19 Tips for Getting into a Career in IT

We share some tips from Olga Bagurina, HR specialist at Selectel, who joined the company three years ago as an intern and faced certain issues at the start. We talk about finding one’s calling, writing a compelling resume and a sincere cover letter, preparing for an interview, and some useful qualities for beginners.

Worries and fears

Every spring, Selectel hosts a Career Day. The first webinar was about how students can get into a career in IT. Prior to the webinar, we asked students what their main concerns were when looking for a job. To summarize, they don’t know where to look, and if they do find something, it is not well paid.

The tips below were compiled after talking to candidates and colleagues with different experience levels and achievements.

Tip 1: Forced interests are no help in building a career. Some people choose to go into IT simply because of the career prospects and promising pay.

But it is better to choose a specialty or profession that is actually interesting to you. Achieving success is more realistic in an area where you are willing to focus on the details, take on new responsibilities, and take initiative.

Tip 2: Try the “I want—I can—I need” test.

“I want—I can—I need” test

This test is useful for anyone who’s facing a choice. The idea is to pose these three questions to yourself:

  • What do I want to do? This includes something you’d do even for free—something that gives you energy and enjoyment. Think of something you’d like to do if there was a guarantee of success.
  • What can I do? This means something you are good at, something your professors praise you for.
  • What do I need to do? Here we speak about what pays well on the jobs market.

The intersection of answers will help you create a profile of your perfect profession.

Tip 3: Experience > paycheck. When you’re just starting out, experience is more valuable than money. Many people dislike internships with low pay. However, the chance to get a good company on your track record and take advantage of the resources available from the experienced employees who instruct you is more important than the initial working conditions themselves. Interns are often entitled to corporate benefits, too. At Selectel, everyone gets a social benefits package that includes lunch reimbursement, English lessons and yoga classes. From then on, just show you’re capable enough, and you won’t have to wait long for a raise.

(im)perfect resume

Every HR department receives hundreds of applications for starting positions, and the recruiter often has a short deadline. A good resume has a better chance of not ending up in the “Rejected” folder. Help your potential employer decide to hire you quicker.

Tip 4: When describing your skills, build on the job description. Sending a generic resume is only acceptable for less desirable offers on job sites. If you’re applying to a company of your particular preference, describe your experience in a way that matches the employer’s expectations. For example, if they want to see experience in Python, don’t waste time talking about your Java skills. A better approach is to describe specific Python challenges you tackled, as small as they may be.

Tip 4A: Don’t embellish your experience or lie. You’ll be exposed at the interview or when submitting a test assignment.

Tip 5: Don’t mention your ability to handle stress or your social skills. These skills are a staple and expected by default. You’d do better talking about your practical skills and personal qualities.

Tip 6: Reinterpret your experience in terms of usefulness. You can refer to such things as:

  • School projects and theses with any extent of practical applicability;
  • Portfolios, code samples, pet projects;
  • Finished courses from Coursera, Skillbox, etc;
  • Hackathon entries. Practical trial versions of projects with deadlines, team and design work.

If you have any non-core experience, mention what is relevant. Suppose you had a summer gig as a bartender, but are now looking to get a job in IT. This has no direct relation to your desired IT internship if you, say, want to work in tech support. However, you do have some actual work experience and know what having a job means. You know something about working with customers. You probably even learned a thing or two about conflict management.

Letter to Selectel

A cover letter is your chance to start a conversation with the recruiter. The letter should supplement the resume, not regurgitate it.

Tip 7: Start with expressing your interest in the company and the job. Try to be sincere and original. Tell them why you want to do this particular job, and specifically for this company. “You’re a really big company!” is not much of a motive for a recruiter or manager. Make your sincere interest very clear—it’ll help you at the interview stage.

Tip 8: In the second part, highlight your experience and any skills that are relevant to the position. What you really need to do here is answer the question, “why am I going to be good at the job?”

Tip 9: Check the letter for errors and make sure the structure is logical. Make sure it comes across as well thought out and that getting a reply is important to you.

An A+ Interview

As soon as you’ve been invited to an interview, you should start preparing for it. A well-prepared applicant is sure to make a good first impression.

Tip 10: Research the company’s history, services, and career prospects. Pay special attention to its declared mission and values, as it’s not only about the employer choosing you, but you choosing them as well. Find texts or articles where the employees talk about the company’s inner workings. For example, when coming to meet us, you can check out videos from the Online Career Days seminars or read the HR Secrets by Selectel article by our HR Director Nadezhda Kurlat.

Tip 11: Many people are flummoxed when asked to talk about themselves. This is not a competency stress test, but just a way to start a conversation. You’d do well to prepare a concise, succinct story in advance. When telling your story, emphasize your experience and accolades and touch upon your education and biography.

Tip 12: Think about the questions you may want to ask at the interview. An interview is not an exam. Join the dialog actively to show your interest in the job.

Tip 13: Arrive on time.

Important qualities for beginners

At the webinar, you heard stories by our former interns who are now specialists and experts. Our final tips will encapsulate their experience.

Tip 14: Treat your internship like a real job. This may not be obvious, but even an intern’s work impacts the company on a certain level. Make sure you do your part well.

Tip 15: Show interest in your assignments. Yes, even the dull ones. Any task can be approached in a way that allows your to optimize your time and get it done quicker. If you show commitment, your supervisor will let you take on more advanced projects.

Tip 16: Stay engaged. Arrive to work on time and see your assignments through. An internship often forces you to evaluate your priorities and find a balance between work and studies. You will sometimes have to skip your classes to become a better professional.

Tip 17: Value any feedback from your co-workers. Don’t get defensive. Listen and reflect on what you are told. Don’t reply immediately; take some time and don’t hesitate to ask questions to pinpoint the issue. Constructive criticism can become a driver for personal growth.

Tip 18: Build healthy relationships with your co-workers. A colleague’s positive opinion of you can help you win their support and provide good references when a promotion is up for grabs. However, you should filter your communication. Keep track of how much personal information you share and watch your behavior.

Tip 19: Be proactive, but don’t turn down help and advice from your co-workers and supervisor; be responsible. Enthusiasm is a good thing, but every initiative should be seen through as the company’s priorities dictate.