So you’ve decided to pursue an information technology or computer science degree. Solid career choice! You’ll have in-demand skills that can command a pretty decent salary.
However, between all-night study sessions and cramming for finals, some things can fall through the cracks while you're working toward your diploma. We talked to career counselors and college insiders to get the scoop on the biggest missteps IT majors make that can hurt their job prospects. But don't worry – the experts also have pointers on how to avoid those mistakes.
1. Failing to Develop Communication Skills
While you want to be fluent in PHP, CSS, and MySQL, the experts say verbal communication skills are just as important when you enter the job market. They recommend that you…
- Learn how to talk intelligently about your area of IT.
- Feel free to geek out with tech speak if the head of an IT department quizzes you.
- Speak in plain English – but with the same enthusiasm – if you’re speaking to someone in HR.
“[Students] sometimes fail to develop the communication skills they need to be able to explain their passion in computing,” says
assistant dean for outreach, enrollment, and community at
Georgia Tech College of Computing
(@GeorgiaTech). “Whatever that passion is, they need to be able to articulate that, and not just in the lingo of that particular discipline.”
Another thing to keep in mind is that while coding and other technical abilities are important, at some point you may need to make a presentation. That's just one more reason to sharpen your verbal and presentation chops.
“Join a debate team or public speaking organization to become a better presenter,” suggests
Elizabeth Venturini (@ElizabethVentu2), college and career strategist and
College Career Results. “Learn the most useful business software applications for creating presentations, project management, spreadsheets, web development, and word processing.”
2. Not Broadening Their Horizons
Our experts agree that honing your technical abilities is an important part of your college experience, but that you shouldn’t focus exclusively on IT classes. It’s important to cultivate a bigger worldview.
“Successful students need to think like Renaissance men and women,” says Venturini. “They have to have a broad understanding of the culture they live in. This enables them to create new products and services. Great communications skills and knowledge of the arts greatly complements an entrepreneur in the IT world.”
Independent college admissions professional
Jodi Rosenshein Atkin (@ChooseACollege)
“You need to be able to prove that you have learned how to learn, and you know how to apply your tech skills in a variety of settings,” says Rosenshein Atkin. “Limiting yourself educationally to purely computer science is not necessarily going to serve you well moving forward.”
3. Focusing All Their Energy on Classes
Of course you want to ace your schoolwork, but don’t neglect those extra collegiate experiences that can help set you apart from the competition. No, not beer pong – think more along the lines of:
- Student organizations.
- Career events.
“If you don’t pursue internships in your area of interest – if you don’t talk to people and make yourself a part of the community – you’re not developing your competitive edge,” says Stallworth. “That’s what’s going to show your passion in that interview. That’s what [recruiters] are looking for.”
Jill Klein (@Prof_JKlein),
assistant dean for digital initiatives and new programs at the
Kogod School of Business
(@KogodBiz) at American University (@AmericanU) adds, “You don’t just have to go outside and go work in a company. A lot of times, the opportunities to practice what you’re learning in the classroom are right in front of you with the clubs and student organizations that exist within a school.”
director of the
Engineering Career Assistance Center
at the Cockrell School of Engineering (@CockrellSchool), University of Texas at Austin (@UTAustin), notes that neglecting to prepare now via internships and career events can make a student “less effective with their job search.”
4. Procrastinating on Career Planning
Okay, this one can apply to all students, but IT majors, beware: too many all-night coding jags or Halo / Call of Duty marathons can cost you if you don't set aside time to plan ahead.
“Career planning starts as soon as students get to college,” says Powell. “The more they allow themselves to experience and learn, the better they will do. New students, even if they’re not ready to find a job right away, can still make themselves familiar with career services, create a resume, and attend networking events.”
Ready to get cracking on your future IT career, but aren’t sure which college would be the best fit for you? Be sure to read our article “5 of the Best Colleges for Future IT Business Owners.”
About the Contributors
Professor Jill Klein brings more than 30 years of IT and banking management experience to the classroom. She serves as the assistant dean for digital initiatives and new programs at the Kogod School of Business. She is passionate about exploiting information technology to enhance student learning and business outcomes. She sits on Cornell University’s President's Council of Cornell Women and the Pitzer College Board of Trustees. She was previously CIO of Riggs Bank, account executive at IBM and managed her own IT consulting firm.
Michael Powell is the director of the Engineering Career Assistance Center at the University of Texas at Austin, Cockrell School of Engineering. Michael received his master’s degree in counseling psychology in 1994 from The University of Texas at Austin. He joined the Engineering Career Assistance Center in 1997 as a career counselor, became an assistant director in 1999, and then director in 2005. As ECAC director, Michael works with students, faculty, and recruiters in the job search and recruiting process.
Jodi Rosenshein Atkin, MA, LLC has a BA and MA from the University of Rochester in Psychology. She has over 20 years of experience in educational and clinical settings, allowing her to recognize the factors that will contribute to a best college fit for each student. Jodi has provided strategies and support to dozens of students throughout the United States, assisting them to achieve successful admission opportunities through Early Decision, Early Action, and Regular Decision channels. Visit her website at www.bestfitcollegechoice.com/.
Cedric Stallworth has been an administrator of educational programs at Georgia Tech for the past 20 years. He presently serves as assistant dean in the College of Computing for outreach, enrollment, and community. In this role, he addresses the national shortage of computing talent by creating a sustainable pipeline of talented students that extends from elementary school to Georgia Tech Alumni.
College career strategist Elizabeth Venturini gladly supports stressed out, timed-starved parents who want the best college and career options for their teenagers. Elizabeth is dedicated to helping parents have peace of mind by helping their child get into college and graduate with a degree to succeed in today’s competitive workforce. Go to www.collegecareerresults.com for more info.