How students and graduates should research IT and technology employers
When you're applying for graduate schemes in IT you’ll be up against applicants with similar experience, so your enthusiasm for and interest in an organisation will be a key distinguishing factor. However, you can only be genuinely enthusiastic if you know your stuff.
'If you’re a student who wants to "work in IT", you haven’t narrowed it down enough,' says programmer Mick Brooks. 'It’s a huge field and even within software development, there are loads of positions. You may be more suited to some organisations than others – they have different attitudes, cultures and approaches. Talk to people who are actually doing the job and you’ll discover what it’s really like.'
Some IT companies will directly ask you questions such as 'What do you know about the company?' or 'What distinguishes us from our competitors?' on online application forms and in interviews. These are the easy employers. The others will expect you to answer these indirectly without being prompted.
What to find out about an IT company before you apply or have an interview
Break down your research into bite-sized chunks. The following points will help you focus your investigations.
Background information on the employer
- what the company does (products made/services provided – eg technology consulting, financial software development, IT services)
- the company's history and any defining moments
- what the division of the company that you're applying to does
- who the company's customers/clients are, and who the relevant division's customers/clients are (hint: the latter may be internal, eg in investment banking technology or IT support roles)
- where it operates and in which markets
- who its main competitors are
- how, where and why it is growing
- big news from the last year to two years – major technology developments, new launches, effects of the economy, regulatory changes, mergers and acquisitions, major projects and contracts won, etc
- what it offers that's unique compared to its competitors – what makes its products or services different
Graduate recruitment information for the employer
- what jobs or schemes are available to graduates, what they involve, and whether they are more technical or business-focused
- what degree background and qualifications are required – check minimum requirements (including A levels)
- what programming languages and other technical skills are needed
- what general competences and specific skills are needed
- what the application and recruitment process involves
- contact details for applying
- the application deadline
- the geographical area(s) in which you’d be working
In particular, tech recruiters complain that students don't consider the last point before they apply. Some candidates get as far as the interview stage before realising that they're not prepared to work in the Thames Valley rather than London, or that the itinerant lifestyle of an IT consultant isn't for them.
Company culture and things that give you a general feel of working life
You need to:
- find out about the company’s core values and aims
- think about how the company likes to see itself
- consider how it is viewed externally
- review any personnel policies (equal opportunities, flexible working, etc)
- think about how you view the organisation
- ask yourself why working for the employer appeals
Make sure you keep clear notes and list the websites you visit so that you can return to them.
Where to find information on graduate employers in IT
The TARGETjobs employer hubs have a wealth of information on leading IT employers and how to get hired by them.
Many IT graduate employers provide tips and advice on their careers websites on how to do well in their selection processes as well as provide information about their graduate positions.
Glean wider information about an organisation from its corporate site – look at press releases and financial and market information, past and current projects, contracts and orders. And see what it's been tweeting about or uploading to YouTube lately.
Use what’s available on your university's campus
University’s careers services regularly interact with employers and alumni to organise events and support for job-hunting students.
Find out when graduate employers will be visiting your university to do recruitment fairs and employer presentations. Talking to graduate recruiters and recent graduate recruits is an invaluable source of information.
And find out whether your university has an alumni network that could help you contact previous students in relevant companies. Again, your careers service is a good place to start.
Be up on current affairs and trends in IT
To come across as well-informed follow stories in the trade press and quality national papers such as the Financial Times. Most online newspapers have an ‘IT and telecoms’ header under their ‘business’ tab.
For general IT industry news take a look at Wired.co.uk, TechRepublic, computing.co.uk and Computer Weekly.
Good employer research will benefit you
As you bring together information from different sources, think about how you can summarise what you find in your own words. Pasting phrases from an employer's website into your application, or learning them off by heart to recite at an interview, is a no-no. Recruiters will be more impressed if you have brought your own understanding to the information you have gleaned.
You won't be able to pin everything down, but even a small amount of focus research will boost your chances and increase your self-confidence. And, if you show recruiters that you are genuinely interested in their company, they will be interested in you.
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