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How to get your first job in tech

Former N26 chief people officer Noor van Boven gives her top tips for how graduates can land their first job in tech

By Miriam Partington in Berlin

You might be thinking that the layoffs that have begun in European tech mean that there would be fewer job opportunities — but that’s not the case, says Noor van Boven, an HR professional of over 15 years and the former chief people officer of German fintech N26. Yes, companies may be on slimmer budgets, but the talent shortage is still a problem — and companies need to recruit fast. Here, Noor gives her top tips for how graduates can best position themselves to get hired right now.

Don’t be picky about the role. 

Figure out what your main skills are — is it communications, software development, marketing? — and what you want to learn. But don’t get too hung up on the specific role you apply for. If there is a company that you really want to work for, just get in there. You’ll have the opportunity to float around between roles, especially when you’re early in your career and eager to learn. Once you see how the whole machine works, you’ll be able to figure out which job or department looks the most appealing.

Show that you’re a self-starter. 

Tech companies always look for people with a “growth mindset”. For example, candidates who have lived or studied abroad are looked upon favourably as it demonstrates that you are curious and are willing to leave your comfort zone. You, of course, need to be tech savvy or at least have an interest in tech, and you need to demonstrate that you are solution-oriented, have good project management skills and are able to work independently — as there’s little time in startups to be guided all the time.

CVs still matter. 

Most startup recruiters still screen on CVs, so it’s important that yours looks neat. Identify key words in the job description — whether that’s ‘enthusiastic’, ‘motivated’, ‘able to handle pressure’ — and weave those into your resume, as these are the words busy recruiters will be looking out for. If you’re a graduate with little work experience, put emphasis on what you want to learn and your attitude and approach to work: are you hard working? A team player? Love a challenge?  Also, think about big projects you may have done on the side that you may have led or participated in (did you organise a concert or charity event at university? Did you play a competitive sport that requires teamwork?) However, don’t spend too much time on your CV. Most shiny brands receive thousands of resumes a day — at N26 we received 10,000 resumes a day during hypergrowth — and typically only glance at them for a few seconds.

Put yourself out there. 

Networking is often the key when it comes to landing job interviews — but don’t stress if you don’t have personal contacts to reach out to. If you live in the city of the company you want to join, check out what events they are running. If they don’t have dedicated open days for graduates, they might be putting on an open drinks reception at their office. Or perhaps a team member is speaking at a conference that you could attend and chat to them afterwards. Simply introduce yourself, say you’ve been following the company for a while and are keen on joining, and ask to exchange contact details. The company might be looking to fill a role in the future that fits your profile and will get in touch.

Be yourself in interviews. 

It’s important to act professionally and to speak about how best you fit the company (in terms of skill and personality) but don’t put on a persona. Very often, you don’t know what companies are actually looking for — and you could miss a trick if you’re pretending to be someone else. At N26, for example, we liked hiring founders whose companies weren’t successful because they had been through a painful journey. We hired old school bankers who probably knew very little about digital services, crypto nerds and fresh graduates who knew nothing about banking. Startups are often looking to mix up teams and bring together different dynamics. You could be a good fit without even realising it.

Assess company culture. 

Consider what kind of environment you would excel in: for example, are you suited to high growth startups where you get thrown in at the deep end, or do you want to work for a corporate with a good graduate programme with hands on support? Ask employees of the company you’re applying to — either people in your network or via LinkedIn — what it’s really like to work there. Also, inquire during interviews: How much autonomy do managers give you? How easy is it to switch teams? What learning opportunities are there? Have you hired many graduates before? Is it a fast-paced or a more relaxed environment? Being proactive and asking the right questions will help you assess whether this is the best place for you and will signal to the company that you care about your career development.

Miriam Partington is Sifted’s DACH correspondent. She also covers future of work, coauthors Sifted’s Startup Life newsletter and tweets from @mparts_

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