How to network your way into an IT graduate job
Networking can help you find a job at an IT company after you graduate. That’s the ultimate aim, while other benefits include picking up some of the technical and soft skills that you’ll need in an entry-level IT job.
1. Network with technology employers on campus
A number of IT employers are involved in on-campus graduate recruitment fairs where they set up a stand or exhibit at the university and meet its students. Let’s look at a couple of examples: throughout the year, Accenture visits a number of universities across the country, where it holds informal networking and skills sessions, and CGI and Sparx does similar. You can usually find out about an employer’s activities on its website (some, for example, have an events calendar) and through your university’s careers service.
It’s worth bearing in mind that on-campus activity is usually carried out by large IT organisations that recruit a lot of graduates each year. For instance, CGI has had 100+ vacancies over the past two consecutive graduate recruitment intake years. A smaller organisation, on the other hand, that takes on ten graduates each year, is unlikely to use events, on-campus or otherwise, as part of its student/graduate engagement and recruitment drive.
Practical tip: If you can research who is exhibiting beforehand, think of some questions to ask specific employers. If you can’t, still ask questions that show you are thinking practically about whether to apply, such as ‘what sort of work experience does X company particularly like its graduate applicants to have?’
2. Network at student programmes run by IT employers
Some IT employers run events and courses to give university students opportunities to find out more about IT roles and their business, and build up their professional network and skills. Deloitte’s two-day ‘Spring into Deloitte’ programme, for example, aims to give you a real feel for what it’s like to work in a tech role at the professional services and accountancy firm. The days comprise of networking with a range of staff, from graduate hires to partners, business games and skills sessions.
Likewise, KPMG’s insight programme for first years, ‘Women in Technology’, provides female students with a chance to spend some time in the business, meet employees and develop practical skills. Look up the KPMG and Deloitte events to find out what they entail, what the entry requirements are and what the application processes involve.
Also find out what other events are being run by looking online and talking to friends and careers advisers at your university.
Practical tip: If you speak to professionals on the day (by which we mean an actual conversation rather than listening to them address the group) connect with them afterwards on LinkedIn – see below.
3. IT networking opportunities for specific groups
IT employers are keen to increase diversity within their workforce, so they hold on-campus events to engage with groups that are underrepresented in their organisation. Accenture, for example, runs sessions targeted at students from disadvantaged backgrounds and also runs on-campus events for women. Some IT employers have held events for students from less advantaged backgrounds.
Getting more women into technology roles is something that IT employers are putting their weight behind. As mentioned previously, KPMG runs a ‘Women in Technology’ event. Meanwhile, BlackRock, BT, FIS, Just Eat, KPMG, Metaswitch Networks, Thomas Cook and Thoughtworks have partnered with our own IT’s not just for the boys! event, during which senior female technologists encouraged more women to enter the industry and gave valuable careers advice. It’s worth utilising these unique opportunities to connect with technology employers, so make sure you find out more.
4. Networking at assessment centres
Many employers run assessment centres as part of their application process – these are typically one- or two-day long events where you will take part in a selection of recruitment-focused exercises, interviews and activities. As well as giving you the opportunity to impress recruiters, these events are also your chance to find out more about the employer – and this is often done through a networking lunch, where candidates will have the opportunity to talk to each other and to current employees (both graduates and more senior figures).
While you very likely won’t be directly assessed on your mingling skills, it’s important to think about the overall impression you are making. Employers want graduates who are personable and will fit in well, as well as someone who is passionate about IT and technology. Be yourself, and make sure that you’re making a good impression that will stick in employees minds.
Practical tip: Never underestimate the power of a smile and a good handshake. Ask questions to employees and show that you are genuinely interested in what they do and why they do it.
5. Network on social media
As well as using social media to connect with professionals and recruiters, TARGETjobs IT & Technology encourages students to use it as one way of staying abreast of industry trends. You could, and should, follow your favourite IT employers/recruiters, technologists and technology journalists on Twitter; doing so will help you to stay on top of current employment opportunities (most employers have a recruitment/marketing team that tweets about spring weeks, internships, industrial placements, graduate jobs etc, as well as their events and talks) and industry trends (recruiters will expect you to know, to an extent, what’s going on at the company and in the industry).
And then there’s LinkedIn. Do you have a LinkedIn profile? If not, think about creating one, as it’s a useful platform to connect with the people you meet at events (students as well as recruiters), and showcase your skills, experiences and projects. There’s advice on setting one up on targetjobs.co.uk. Moreover, you can join and follow techs-specific groups to develop your commercial awareness and technical skills, or take the initiative and set up your own group, which would go down well with IT recruiters.
Practical tip: If you have met the person you want to connect with on LinkedIn or Twitter, send a short message with your invitation to remind them who you are and when you met. It’s harder to connect with people you haven’t met but not impossible: you could use LinkedIn’s alumni tool to find a professional in your chosen technology sector who went to your university. In your invitation, explain that you are attending the same university as them and politely ask if you could ask them a few questions about their career path.
You’ve just read about a few of the types of networking opportunities that you can explore, but make sure you continue your research and seek out other prospects too.
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