for more business-focused IT jobs. Saving an organisation time or money or helping it recruit new members are good examples.
Learn a new programming language
One key problem for IT graduates is that the programming languages they’ve learned at university often don’t match up with those that employers actually need. If you end up with a free summer, use it to your advantage. Research those employers that interest you and find out which programming languages they typically seek. If it’s not obvious from their website or job ads, get in touch and ask. Read our article on the programming languages and other technical skills that IT recruiters want. Once you’ve identified any skills gaps, find a way to plug them. Try online tutorials or download open-source software and play about. Even better, once you’ve mastered a new programming language, find yourself a project to apply it to – perhaps one of the scenarios outlined above.
If you are coming from a non-technical background and simply want to learn to code, you could use sites like Coursera to develop a few skills. Coursera will then allow you to add information about finished courses directly to LinkedIn, enhancing your profile in the eyes of potential employers.
With some basic coding skills, you can start writing software for fun – such as applications to keep track of your expenses, make statistics on the words you use in your emails and Facebook posts, or interface with public weather services around the globe to find the most pleasant locations to live each day!
Improve your soft skills
For most roles, IT companies seek strong soft skills as well as technical ones. If you’ve spent most of your time at university in front of a computer, now is the time to branch out. Does the thought of giving a presentation, participating in a role play or negotiating at an assessment centre terrify you? Could you answer the question ‘Give us an example of a time when you had to change your communication style to achieve a goal’? Get yourself involved in some team projects or activities or consider working as a volunteer, for example with young people. You might even enjoy your summer more than if you’d done an internship.
Volunteer your IT and technical skills
If you are already skilled in software development, you could volunteer with an initiative such as the Barclays Code Playground, which looks for suitable people to run sessions helping youngsters learn the basics of coding. Alternatively you could get involved with an open-source project; Google Summer of Code is designed for exactly this.
You can work on pet projects and share the source code on public repositories such as GitHub. You can take part in coding competitions (hackathons) where those with no professional experience get to work in a team with more experienced people. This is a great way to experience a ‘real’ project and work in a multinational team of developers.
Follow us on Twitter @TjobsEng_Tech.