The Career Beginner

You are planning to enter the corporate world of IT….so what do you need to think about?

You may have been travelling for 12 months growing your hair long, getting a tan, wearing the same six items of clothing for the past three months and living out of a travel pack. 

Or working for a family member’s business and now you want to work in the field you studied (IT in this instance). 

Owing to Covid, you have spent 18 months wearing a face mask and working in hospitality to pay rent and get to know people in the new city you couldn’t move away from! 

Whatever the scenario, you are about to enter into the corporate world of IT. Information Technology. 

So how do you translate the past 18 months or so, into skills that make sense in the IT world? 

Let’s ask some people that know exactly what they are looking for when hiring Career Beginners in IT. 

Answering the interview questions is

Sean Muller

Servian (NZ) Principal Consultant and Practice Lead Enterprise AI/ML

and co-host of Technology Whisperers Podcast

Interview Questions: 

1) First impressions on paper

What are you looking for on a CV or cover letter from someone who is new in the industry, or back from a gap year (remember them?) or who is taking the plunge from bar work to what they studied in?  

Sean: If they have a gap in either work experience or specifically in doing technology work, what I look for is personal projects and other things they have done to keep themselves up to date, or to show what they are interested in. For example, I interviewed a returning mum a while back. On her CV, she had included a list of every IT related item or article that she had read during those three years she had focused on raising her child.

2) Transferable skills, technical skills, personable skills 

What are you looking for that our Career Beginner has, but they might not know is beneficial to the ICT corporate world? 

Sean: In a word, ‘perspective’. Everyone has a unique viewpoint and getting views that are not mainstream are hugely important, valuable and powerful.

3) First impressions in person

How should our Career Beginner “turn up”? In every sense of the phrase. 

Sean: I personally look for people that are excited either by the technologies or by what those technologies could bring to organisations.

4) Any advice for a winning interview formula? 

Sean: Be open, honest and sell your brand. You are unique and have great qualities, skills, experience and all of them can be used to help me do great things, so tell me how.

5) Researching the company – what’s important to know? 

Should our career beginner research your company, and what should they pay attention to? 

The free lattes? The close proximity to the bus stop? The NASDAQ and stock price? 

What really wins over a hiring manager in the interview around company knowledge. 

Sean: For me, knowing about what we (Servian in this case) are working on and publishing papers about, shows knowledge and an interest in a career – not just a job.

6) And finally – any other advice you can give our Career Beginners entering the world of ICT Interviews? 

Sean: Don’t be afraid to shoot for a challenge. I would rather have an excited, under qualified person in a role where they can grow and do great things, than a bored, qualified person with 10 years of experience who just wants to get by.

Vickie King

GM Product – Partnerships & Evangelism – Xero

Vickie has 20+ years of experience in the technology sector. She’s held senior leadership roles with fresh startups, unicorn scale-ups, incubators & accelerators, growing mid-size companies, as well as forward-thinking corporates and governments across New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia.

New or returning to tech? Here’s three things I look for when hiring

It’s fair to say that during my 25 year career to date, I have spent a solid amount of time recruiting human beings for roles. By my estimates, I’ve spent a solid few thousand hours writing role descriptions, reviewing CVs, shortlisting and interviewing applicants, and then selecting suitable candidates. While the process is nuanced and altered depending on the role, there are a number of transferable traits and skills that I’ve always looked for. Here are three that will stand you in good stead in the tech world.

Communication in a complex world 

Yes, it’s been said a thousand times that communication is key, but here’s a slightly different take. 

You’ve probably already clocked that you should know your message, think about your audience, be succinct, use appropriate emphasis and tones, and use good non-verbal communication. However, your ability to effectively translate and communicate complex information and ideas is particularly relevant in the tech industry – for every role.  

Whether you are in a technical role as a software engineer, a business role like a marketing manager, a customer role like an account manager, or in a hybrid customer/business/technical role like a product manager – your ability to translate your world into easy to understand, bite-sized, digestible chunks is crucial to creating understanding with your colleagues.

On the topic of connecting with your colleagues, active listening is often the overlooked piece of communication. Ensure you listen to really hear what others are saying, not just listen to respond. To really listen requires your full attention and the ability to feed back to them what you have heard them say. 

Long ago, I once interviewed a candidate who was barely listening to the questions, or even letting the interviewer finish the comment or question before leaping in to answer (and often over the top of the interviewer *facepalm*). It’s definitely important to have your say, but not at the expense of effective two-way communication. Safe to say, that candidate didn’t make it to the next round. 

Remember, if you aren’t listening, you aren’t really communicating.  It’s all about learning from each other, respecting one another, and empathy.

Empathy is a light in dark times 

Empathy is your ability to connect with another person’s thoughts or feelings. It means metaphorically stepping outside yourself and into another person’s Ugg Boots. Empathy for customers, for example, is key to something called human-centred design and to delivering the value they want or need. Know them, research their drivers, understand their pain points, keep them in your focus at all times. 

However it’s empathy for your teammates that will really support your workplace collaboration and career development. It will help you to build strong relationships with the humans around you and to forgive each other for being short or snippy when times are tough. A little understanding goes a long way. 

This is particularly true during pandemic times. For over two years we’ve been trying to have important online business meetings alongside babies screaming bloody murder, kids running past with no pants on, spouses appearing in the background like Where’s Wally, and pets wanting…well, petting – all with our pyjamas on! Our increased understanding, patience and empathy for each other is nothing short of an unrecognised revolution in working relationships.

Oh, and empathy will help you with life’s number one rule: Don’t be a dick.

An ability and desire to learn, always

To be in the #techlife is to be forever learning. The tech industry is hyper-dynamic – constantly shapeshifting, growing, and changing. This means that there’s always new learning opportunities. Just when you think you’ve cracked it, a new tool or framework will emerge, the tech architecture will evolve, or there will be an entirely new disruptive challenge to tackle. 

But more than just learning the tools and tech, it’s the human factors that represent the biggest learning curve. There’s something to learn from every colleague and from every interaction. Take the opportunity to absorb everything, not just from your manager, but from everyone around you. Learn from their successes and failures, as well as your own.

About 10 years ago, I was lucky enough to work in an awesome Sydney incubator, Pollenizer, with an exceptional bunch of humans. Sadly Pollenizer is no more, but its legacy lives on. One of the founders was the amazing investor and startup scientist Mick Liubinskas, who invented the coolest word for reframing failure: #FLEARN

Don’t hide or shy away from your mistakes or stuff-ups. Turn those failures into learnings. They are your #flearns – own them. Learn from them. Every brave warrior has proud scars.

Your ability to demonstrate your motivation to learn, capacity for new information, making and learning from your mistakes, and your capability to synthesise and apply it will be your superpowers. Be a learner, not a knower.

In summary, your #human power skills will help you to stand out in an interview as someone that would be able to succeed. Wherever you are in your career journey, it’s your ability to fit into a team, collaborate, and play well with others that will be critical to your success.

Video Resources

My Career Story: by Alison Mackie

Alison Mackie (29) works as an Executive Director at NZTech leading several of their communities, including LocationTech, BlockchainNZ, IoT Alliance and EdTech. Liz Izmailova (26) works as the Marketing Manager for Centrality and is an Executive Council member of BlockchainNZ, specialising in NFTs and the emergence of Web3.

Advice to Younger Self: by Liz Izmailova 

Liz Izmailova (26) works as the Marketing Manager for Centrality and is an Executive Council member of BlockchainNZ, specialising in NFTs and the emergence of Web3.

Starting a Career in Tech: by Vanessa Leite and Sasha Mullins

Vanessa Leite, Senior Information Security Expert, with over 10 years of experience and active member of the TechWomenNZ community,  interviews Sasha Mullins for our Career Beginner section Return to Tech. Read Sasha’s bio, and watch the video to learn more about her journey.

My name is Sasha Mullins. I am 23 years old and I currently work as an IAM Analyst in the Information Security team at ANZ. My journey to technology was definitely complicated, to say the least. 

When I was younger I loved the idea of becoming an architect as it involved creativity and drawing, which was something I really enjoyed. Whether it was doodling during class or trying new techniques at home, I felt so peaceful when I was drawing. Though art would always remain part of my life, unfortunately the architect dream was quickly put to bed once I realised maths was heavily involved. Coming into high school I also really enjoyed the performing arts. Experiencing plays and being on stage in front of crowds was thrilling. And, while this wasn’t something I pursued further, I definitely believe it plays a big part in my confidence today. I never looked toward commerce-based subjects in school, so when I chose to do a Bachelor of Commerce at university it was incredibly daunting. I began my degree with Psychology & Marketing, and realised quite quickly that it wasn’t necessarily right for me. This was definitely reflective in my work and it made the academic side of university quite a difficult time for me. Picking up Media Studies definitely made a difference, but it wasn’t until I found Information Systems that I felt truly excited to be learning. There was something so intriguing about technology, how it integrated into everyday life and innovated business. Following the introductory course I changed my major to Information Systems and I became a tutor for the paper that had such an impact for me in the hope I could bring that same inspiration for others. I came into ANZ through the Summer of Tech internship, which really sparked a passion for Cyber Security, and I was fortunate to stay on with the team in the Identity & Access Management squad. It’s been an incredible journey, with a lot of challenges and support, and I’m so excited to see what’s next!