STEM industry experts share their tips and tricks on how to successfully find the IT job of your dreams.
Interested in a job in IT? Whether you are pursuing a career in cybersecurity, data analytics, project management, or software development, you need a clear path forward.
Maybe you’re currently in school, or you just graduated or obtained a new certification. Perhaps you’re ready for a career change after being in a different industry for years, or you’re a veteran looking to transition into a civilian role. Wherever you are, we have resources to help set you up for success when breaking into the IT industry.
Entry Points in the Tech World
Apex recently hosted a STEM jobs panel discussion to help shift the way people approach their job search based on particular skill sets. Apex’s employee speakers included:
- Kaitlin (Westbrook) Tolson (National STEM and Philanthropy Advocate)
- Steven Meyer (Delivery Engineer specializing in Agile, Business Analysis, and Project Management)
- Marissa Montgomery (Delivery Engineer specializing in App Development, Data and Analytics)
- Cameron Buck (Delivery Engineer specializing in Cloud, DevOps, and Security).
Agile, Business Analysis, and Project Management
The panel kicks off with a discussion of common entry points in the tech industry. Typical job titles for entry-level positions in the PMO space include: project coordinator, product analyst, junior business analyst, junior product owner, and junior project manager.
PMO roles are unique because you can find jobs in the business side of the house or the technical side. There are many different pathways into the PMO space.
“The roles are all about communication and presentation skills,” Meyer explains. “You're collaborating with stakeholders and giving status updates to executives and team members. You have to make sure you're comfortable with your communication and presentation skills to be an effective PMO professional.”
Cloud, DevOps, and Security
There are multiple ways you can move into the DevOps and Cloud space. You can go through the development side of the house, like software engineering. Or you can focus on the infrastructure side, like systems administration, networking, server administration, automation work, etc. For the more development-focused tracks, people will often go through a coding boot camp of some sort.
If you're interested in security, start by getting a Security+ certification, and then apply for security operations center roles, most often called SOC analyst roles. These individuals are tasked with monitoring network traffic or system health.
“If they catch something that isn't supposed to be happening, like a network intrusion, they notify Incident Response engineers to fix that problem,” Buck says. “That's a great place to start in security. If you’re a veteran, the government space has a lot of security opportunities out there, especially if you have an active clearance, or you’re eligible to obtain a clearance. So that's something to consider.”
App Development, Data, Analytics
In the data space, the most obvious entry point is as a data analyst. You can work into data engineering and some more high-level data roles from there. You will want to take SQL training and have an analysis background or an interest in that field. The other entry point with an applications focus is a junior web developer or full stack engineer.
“There are lots of ways to get into this field,” Montgomery explains. “A computer science degree is one way, but people commonly come from STEM boot camps where they get through training in three months or so instead of doing a four-year degree.”
Explore networking options through local meet-up groups or LinkedIn.
Buzzwords and Skill Sets
What buzzwords and skill sets are recruiters or hiring managers looking for on resumes and LinkedIn profiles?
For the PMO space, Meyer recommends breaking buzzwords into three buckets. The first bucket is tools and technologies, like Jira, Azure, DevOps, Confluence, MS project, or SQL.
The second bucket is methodologies: a traditional waterfall, an Agile project, Scrum, Kanban, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).
The third bucket is deliverables. What did you output in your role? Are you writing user stories, doing use cases, helping with project schedules, or tracking financials or work breakdown structures?
Buck states that Cloud and DevOps are the biggest areas of interest to his clients. He suggests taking a course to learn more about the Cloud, whether that’s getting an entry-level AWS certification, or taking advantage of free training programs on Udemy.
In the app and data space, buzzwords are very important, especially around technologies. “The main things that we put in our search criteria are keywords around technologies and a couple generic job titles like developer, software engineer, programmer, something along those lines,” Montgomery says.
A high-level overview of the rest of the speakers’ job-seeking advice includes:
Network, Network, Network
- Networking is a game changer. Explore networking options through local meet-up groups or LinkedIn.
- Get to know who’s already in your network: past coworkers, classmates, etc.
- Don't be afraid to reach out to people. You never know if you don’t try!
- Connect with recruiters if you’re overwhelmed with the job hunt and need help.
- If you’re in a STEM program or something similar, find people who graduated in the past few years and look at their roles. If someone's in a position that you would love to get into, talk to them.
Do Your Due Diligence
- Treat the search like a full-time job. It takes time, energy, and effort.
- Consider joining an organization like Toastmasters where you can get public speaking, presentation, and communication experience if that’s something you’re lacking.
- Applying for positions is a numbers game. The more roles you apply to and the more interviews you line up, the better.
Interviewing Takes Practice
- Take note of how well you interview and how you present yourself.
- The more you practice answering common interview questions, the more comfortable and better off you're going to be.
- Use the STAR method during interviews:
- Situation: Describe a job situation that you experienced that’s applicable to the interview question
- Task: Define your responsibility and task in that situation
- Action: Explain the action steps you took to solve the problem
- Result: Talk about the results: what was the outcome? What did you achieve?
The panel wraps up with a reminder that job hunting is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s important to keep moving forward in the search and not get discouraged. If you start to hit a wall, don’t be afraid to pivot—there are many opportunities available.
With determination, hard work, and networking finesse, you can land the STEM job of your dreams!