Ten Ways to Stand Out in IT

You're looking to get a job in IT, either as a newcomer or as an old hand. Here's how to beat the competition and stand out from the crowd.
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For every good IT job, there’s a ton of competition. You might know you need to stand out, but how is the question.

“Technology is my thing, not pitching. I’m not in sales,” you might be grumbling. But the other hundred candidates are also tech-savvy. So what’s the deciding factor?

Here’s what you need to bring yourself to the front of the race and get that job you really want.

1. Certification

Let’s face it – employers hate interrogating you as much as you hate being on the receiving end. They just want to know you can do certain things, and the easiest way to prove it is with certification.

“I know about Linux Server Computing because I have a certification on it from Linux Professional Institute,” you answer honestly. Perhaps you even show them the bit of paper. Question answered! It’s hard to argue with that.

Certifications are more than just interview tools – they’re highly valued in most organizations when it comes to wage negotiations. According to a CompTIA survey of IT Hiring Managers, more than 60% said they valued individuals with certifications highly.

You don’t need to take a year off for them, either. Micro Certification is an increasing trend in IT and Cybersecurity, where you need to demonstrate or learn a particular specific skill. It’s easy to fit these kind of courses into your schedule and use them to beef up your resume.

Remember, if a job comes down to an certified and certified candidate – and that’s the only difference – it’s a no-brainer to choose the certified candidate.

2. Attitude

I remember an employer once telling me about a candidate who was being considered for a job. The candidate had outstanding certifications and a great work history.

Feeling hopeful, the employer sent the candidate a multiple-choice personality test for them to complete. The answers the candidate sent back were bizarre. When the employer rang up and questioned them about it, the candidate responded that they had just filled out the answers randomly during a car ride.

The candidate was immediately struck from the list. Why? Bad attitude. If someone doesn’t seem like they have a good work ethic – or take the job seriously – then all the great work experience and credentials in the world can’t save them.

After all, everyone slowly gets work experience over time, and credentials can be obtained. But a bad attitude? That’s tough to fix!

3. Experience

Certifications are great, but every employer knows there’s a difference between knowing how to do something in theory, and having proven experience.

One of the most frequent questions in any interview is “Tell us why you think you’re a fit for this job.” The best possible answer you can give is that you’ve done the job before, and done it demonstrably well.

It doesn’t need to be paid experience, either. Funnily enough, many entry level jobs these days have the baffling requirement that you’ve got to have prior experience (Sometimes as much as five years). This can make it really tough to break into the industry. Volunteer work is a great way to get around this.

Offering to do volunteer IT work is more than just being able to claim work experience on your resume. You’ll be asked in interviews about times you’ve had to overcome challenges or deal with difficult scenarios. By having volunteer work to reference, you’ll have stories to tell.

4. Networking

It’s a time-old saying that it’s not always what you know, it’s who you know. Other people move from organization to organization, and when they hear an IT job needs to be filled, they might think of you.

A lot of companies don’t want to go through the effort (and cost) of advertising for jobs. So when an employee comes to them with a decent applicant, they might take the risk to save costs. The fact the employee has vouched for you means they’re putting themselves out there, which lends weight in the employer’s mind that you really are a good candidate.

Networking is easiest when it’s people you’ve worked side by side with, and they’ve moved to different companies. That way, they can vouch for your work skills and how easy you were to work with. You might want to let them know you’re looking for work, and they can ask their boss if there’s anything available.

If you’re younger and looking to enter the industry, you can ask family friends if they’ve heard of anything. If you’re fresh out of secondary or tertiary education, you can ask your teachers or lecturers if there’s anything available.

5. DIY Skills

Sometimes work experience – volunteer or otherwise – just isn’t readily available, and certification isn’t an option either. It’s times like this that you just sit down with a piece of technology or software and teach yourself.

The internet is a great place to find videos and written guides on how to do just about everything, whether it’s how to paint an obscure figurine set to fixing your model of car. And when it comes to IT, you can be sure someone’s already left instructions on the internet – after all, it’s kind of our jam.

You obviously can’t learn every single IT skill there is. The best way is to look at job advertisements in the field you’re interested in, and make a check-list of all the skills they’re asking for. Then sit down and teach yourself these skills.

If you do this and then go for an interview, you’ll be able to genuinely talk about these topics and convince them you’re the real deal.

6. Higher Education

Many people have a thing for special qualifications like tertiary degrees, masters, and doctorates. There’s a belief – mistaken or not – that these multi-year courses provide a more comprehensive and reputable form of experience than shorter-term qualifications or teaching yourself.

You’ll often see in a job application that a tertiary degree in the relevant field is required. This can be a real kick for someone who has 30 years experience, but never had the money or time to pursue higher education.

It’s worth noting that while this is a deal-breaker for some organizations, many put this requirement down as a filter, and are willing to waive it if you do have relevant work experience.

7. Software Development

Both front-end and back-end developers are always in demand. In 2017, businesses recognize the importance of having someone with good web and mobile app designing experience – it’s practically a must.

Here’s some example skills you might want to brush up on:

  • Front-End: The latest versions of HTML, CSS, and Javascript Frameworks.
  • Server-Side: Languages like PHP, Ruby, and Python.
  • Database Management Systems: MySQL, Oracle.

Of course, this list isn’t comprehensive; you’ll want to find out what’s in demand for the field you’re looking at. But software development skills are definitely something that can push you over the line and into that sweet job you’re after.

8. Problem Solving

Don’t underestimate the value of your problem solving skills. If you’re a proven problem solver – not someone who just passes the buck – you’ll be invaluable in the eyes of a potential employer.

Think back on any time you’ve been faced with a problem, what measures you took to solve it, and the end result. These are definitely great interview fuel, and a good problem solving story will set you apart from your competition. After all, who doesn’t want a problem-solver on their team?

9. Interpersonal Skills

How well have you worked with others? Can you hold a conversation for more than five seconds? These are things a potential employer will be interested in, not just your technical skills.

It sounds simple, but people like being around other people they like. Someone who is easy to work with who has average skills is often desirable over someone with great skills who antagonizes the team, brings everyone down, and is constantly in conflict.

Even if you’re going for a position where you’ll be working from a distance, interpersonal skills are needed for collaboration via video conference, email, or instant message.

The inverse of this is leadership skills. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have subordinates to demonstrate leadership skills – a good leader is a leader all the time. Have you taken initiative during conversations with your peers, leading by example, taking responsibility and listened to others? Then you’ve got provable leadership experience.

10. Know Your Software

Get familiar with the software products and tools that you’ll be using for a role. Even if you need to cram your knowledge of a product the few weeks between seeing a job advertisement and arriving at the interview, it’s still better than having no knowledge at all.

Of course, it’s more ideal that you take your time and get to know the ins and outs of every piece of software you’re using. Many jobs will want you to hit the ground running – especially if they don’t know much about the software you’ll be using either.

Some useful software experience includes knowledge of Adobe Programs, SharePoint, and different backup software products (Like BackupAssist!). Remember; the most desirable employee is one who can just start the job with the least amount of work involved.


Got any suggestions about skills that help you stand out in IT? Leave your comment below!

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