Work. The dreaded, daily, servitude that burdens your already tired and weary shoulders. Beaten, bedraggled and crestfallen you slump out of your bed at 6am, ready for another day of instant coffee, TPS reports and habitual sighing.
If any part of that sounds like you -or your daily routine – then there’s a good chance that it’s time for a change. Or, if you’re entering the workforce for the first time, and this is what you’re expecting from a job market that’s not too friendly to young people and graduates, then fear not – there are options.
If you’re so inclined, many of those options exist in the tech industry, which is experiencing an ever growing roster of successful companies, huge investments and even a Mike Judge TV show (the only true metric of success).
In response,young people, graduates and experienced employees are flocking towards either building their own startup or working for an exciting tech company. But the popularity of these companies means that you will need to stand out – in a big way.
So what can you do to land a top job in tech (or any other industry)? I asked some big tech companies, and some startups, what it takes to be the winning candidate.
Ann Pickering HR Director at O2, suggests that people get creative with their CVs. Don’t just opt for the standard words on a page, do something different to stand out.
“Use your application as a chance to show what you’d bring to the role – and it doesn’t need to just be words on a page. People who bring a digital aspect to their application, whether that’s a well-crafted blog post or a snappy Vine video, will always leave a lasting impression.”
Pickering explained that it’s also important to keep your application succinct and to the point – explaining exactly what your skills are and why you’re suited to the role.
“It can be tempting to shout about everything you’ve ever accomplished, but this can sometimes mean doing yourself a disservice. No one wants – nor has the time – to wade through pages and pages of preamble, so make sure your CV gets straight to the point. Read the skills and requirements an employer is looking for closely, and ask yourself whether your application can link back to every point on the list. If not, change it – and cut out anything that’s not relevant.”
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Make a connection with the interviewer
Nedhal Alkhatib, Programme Manager for Motorola, told me that it’s not only important to make an impression during the interview, but also a connection.
“How the candidate’s personality comes across is extremely important to me. I look for a ‘can do’ attitude – someone who is approachable, and consistent throughout the interview. It’s absolutely fine if they don’t know the answer to something; I just want to see a willingness to learn underpinned by a confidence and drive to succeed. I also want them to make a connection with me, I often interview many people for a role and so standing out is vital – if I leave happy and get on with the candidate I’ll remember them and be more likely to hire them.”
She continued: “How you present yourself in the interview is crucial – don’t come across as over keen or desperate – you want the interviewer to like you and your personality, not pity you. In the same vein, don’t forget to ask what the company can offer you in return – this should be a mutually satisfactory exchange and you should leave with your questions answered.”
Never stop learning and picking up new skills
Ben Medlock, co-founder of Swiftkey, is a big advocate of skills. If you want to contribute to a startup, then you’ll need to bring something fresh.
“The main thing not to do is stop learning or stop being curious. We rate people who are always teaching themselves and others something new. That gives you lots to talk about in an interview, too.”
Medlock continued: “We definitely look for an entrepreneurial spirit, the kind of people who’ve taught themselves new skills and challenged themselves. But starting your own business isn’t a requirement. You need many different backgrounds, personalities and experiences to build an effective team and we find our strength in our diversity – our team speaks 33 languages between them and everyone brings a fresh perspective and set of skills.”
Graeme Smith, Managing Director of Amazon’s Development Centre in Scotland, explained to me how important technical skills are.
“We’re solving hard problems and building systems that run at massive scale, we need people who are great at coding and problem solving.”
He added: “To push the boundaries of technology you need a solid base of theory, so we generally look for a Computer Science degree from a good university. On top of that, we work in close-knit teams so we need people with exemplary written and verbal communications skills.
Be comfortable with change
Leah Busque, founder and CEO of TaskRabbit, says that it’s imperative for people in tech to be comfortable with the rapidly changing industry.
“Be open to the possibility of not knowing. In Technology, we’re in the business of creating entirely new paradigms to advance the world and that can mean more experimenting and failing than knowing and succeeding. The more you are able to demonstrate your comfort in this perpetual state of change, the better.”
Rob Coupland, MD of TelecityGroup agrees that being adaptable is key to working in tech: “Be open-minded, be adaptable, and be flexible. Technology is an extremely fast-moving industry, and you should be open to all the opportunities that are presented to you. For example, there are now countless more creative roles in technology than there were just a few years ago. If you are self-motivated and always eager to learn, you will be perfectly placed to seize new opportunities as our industry continues to evolve.”
Be genuinely passionate about the job you’re applying for
Busque also suggests that those excited by an industry will generally succeed in landing a job in it.
“Targeting a company that you know well but that doesn’t align with what will ignite that daily fire to learn and grow will prove unsustainable and ultimately be a disservice to your career and even personal life. Every person I’ve seen succeed in the industry is excited by the promise of their product or company mission. Believe in what you’re working on and the rest will follow.”
Graeme Smith agrees and places a particular importance on a candidate’s visible passion for the industry.
“First and foremost we’re looking for people who are passionate about inventing for customers and passionate about technology. We’re inventing on behalf of our customers, so we need people who can think from a customer’s perspective and don’t just build technology for technology’s sake.”
Have an understanding of different areas of the industry
Coupland explains that understanding the industry you want to work in, from bottom to top, can really demonstrate multiple skills.
“If an applicant has spent time in a retail environment, or on a helpdesk, they can demonstrate that they recognise the importance of both customer service and technical expertise. For example, if you’ve had work experience at Apple AAPL -3.52% Store, you are demonstrating that you understand technology, that you are commercially competent, and that you are able explain technology in a way that everyone can understand.”
Get connected and get active
Sarah Wood, co-founder of Unruly, thinks that it’s important to fully immerse yourself in the industry by making contacts and showing off your talents.
“Get connected. On LinkedIn LNKD -1.65%, in tech forums and best of all in person. This way you’ll understand how the ecosystem works and where to find the most promising points of entry. Build a portfolio of outputs that you can show to prospective employers – a blog, a working prototype, a university project, a video of the Code Club you ran – visual, tangible proof that you won’t just talk the talk, you’ll walk the walk. Voluntary work as a teacher at code club will boost your resume and help kids improve their future prospects too.”
Graeme Smith also thinks it’s important to be as busy as possible: “Attend tech meetups to get to know people from your target companies, that’s often the best way in. Don’t wait for a job ad to apply for a job, many companies will respond favourably to speculative applications. The demand for talent is massive right now so don’t sell yourself short.”
Jay McGregor is a freelance technology journalist who writes for The Guardian, Forbes, TechRadar and is a tech correspondent for BBC’s James Hazel show. Follow on Twitter @_jaymcgregor