Any job hunter can tell you that having that diploma doesn’t magically land you a dream tech job. There’s a lot of sweat, tears, and papercuts that go into the process. For college students and recent graduates, it can be more than a little daunting, so we compiled eight insider tips based on conversations with five hiring managers from Montana high-tech companies.
We spoke to the following for their advice to job seekers:
Suzie Lalich, the human resources director with PFL, a marketing technology company based in Livingston. PFL hires positions in software development, sales and marketing, and customer service.
Laura Marshall, the vice president of human resources for Blackfoot, a Montana-based internet and phone service provider headquartered in Missoula. Blackfoot regularly hires a range of internship positions, from IT internships to a construction internship, as well as offers apprenticeship opportunities.
Alexis Schreder, a media strategist and hiring manager with LumenAd, a digital advertising company in Missoula. LumenAd, voted the 23rd fastest-growing company in the nation, is looking for interns and entry-level employees and is hiring in every department, from client services and HR to engineering and media services.
Amy Slomba, the professional placement recruiter with LC Staffing, Montana’s largest independently-owned employment service.
Ron Brien, a Montana State University alumnus and the founder and managing director of AstroHire, a national recruiting and staffing company.
1. Come in with informed questions.
“I don’t feel like applicants ask enough questions about the company they’re applying for,” Alexis Schreder at LumenAd says. Company culture, for example, is a topic LumenAd often finds applicants skip. Suzie Lalich at PFL agrees that her company prefers applicants who “do their homework and learn a little bit about what we do” before sitting down for an interview. By asking more questions, students can show employers they are interested and engaged, and use interviews to decide if the company is a good fit for them, as well. The Montana High Tech Business Alliance website can be a great tool for job seekers researching Montana tech companies.
2. Make the most of your space.
Most application processes are automated now, meaning your resume is likely being sorted by an algorithm. Ron Brien at AstroHire recommends packing your resume with applicable (and exact) keywords and skills from the job description to make sure the algorithm prioritizes your application. Examples include using the word “negotiate” if the job is in sales, or “spreadsheets” for a finance job. Schreder and Lalich also recommend on highlighting your skills as concisely as possible — it’s about quality, not quantity.
A person who can summarize their relevant job history in a few concise points always looks better than someone who needs five paragraphs, Schreder says. She added that custom-designed resumes in Adobe InDesign or Excel demonstrate an applicant’s skill with those programs, so consider swapping the resume templates in Microsoft Word with something a little more tailored.
3. Include extracurricular experiences.
Although work in your field is always a plus, valuable experience can come from non-work activities, too. Extracurriculars can be just as eye-catching as a nine-to-five. Volunteer work, school organizations, internships, school projects, study abroad, and summer jobs are all examples of experience college students might be overlooking. Lalich says employers are looking for experience “that shows you’ve had efforts outside of coming and going from school.”
4. Sell your transferable skills.
Don’t underestimate the ways your college education or part-time jobs have supplied you with relevant experience. Some skills, like customer service and time management, cannot always be taught in an entry-level tech job and employers are looking for candidates who already have them. For example, Laura Marshall with Blackfoot says theater students are some people she loves to hire for their communication skills. Even seemingly unrelated work experience can be transferable. Most people who have worked in fast food or retail have experience closing a till, something that Marshall says can be translated as an accounting skill on a resume. Bank tellers and baristas are other undervalued positions that can teach customer service and client interaction.
5. Highlight job consistency.
If you feel you lack a variety of work experience, having worked the same summer job for a year or two can still stand out to employers. Amy Slomba with LC Staffing says a business inviting a worker back for another year “always speaks volumes about somebody’s work ethic, even if they haven’t had enough time to build a lot of work history.” Slomba also values students who have worked non-tech jobs within tech companies. For example, someone running mail at a software development company is still getting experience in that industry.
6. Dress and act professionally.
There can be such a thing as being too relaxed for an interview. “Believe it or not, appearance matters, so dress for an interview” Lalich says. Slomba, while acknowledging Montana’s affinity for jeans, suggests applicants ditch the tee-and-jeans look for the interview and bring a positive and professional attitude instead. Schreder at LumenAd wants to know that the person they hire will interact well with their coworkers, and a smooth, easy conversation during the interview is a sign of a quality communicator who can navigate a work environment. Presenting your best self will help your interviewer decide if you are a good fit for the company culture.
7. Practice your answers.
Lalich finds it disappointing when a student who looks good on paper is awkward during an interview. In preparing for the interview, Marshall advises practicing answers aloud to yourself in a car or in the shower. Slomba recommends finding common interview questions online and practicing with a friend. Don’t let “Tell me about yourself” be the question that stumps you. Talking to others in your network who work at the hiring company, or have recently interviewed there, can also help you zero in on the questions they will likely ask or the interview process itself. PFL, LumenAd, and Blackfoot all conduct multiple interviews during their hiring process, having at least one over-the-phone and one in-person interview, so be sure to have a variety of stories and experiences ready to share. Also be aware that tech jobs in particular can have additional specialized interviews. For example, LumenAd’s entry process for tech jobs includes a math test.
8. Network, network, network!
The resume is submitted and the interviews are complete, but the work isn’t done. “Don’t sit back and wait,” Brien says. “Follow up with the company.” In the world of social media, there are so many ways to connect outside of a follow-up email. Reach out to companies via Facebook, LinkedIn, networking events, and campus recruiting platforms like Handshake. LumenAd reps attend networking events across the country in search of applicants, and Schreder says that some of the best connections happen in these informal settings. Blackfoot has also seen great recruiting success from networking. In 2019, 90 percent of Blackfoot’s new hires so far have been from word of mouth, according to Marshall.