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Flexibility, asking questions key for recent college graduates looking to advance in IT

Fred O'Connor | July 30, 2014
When Cathy Lee started working at New York startup Faith Street last year, she quickly learned a lesson that could benefit other recent college graduates who want to advance their IT careers -- soft skills like being flexible, taking on new tasks and asking questions matter a lot.

"One thing that's great about hiring people who are in their 20s who just graduated is that they know a lot about technology and they're really quick learners," said Coughlin. "They've been building personal websites or on social media or using different applications for their entire lives. It's second nature for them."

Employers welcome enthusiastic new hires, but employees shouldn't feel compelled to immediately contribute to products to prove themselves.

"The passion is really nice," said Yeh. "But what we tend to end up not doing as well is set realistic expectations."

Unlike college course work, where the steps to complete a task are broken down for students, completing assignments in the workplace requires institutional knowledge, said Yeh. New employees need to be familiar with the technologies and procedures a company uses before they set goals. Recent hires need strong communication skills since acquiring this information means asking questions, soliciting managers and co-workers for feedback and communicating with colleagues about their role in an organization.

"If you're unsure about something, the first thing you should do is ask because that's going to save everyone a lot of time," said Coughlin. "The worst thing they can do is to assume they know how to do things. No matter what you studied in college working at a tech company is going to bring up some challenges that you haven't faced before. It's really important for people to really over communicate with the folks they are working with, the folks that have been there before."

Lee had lunch with "pretty much everybody" at a 150-person startup she interned at to learn about them, the company and the industry.

"In order to be able to know how your skills fit in [and] to get a lay of the entire company you're going to have to talk to people," she said. "Get to know everyone's communication style so you're able to manage expectations. Be clear about what you can do and be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses."

Knowing what resources are available, especially when a project is taking longer than anticipated, can help workers earn the recognition they're seeking from their colleagues, said Yeh.

"Once you understand what is available this will save you time," Yeh said. "You'll achieve your goal faster and your manager will know that you already know the process in place."

Robert Knight, a vice president at IT staffing firm Modis, reminds new hires that basic principles like punctuality and appropriate use of office technology count as much as knowing the latest technology.

"Nothing leaves a worse impression than being the person who comes on five minutes after the call starts," Knight said. "When I'm walking around the office they shouldn't be on Facebook unless they're recruiting someone."


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