It's disheartening to say the least to peruse the pages and pages of recruitment advertising if you're a new graduate, only for your eyes to fall on some hard truths: "minimum of 18 months' experience required" or "previous experience essential". The thing is, you can't get any experience unless you get your first real job and that's not going to happen if all prospective employers are looking for is previous commercial IT experience. Recent press coverage of the supposed IT skills crisis, if nothing else, shows that UK companies looking for IT personnel are going to have to change their attitudes to recruitment if they stand any chance of acquiring staff with the necessary skills. David Pardo, managing director of training company Learning Tree, agrees: "It is getting slightly easier for IT graduates to get employment, but the industry as a whole, in spite of the skills shortages, is still of the attitude that they'd rather have someone with a year to 18 months' experience - it's a catch 22 situation. There simply aren't enough separate individuals with IT skills and the necessary experience. Many of the IT graduates looking for work will be surprised at the attitude of some of the larger companies." However, some companies are beginning to realise that IT experience does not count for everything. Sun Microsystems, for example, as well as recruiting IT graduates this year is asking for graduates with other disciplines to apply. They will be given the necessary training. According to Sun, while there is a shortage not only of the relevant IT skills, graduates of subjects such as Music, Art or Theology have a lot to offer the IT marketplace. Pardo applauds the move: "It's to Sun's credit that (the company) is taking this action." Subjects such as Theology, Music or the Classics for example, are the sorts of disciplines where awareness of thought processes and logic are required said Pardo. "A person with this sort of logical approach would suit a career in software development." He went on to say that he believes personality is the key. If the candidate has the required intelligence, specific IT skills can be acquired later. "Users aren't prepared to put up with the opinion that IT is 'special' anymore. As a result, there is a much higher expectation of the IT department and IT personnel need to be able to deal with people right the way through the company from users to managing directors. Most IT professionals are in regular contact with these people everyday. The bottom line is that there are lots of intelligent, capable and willing people who want to work in the IT industry but without any experience. Companies need to take a longer-term and more enlightened view." Microsoft is another company which seems to be moving in the right direction. Debbie Walsh, Microsoft's IT skills development manager commented: "Its true that when most employers are looking for people, they want hands on experience as well as the relevant qualifications. Microsoft is targeting this problem in several ways. We have a scheme called GRASP (Graduate Recruitment Academic Skills Programme) which integrates the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) qualification into the Computer Science degree programme and we are trying to get local businesses to sponsor students through their degree. This scheme is in place in Napier University in Edinburgh where we are currently trying to enlist the help of companies such as the Royal Bank of Scotland to give the students employment over the summer months so when they come to try for employment they have at least some hands on experience." She went on to say that Microsoft also runs an Authorised Academic Training Partner (AATP) programme at 25 Universities around the country which allows students to do a Microsoft qualification alongside their degree, regardless of its discipline. "In a more general approach," says Walsh, "we need to tackle the overall skills shortage. One thing we have come up with is a general qualification in information technology. Many graduates take a PGCE when they finish their degrees, in many cases as a way of putting off making a decision about where to find a job. If we could have the equivalent for IT it would be very effective. We need to talk to the Government about this." She also says that one of the major issues faced by companies at the moment is getting more people interested in starting a career in IT, in order to boost the number of people graduating in the subject. "For some reason, IT isn't yet considered sexy. Companies need to change its geeky image." Walsh added that the Government's current Welfare to Work programme, which aims to get 16-year olds into work, could help by giving them a basic understanding of IT. "Most of all, everybody needs to coordinate these ideas to make them work effectively." she said. "My advice to anyone looking for a job in the IT world is to get the academic qualifications recognised by the area of the profession you want to enter and try to get experience if you can, even if its unpaid. Universities could help by encouraging more students to undertake sandwich courses and persuading local businesses to give graduates work experience." One company which is streets ahead when it comes to recruitment is PKS. The company has around 15,000 employees worldwide, an annual turnover of $3.5 billion (#2.2 billion) and provides remote computer outsourcing services. Over the past few years, PKS Systems Integration has also been handling the software re-engineering associated with the Year 2000 problem and it opened a subsidiary In Limerick specifically to address the issue. Eugene O'Keeffe, chief executive of PKS for Ireland and the UK, says finding staff for the facility was extremely easy; "We've undertaken an aggressive recruitment progamme through the graduate milk round and advertising. Of the 1,000 people we interviewed, we took on 120. There should be three objectives when staffing - find staff, screen them and keep them. We have a great retention scheme. If our people are still here by the Year 2000 they will receive large bonuses." O'Keeffe also says his staff don't necessarily need to be from a computing background. "The majority of our business concerns the Year 2000 and the EMU, which in particular is a business problem as well as an IT issue. It is easier to train a business graduate in IT than the other way around. We need staff who can stand firmly in both camps." He went onto say he believes cross training is one of the most important benefits a company can offer. "Companies that don't undertake cross training are doomed to failure." Along with business or IT skills, O'Keeffe looks for staff with a good bedside manner, and good presentation. As a final thought, anyone considering joining the IT profession at the moment who actually has the qualifications and some experience is very fortunate. According to National Computing Centre's recent Salaries and Staff Issues in Computing survey, the UK IT job market is at its strongest point for four years. The survey also showed an increased recruitment rate and a strong demand for new IT skills. Further good news is that the survey showed this growth is expected to continue. Over 60% of respondents expect to increase their employment of IT systems and support staff over the next two years, leading to an aggregate growth rate in employment of 12.8%. Tony Hart, consultant at NCC's skills source, recruitment and retention service, says: "This really isn't surprising. The rapid emergence of new technologies has increased business expectations, and consequently the demand for skilled IT professional." Interviews:dealing with the tough onses. Tough Interview questions In his book, The Manager's Book of Questions: 751 Great Interview Questions for hiring the Best Person, John Kador looks into trick and soul searching questions which reveal the real personality behind the interviewee. Why are manhole covers round? This question, according to Great Questions, probes to see how the applicant reacts to a tough question and whether he or she can present a logical way of resolving it. Describe the most difficult decision you ever had to make in your professional career? Kador believes interviewers are impressed with candidates who are introspective enough about their own career choices and their own decision-making to admit that, occasionally, they could have made better choices. If you had the opportunity to do the past 10 years of career over again, what would you do differently? With this question, Great Questions says the interviewer is looking for valuable clues as to how settled the applicant is in his or her chosen career. What's most important to you truth or comfort? The correct attitude is that the facts are always friendly says Kador. He believes they may not always be convenient, but to any employee, a preference for truth must be paramount. Is honesty always the best policy? Kador is firm on this one. For all purposes involving work, the answer must be an unequivocal yes. Don't be creative he advises. You want to go swimming in a pool. The water is a little colder than is comfortable. Are you the type who jumps in, or do you wade in? Great Questions says this searching question attempts to discover what threshold of risk taking the interviewee wants to reflect, high or low? Kador says that what makes it more tricky is the fact that there's no right or wrong answer to this item. He says that it's a judgement call based on your perception of the job and on the interviewer's requirements. On what occasions are you tempted to lie? Notice how the question is worded warns Kador. You have slack here to be honest. According to Great Questions, you can admit to being tempted and then clearly state your commitment to the truth. But be warned, Kador says a red flag is raised when an applicant is unable even to admit the possibility of being tempted. What do you want to hear first, the good news or the bad news, and why? Kador says there is no right or wrong answer to this one. The interviewer wants to see how adroitly you handle a probing question. However, the book does give some advice. A satisfactory answer it says could be: "When I get to my desk in the morning, I prefer to tackle the difficult, unpleasant tasks, so I guess I want to hear the bad news first." Take as a given that you got this job and have been doing it for three to six months, but things are just not working out. We are sitting here discussing the situation. What do you think you would say about what's going wrong? Great Questions points out with this question the interviewer is looking for evidence that the candidate has at least some insight into his or her limitations and accepts responsibility for them. An acceptable response it says could be: "Sometimes I'm so eager to get things done that I move too fast, I miss details, and I fail to close the loop with people." Not acceptable: "Hire me. There is no possibility that things will not work." The Manager's Book of Questions: 751 Great Interview Questions for Hiring the Best Person, By John Kador, (McGraw-Hill, NY, 1997) NEWS FLASH: TOO MANY JOBS TOO FEW PEOPLE! The skills shortage, especially in the IT industry is getting worse, according to the London Chamber of Commerce. Its research shows that while a record 84% of service sector companies are recruiting, many firms are still having difficulty finding suitable candidates, especially managers. Simon Sperryn, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce, says: "Several factors have contributed to the current skills shortage. The economic upturn and the rapid expansion of the telecommunications industry has created more demand for IT skills. While the single currency and problems over the millennium time bomb have made the situation more acute. We are encouraged that some firms have overcome the problem by re-employing older workers. But we must also find a way of providing those entering the job market and people without work with the skills that employers are demanding."
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