What Are CIOs Looking for in Current IT Grads?

Few industries are experiencing the growth and role diversification happening in computer and IT professions. IT roles, particularly in the areas of cloud computing, big data, and information security, are expected to grow by 531,200 jobs from 2019 to 2029, which bodes well for IT graduates entering the job market.

But in a booming IT job market, are IT graduates truly prepared for the work that they’re heading toward? Do they possess both the technical and pragmatic skills to succeed when pitted against more experienced IT professionals? We connected with more than 50 CIOs and other IT leaders to learn more about what they’re looking for in new hires. Here’s what they had to say.

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Best Professional Practices for New IT Grads

Develop a strong technical backbone and aptitude for more.

New IT graduates rarely have all, or even most, of the skills that CIOs want. Especially since most computer and data science university curriculums focus on theoretical over practical application, many graduating students have not yet developed the real-world skills that will make their knowledge relevant to a business. 

IT leaders recognize this gap in experience, but still want new hires to demonstrate skills in the basic building blocks of the industry, with background or coursework in coding languages and relevant data science courses.

Arthur Iinuma, the cofounder and president of ISBX, explained in detail the technical skills that IT grads need to get noticed by hiring managers: 

“We expect IT graduates to have coding skills in at least one of the main languages: Java, HTML, CSS and C++. Ideally, they should have some familiarity with one of the more exotic languages like C#, Python, AngularJS, Ruby or React.”

Beyond relevant coursework and knowledge, tech leaders look for IT grads who have applied this knowledge to real-world problems prior to entering the job market. 

Iinuma offered another solution for current students and new IT grads who want to build their experience in the industry:

“Regarding technical skills, we are looking for experience with contributing to open source projects like GitHub. Candidates must have a firm understanding of systems architecture and database management. As the future of IT is data, strong data analysis skills are a must.”

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Work on problem solving and business acumen skills early.

Many IT professionals start in hands-on, daily, problem-solving roles for their company or clients, which requires them to understand technical resolutions, people skills, and team collaboration skills. 

CIOs will often use a problem-solution interview technique to assess a candidate’s skills in this area. What is a possible problem scenario the new hire could encounter in this role and how could they fix it? Consider several areas spanning from technical errors to interpersonal diplomacy, and determine what solution would help a new hire succeed in that scenario.

Several IT leaders also recommended that aspiring IT professionals gain project management experience before they search for an IT role. 

Thilo Huellmann, CTO at Levity.ai, offered these project management suggestions for inexperienced IT professionals to build their skills:

“Project management isn’t technically a skill, but without it, even the most skilled programmer wouldn’t be able to achieve much. IT graduates who are employed by reputable tech firms are those who have shown the ability to see projects through from start to finish. Being a CTO, I think fresh IT grads should take project management classes or volunteer with tech projects that they can credit in interviews or applications. It’s a surefire way to set fresh IT grads apart to stand out from the crowd.”

Project management isn’t technically a skill, but without it, even the most skilled programmer wouldn’t be able to achieve much.

-Thilo Huellmann, CTO at Levity.ai

IT students learned a wide variety of technical skills in school, but probably very few business and project management skills. Like web development and coding, project management skills can be learned online in courses like The Junior Project Manager – Learning Project Management Through Stories

Build on soft skills and propensity for learning constantly.

Technology is always changing, so IT grads should always consider themselves students of their craft and their line of business. Hiring managers look for evidence that a prospect is committed to continuing to learn, staying up-to-date with tech trends, and learning emerging technologies. More importantly, CIOs want to be sure new hires arrive ready on day one to contribute to the team both professionally and personally, offering solutions and a collaborative spirit on all team projects.

Rich Temple, Vice President and CIO at Deborah Heart and Lung Center, offered these words of wisdom about the soft skills and culture fit that the right candidate needs to succeed early on in their career:  

“I place a particular emphasis on the so-called “soft skills”. How would this person interact with colleagues and end users? Building constructive and collaborative relationships is extremely important, even in the most technically complex roles. Ensuring that we aren’t hiring someone who could be toxic to a positive team environment or would work in a “bubble,” not being cognizant of the larger impact of their work, is exceedingly important to me.” 

Candidates who ask good questions will more than likely maintain that curiosity and willingness to learn as they grow in their role. IT leaders can assess an applicant’s aptitude for the position based on the quality of questions that they ask during the interview. Are they interested in continued learning opportunities at the firm? Are they curious about the team culture and what the company is looking for? Do their questions show a true passion for the position’s or company’s goals? All of these questions point to a candidate who will absorb their training and apply it as a new hire.

Temple shared these final words about why curiosity can help the new IT graduate to land into a new role successfully:  

“What I can safely say is that, while specific technical skills or certifications are welcomed and valuable, that is only a piece of the puzzle. I like to see individuals who are eager to learn, have an understanding of the world around them, and seem as though they would be able to understand the business and operational contexts of the technical work they would be doing.” 

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Shelby Hiter
Shelby Hiter
Shelby Hiter is a writer with more than five years of experience in writing and editing, focusing on healthcare, technology, data, enterprise IT, and technology marketing. She currently writes for four different digital publications in the technology industry: Datamation, Enterprise Networking Planet, CIO Insight, and Webopedia. When she’s not writing, Shelby loves finding group trivia events with friends, cross stitching decorations for her home, reading too many novels, and turning her puppy into a social media influencer.

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