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Prepare for IT before you graduate college

If you’re like most future IT graduates, you have invested a great deal of time, money and energy into a college experience. If you are studying Computer Science or Information Systems in college, this article will help you prepare to a get a job after you graduate.

Get experience

I’ve heard of people with this problem more times than I can count:

I just finished college with a degree in Information Systems (or whatever) and I’ve applied to 100 places, and I can’t get a job!

The reality is that college doesn’t really prepare you for the tactical nature of working in IT. HR departments like to see degrees, but in reality, they don’t matter that much. If you don’t want to start at the bottom after you get your degree, get experience

The number one thing you can do to maximize your college education is to supplement it with experience. The more of that you can get, the more attractive you’ll look to prospective employers after you graduate. Here are a few tips that can help you do just that.

Start a blog

Are you really into networking? Are you a total storage or virtualization geek? Start a blog.

Starting a blog is a great way to showcase your grasp of IT concepts and have a feel for what’s happening in the industry. I like to use 1and1.com for my blog hosting, but can do it without spending money as well. Places like Wix, Weebly, and Medium are other places to have an instant platform. You can point potential employers to it on your resume.

Network

You don’t have to know someone at the place you’re going, but having an insider’s view makes getting a job there much, much easier. Try to meet some people who already work at the places you’re looking to work. Try LinkedIn. Even if you’re not directly connected to someone there, try to get one of your connections to make an introduction.

Also, there’s huge value in just letting people know what you are trying to do. Make sure you spend some time talking to people. You can’t be passive with this one. Just stalking people on LinkedIn is not an effective strategy. Make real, in-person contacts with graduate alumni, friends of friends, and people who you look up to or think are interesting.

All of my gigs have at least started with someone I knew. Make sure you let all of your friends, family, and acquaintances know that you want to get into IT.

Do an Internship (or three)

Doing an internship is one of the best ways to get IT experience- and get paid- while you’re in school. If you’re like most college students, you’ll be required to take one before you can graduate.

I know this might be a shocker to some people, but back in the day, interns didn’t get paid like they do today. So an internship is really a temporary and low paid job. Still, it’s very good for experience.

Something to remember about internships- the employers bringing you on for an internship know that you probably lack a lot of practical expereince- so there’s no better time to expose your ignorance and soak up IT learning like a sponge. They expect you know to know an ethernet port from a hole in the ground, and that’s just fine. Don’t worry about it. They get it.

Volunteer

You can find places that will gladly pay you little or nothing work on their IT infrastructure. You can check out Volunteer Match, try the big places like the United Way, Red Cross, and the Salvation Army, or you can even just approach local non-profit businesses and pitch them. It’s not perfect,  but if no one will pay you, it’s still experience- which will make you money later.

Start working before you graduate

You should working and getting experience as soon as possible. Why? If you wait until you graduate to start looking, you will be behind your peers of the same age. Because a degree is not required for most IT jobs, an 18-year-old (let’s call her “Gina”) can walk into an IT shop and start working with no experience or qualifications, just the same way a 22-year-old (we’ll call him “Mike”) can. By the time Mike graduates, Gina will already have 4 years of experience and may already be in an intermediate role- with intermediate pay as well.

Mike doesn’t need to play the comparison game, but the earlier he can start, the better his quality of life will be.

Now, there are obvious problems with this approach. Working while going to school can be exhausting due to the hours required and scheduling conflicts. However, this short-term pain pays big dividends.

Here are some killer benefits to this approach:

Course work will get you up to speed quicker on your daily work.

While classroom learning for IT isn’t always the most up-to-date, the basic concepts, like TCP/IP, Operating Systems, and Server hardware don’t change that much. You can get some broad, high-level overviews in class that will help you make sense of the complex systems you’re working on.

Working experience gives you good context and puts you ahead in your courses.

The flip side is true as well. It’s one thing to learn about DNS in a book, and another to see how it works in real life. The things you learn at work will make the coursework come alive! Who knows- technology moves so fast, maybe you will find an error in the class content.

Many companies pay for college.

Most every company, even small shops, offers tuition reimbursement. Some even offer to pay the classes up-front- provided it makes sense with your role. No more loans! Ask about it.

You make money

This is the most obvious benefit. Well, it’s nice to be able to pay for things, isn’t it.

You can get a jump-start on your IT career by getting started before you graduate. If you start a blog, do some networking, internships, volunteering, or even get a job in IT, you will be far better off for it.

Do you have a better tip? Maybe something I missed that could help someone get a leg up in IT after college? Comment below!

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