Preparing for a Job in Technology
As we move well into the spring semester, more and more kids are thinking about life after college. Those that prepared wisely already know where their first jobs will be. Those that didn't may, at least for a while, need to get used to the question, "Do you want fries with that?"
Although the industry has been hammered in recent years, high-tech remains an interesting career choice, especially given the success of products like the iPod. This column is intended as a primer for kids not yet in their senior years who want to prepare for a career in high technology (as well as for parents who don't want to experience the trauma of their kids moving back home as fast food engineers).
The sources for this information were Intel and AMD, the two most powerful chip companies in the market, but their requirements are similar to those in the rest of the industry.
Colleges and Contacts
It should come as no surprise that top firms favor top-performing students from top schools. This doesn't mean you can't get a job if you have gone to another institution; it just means you will have a harder time getting that first interview.
In tech, as in most industries, it isn't what you know but who you know that makes the difference. Meeting influential people and managing those contacts will help you get a prized position and allow you to advance rapidly. Making friends with upperclassmen who have similar career goals can provide much-needed support when you enter the workforce. It can also provide a ready source of information on interviewing techniques that work.
Professors, particularly those who moonlight, can be beneficial in helping you find that first position. If you impress them in school, they will be more likely to help you find a job.
As you approach completion of your undergraduate degree, the first thing you should ask yourself is whether you should be looking for a job at all. Technology firms are shifting to favor those with graduate degrees. Even if you do get hired without one, you'll be paid about 20 percent less in salary and stock options initially, and you will probably carry this disadvantage throughout your career with that firm. Even getting a graduate degree later will not make up for what you have lost; it will only allow you to advance more quickly from that point on. In many cases you will find yourself working as hard, if not harder, than others with advanced degrees but being paid less for it.
If at all possible, get a graduate degree before you start. If you get one later, plan on changing firms once you have the degree to give yourself a fresh start.
There are two types of internships -- research and working -- that can help you gain insight into the firms you may be interested in.
Tech firms often fund research programs in top schools. The research internship is often voluntary, but you are allowed to work in cutting-edge projects. This allows you to interact with the company's top researchers, who are often the most powerful non-managers in the firm. If you can win them over, your path to a job is vastly easier.
Research can provide a path into the executive ranks of a firm. It is not uncommon, however, for workers to remain in research, as it is relatively unstructured and doesn't have the pressures of more operational job duties. Regardless of which direction you take, research skills can make a huge difference.
In a working internship, you spend a summer at the firm as an employee, and the pay can be relatively good. You are often given the opportunity to work with both line and staff employees. This is an excellent chance to explore jobs without having to lock yourself into a position. Because you know you will be there for only a short while, you can spend a lot of time asking questions and learning about the firm.
The company will get to know you as an employee. If you play your cards right, the firm will become somewhat dependent on you -- tech firms are notoriously understaffed -- and miss you when you're gone, raising the chances they'll hire you after graduation. At the very least, you'll have an inside track for an interview.
An underused technique for getting to know a firm is requesting informational interviews with executives, employees and managers. While these are intended to let you learn about the company, you can also use them to create an impression of who you are.
Care needs to be taken to structure intelligent questions, so spend time researching the company. Questions about the individual you're talking to -- how they got where they are, what they would do differently -- often play well. You can also ask for recommendations on who else you should talk to.
Since the real goal is to create a positive impression, you might want to rehearse your interview with a professor, parent or university adviser. Remember, this person will probably be asked for an impression of you should you apply for a job at the firm. Do it right the first time.
Overall, my advice is to start early exploring the jobs and companies you think you would like to work for. This will better enable you to pick jobs you will enjoy and that will properly reward your skill set. If you continue to build contacts and grow to become valuable to the firm, you should have a long, happy and prosperous career.
Unless you were born rich, you'll have to work hard anyway, so it is best to have as much fun as possible doing it.
Rob Enderle, a TechNewsWorld columnist, is the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.