April 18th, 2007 - by cpradio

It’s hard to believe that I graduated college nearly two years ago and have been working at an Insurance Company as a programmer since. I would like to tell you that college completely prepared me for a job in the real world, but I would be lying if I did.

During the time I spent searching for a job, being interviewed, and now having been in my job for some time, I have learned some valuable lessons that I’d like to share.

First we’ll look at some suggestions of what you can do while you’re interviewing for a job and then I’ll talk about ways to make you more successful at the job you land. Let’s begin.

  1. Research the company before contacting them.

    This is absolutely vital. Research the company, looking at both their past and the future they have planned. Make it your business to know their history, how many employees they have, and their corporate earnings for the year prior. The more you know, the more you can impress them during the phone, or in-person interview.

    During several of my own interviews, it was fun to see the expressions on everyone’s face as I ran off their earnings for the prior year, or that I already knew what areas they had regional offices in, etc. By doing this research, you prove that they are of interest to you and that raises your chances considerably.

  2. Bring a notebook of questions.

    Come up with a full list of questions you want to ask about the company. For example: What software do they use for web development? What is the process of moving an application to production/making it live? What technologies do they use, and are they open to implementing ones you have worked with?

    Have at least 10 questions, one per page in your notebook, and write down their answers. You are likely to meet with several people, so track each person’s individual answer. Again, we are going for showing interest in the company, by actively asking questions and writing their response, you will prove your interest.

  3. Write a follow-up letter.

    After the in-person interview, write a letter thanking them for the interview. Also include what you learned during your visit and that you look forward to their response. I have read countless times that companies are willing to give an applicant a second look if they send a follow-up letter.

  4. Mind your p’s and q’s.

    Be polite, say thank you, shake hands, and by all means, if they take you out to lunch, do not tell stories about the stupid crap you did in college! Keep that to yourself and highlight the good no matter what setting you are in. Believe me, they will tempt you to say something stupid. During one of my interviews, two of the people interviewing me brought up a conversation over logging their child’s car habits using a device that plugs under the dash board. The parent can remove the device and see what speeds their child was traveling along with other data.

    During that time I kept my mouth shut no matter what my thoughts were on the subject. Obviously it was not any of my business and so I did not make it any of my business. When they asked me what I thought of such technology I simply stated, “In this day and age, the only thing that holds us back is ourselves. If we think anything is possible, than we can achieve it.” It was short and precise and allowed me to switch topics while answering their question. It also gave them insight on my thought process and that I felt anything could be accomplished given the right attitude.

Now that you made it through the job process and landed that developer job let’s look at a few skills that you will need while in the job.

  1. Be willing to admit your mistakes.

    Take it from me, you will make mistakes. Managers and Supervisors know this and so should you. Admit to your mistakes. If it was lack of testing, admit it, and go beyond it by recommending ways this can be avoided in the future (as that is the next question you will get from a Manager or Supervisor). If you had too many projects to work on and that was the reason, say so. Your manager will understand, and hopefully he/she will adequately adjust your schedule so you can generate a better product.

  2. Learn to manage time.

    30% of my job is managing my time, identifying the high priority projects and giving them adequate time to complete them by their due date. This isn’t something you can just do right out of the box; it takes a lot of guess work at the beginning but once you have done it for a few weeks, you should have a good idea if your method is working. For me, I like to analyze everything necessary to complete each project. Once that is done, I will estimate the number of hours it will take to complete each step. Then I will determine what days I will work on each step.

    When I first started out, I was amazed at how quickly time goes by while programming. It would seem as though I had only been writing code for 30 minutes, but in fact 3 hours had passed. Expect your initial estimates to be wrong, then adjust your estimates appropriately as your experience increases.

  3. Invest in books.

    I can’t re-iterate this enough. Buy book after book after book. Your job is extremely demanding, and your company will likely pay for a good number of the books you want.

    Now you do not need to read every book cover to cover. I have several that I use as references (ie, The Bible series, such as the PHP Bible). Some of the books I own I just skimmed for topics of which I was interested in, and others I have used so extensively they are starting to fall apart.

  4. Be prepared to learn.

    One thing you need to realize right now is that you will be asked to continue to learn. Yes, you graduated, you think you will never have to read another book, or take any tests. You are WRONG. Every year, I am asked what I plan on learning in the upcoming year to improve my day to day work. Be it a new technology, or something related to insurance that may help me with my job. Then I have to find a way to quantify that I truly did learn the material by finding an exam I can take or adequately using the technology through my development.

  5. Learn your standards.

    Understand that HTML, XHTML, .NET, etc all have standards specified by either the W3C or Microsoft themselves and many companies try or want to try to follow them. Our company follows the Microsoft .NET coding standards fairly closely, when to use pascal case versus camel casing, good OO (object oriented) design, etc. I suggest learning these and mentioning your knowledge of them during any interview process.

  6. Be willing to help, but know when to say ‘no’.

    This is one I am still working on. I get asked a dozen questions a day. Unfortunately, I haven’t been too successful at telling people I don’t have the time to help them with their problem. I still drop what I am doing and give them my full attention. So far this hasn’t affected my time management, but I am certain that it is just a matter of time before it does.

    So be willing to help others solve their problems and answer their questions, but if you are extremely busy find a way to let them know you will have to help them later.

Hopefully these tips will help you as you venture into the real world to fill your role as a Web Developer, Programmer, or another position as well. Be sure to leave your tips for those who just graduated, tips for interviews, or even your experiences.

20 Responses to “Just Graduated – Now What?”

1 Golgotha

Oh man, I miss college… It seems like it was a life time ago for me.

Let’s do this everyone, (even you lurkers that have yet to comment) tell us when and where you graduated college from; or maybe you didn’t go to college and you are still a developer? Also include what your major was and what your current job position is. Sound good? I’ll go first and you can copy and paste for your reply.

College: Fort Lewis College, Durango Colorado
Graduated: 1995
Major: Psychology and Business
Current Position: Software Developer
Skills Used: ASP.NET, C#, HTML, Flash/ActionScript

2 ses5909

I was one of those “returning adults” in college and having a newborn, well my college days weren’t crazy. My Navy days however.. oh the stories….Back to topic.

College: University of Washington
Graduated: 2002
Major: Computer Science
Current Position: Partner and developer in a web development company
Technical Skills Used: PHP, CSS, C# and VB.Net, HTML, level 5 ninja

cpradio made some great points. During technical interviews, its okay to admit you don’t know something. Quite often they ask questions because they want to see your problem solving skills and if you aren’t able to solve the problem, that’s fine.

All of these points are great when applying for any job even if you’re not right out of college.

3 Chris Garrett

Well I was raised in the UK, it’s kind of different. I didn’t get a degree, I left school just before my 16th birthday.

When applying for a job, or many situations actually, top of your mind has to be “what’s in it for them” – what do they need, what are their risks, how can you make it an easy decision for them to choose you?

How I did it, keeping in mind my lack of paper qualifications, was to show I could do the job, had relevant experience and references, nowadays I would add blogging to that list.

College: NA
Graduated: NA
Major: NA
Current Position: CEO OMIQ Ltd
Technical Skills Used: As few as possible

🙂

4 Paul OB

We didn’t have school in my day and you were sent up the chimney or down the mines as soon as you could walk 🙂 But it never did us any harm.

I joined my fathers packaging business at 15 and along with my three brothers turned it from a one man band into a sizeable company employing about 30 people.

I didn’t get into web design until we sold the business in 1998 and I decided that I needed something to do in my semi retirement to keep me busy 🙂

College: Didn’t have colleges then
Left School at 15: 1967
Minor: Maths O level
Current Position:Freelance web design of sorts
Skills Used: CSS, html, common sense

5 Golgotha

🙂 That’s good stuff Chris! College was a blast, best time of my life, but I won’t pretend that it’s necessary for one to be successful; however one measures success…

I would say that ones drive and people skills are what matters most in the real word. Ok, you gotta have skills too…

@Sara: A kid in college!! Who’s tougher than you!

@Paul: common sense, priceless!

6 vinnie

College: a rather large state school, rather not say though
Graduated: late 2001
Major: MIS
Current position: web developer/marketing guy for a software company
Technical Skills Used: Java, Ruby, HTML, CSS, Javascript, SEO, and way too much SQL and XML.

I will say that even though my degree is in a technical/business area, it only marginally prepared me for the business and technical worlds. About 90% of what I do on the job I learned on my own. I took a lot of electives in college though (hey, I had a lot of scholarship money to burn and they wouldn’t let me apply it to a Master’s ;)) and the classes that helped me the most from a practical perspective were speech and education courses. They teach you how to break down concepts and explain them in terms anyone can understand, which will take you a lot farther in the “real world” than how much C++ you learned.

College is what you make of it, and you don’t make much of yourself if you stick to the same rigidly defined program that everyone else goes through. If you do that then you’ve done nothing to differentiate yourself from the other 2000 people graduating with you, which doesn’t make for a very notable career/life.

7 cpradio

College: University of Findlay
Graduated: 2005
Major: Computer Science and Technology Management
Current Position: Programmer Analyst for an Insurance Company
Technical Skills Used at Work: CSS, C#, SQL, XML, Batch Script writing, and JavaScript.
Technical Skills Used at Home: PHP, Ruby, Bash, Python, C, C++, and the ones listed at work too.

College was fairly boring to me. High School is where I learned Turbo Pascal and C++. Picking up web languages my Junior year in High School was fairly easy due to the C++ classes I had under my belt.

College was kind of a refresher for me, going over what I learned in High School and applying it to larger projects. The only thing I really gained in College was Dynamic Memory Allocation, as we never touched on that in High School.

8 Golgotha

@cpradio: High school?! Only thing I got out of high school was how to bounce a quarter off my nose into a glass…

9 cpradio

@Golgotha: That explains a lot! 😛

10 ses5909

Vinnie is right about college.. it is what you make of it. If i would have gone to college right out of HS, I wouldn’t have gotten anything out of it and luckily enough at the time I knew that and decided I would wait IF I went at all.

The day did come when I knew I wanted to go. Did college prepare me for what I do now? Yes and no. I’m a web developer and I didn’t learn a thing about web development aside from servlets, beans, and JSPs… but that hardly teaches you what goes into making a web site.

What college did give me are various skills in working with a team, some PM experience, and most importantly, the knowledge I learned from everyone around me. I don’t mean the technical knowledge…just life knowledge. College is a great place to meet people of various backgrounds and cultures and if you embrace that, You can really learn a lot and learn a lot about yourself.

11 Golgotha

That’s well said Sara and I agree full- heartedly. I loved college and got a lot out of it – nothing that prepared me for software development, but it did help prepare me for life.

I went to a very multicultural school, high native American population, which is a wonderful culture. I learned where I stand on certain subjects, what I believe in, how to work hard and set goals.

That said, I have seen a lot of people piss their parents or their own money away going to college too. Like most things – you get out what you put in.

PS. If you want to see the most beautiful place on earth, hit Durango Colorado in September…

12 Hedge fund king

I went to college at a large state school for business graduated in 1991. I have been a district sales manager for the last 16 years for a 100 billion dollar company ,college was a blast. The economy in 2007 is great when you are near retirement and saved 30% of your pay.

13 Amy

I just graduated, and I have no idea how to start,I want to start applying but I feel i am not ready yet, Im afraid I’ll be stupid or dumb, lol, I really am scared and wish someone can help me gain some confidence.and give me some advice on how to start, I graduated from architecture.

14 cpradio

That is perfectly normal Amy. My first advice is just realize you are not expected to know everything. The whole aspect of college was to give you a foundation of which to start on, as you interview and get into a company, you will likely go through a rigorous training process that may take up to a year to two years to complete (it depends on the company). Search for companies, research their past and present strategies (if they make them publicly available), and submit your resume. Believe me, you’ll do fine.

15 Stonks

Well, it took me a long time to get the job of my dreams and in the end what got me that job was what I had learnt outside of my college days – basically web development/programming…that’s what they were most impressed with at interview – the degree(s) were standard!!

For any grad that is looking to network then I’d recommend gradgathering.com.

16 David

I started in one profession and now I’m returning to college to enter into another. I’ll start with my present occupation.

Graduated: University of Florida, 2005
Major: Bachelor of Choral Music Education
Current Position: Music Teacher and Choral Director
Technical Skills Used at Work: Audio Recording with MacBook, standard Audio equipment.

Now studying at the Art Institute in Web Design & Interactive Media. Lots to learn and a ways to go. But I’m definitely enjoying the journey. Trying to learn more about the industry and how to step into it smoothly.

17 Cale

I just have to say: I graduated recently from the University of Minnesota with a degree in History, a stellar GPA and a marketing/PR internship under my belt and I CANNOT FIND A JOB. I am frustrated, I feel rejected and hopeless, and it is getting harder and harder to wake up in the morning with the same job-hunting enthusiasm I had three months ago.

Any advice from people who graduated with liberal arts degrees and are doing something unrelated to their major? How you got there, what if any regrets you have, etc.?

Much appreciated.

18 Samantha (Sam)

College: Purdue University
Graduated: 2006 Bachelor; 2008 Master’s Degree with a 4 point grade average.
Major: Communication and Media (undergrad)
Current Position: Looking for a job in or near Chicago or VA area.
I did an internship in New York in 2005 for 5WPR Public Relations, while I was attending William Patterson as an exchange student through Purdue.

I’m looking for a job in training and development. If anyone has any connections please email me and I will also try to help you out too.

Samantha

19 Samantha (Sam)

oops should have said 2004 Bachelor, I’m not that smart!

Samantha

20 Alexa

Hello there, Cale. i know this is kinda late, almost 3 years ago now, but i’m in the exact same position as you. i hope you’re doing fine now. i live in Mexico (Tijuana) and i just graduated form Literature (!) and althogh i’m sending aplications in schools because i wanna be a teacher, its still hard because they tell me i don’t have any experince before. well, thats true but because they ask youfor a degree in order to teach, so yeah, that’s why i have NO experience in teaching. anyway, i’m a little nervous but i’m still worried about what the hell am i gonna do with the rest of my life.

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