You’ve earned your degree. You’ve built your skills. You’ve decided that the tech industry aligns with your career aspirations. But wait—you’re not a coder. How do you proceed?
Thankfully, there are quite a few pathways into tech. We chatted with three tech employees during a recent Handshake Career Event, all of whom shared their thoughts on what it takes to break into the industry and what to do once you get there.
- Alyssa Cole, Emerging Talent Recruiter, HubSpot
- Christian Kummer, People Operations Rotational Associate, Google
- Tony Sidhom, Enterprise Account Executive, Handshake
- Alex Schudy, Career Queen on TikTok
More in the conversation below.
What are some non-tech roles students of any background can consider?
Alyssa: One of the first and biggest roles in tech to consider is sales—it’s critical for any company! You can also find roles on product, marketing, legal, customer service, or human resources teams. Companies may also have fellowships or rotational programs.
Christian: There are quite a variety of jobs beyond coding, and it can vary depending on the company. Within human resources, you have people operations; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); and employee relations. Looking outside of that department, there’s also external engagement, data analytics, financial analysis, operations, business development, UX/UI, and more.
What happens if I’ve switched my major or haven’t figured out what exactly I want to do?
Tony: I never intended to end up in tech, because I didn’t know it was an option. I had immigrant parents who expected me to be a doctor, lawyer, or at the very least an engineer, but I chose “D) none of the above.” I was a premed student, but I didn’t want to spend four more years in school accruing more debt. I also wanted to have an impact on society. I talked to as many companies as I could, only to find Handshake, which helps students find fulfilling career paths. The rest is history.
Alyssa: When I first started out, I didn’t even know what tech was. After unexpectedly losing my first job out of college, I asked myself: What area of work makes sense for me? What am I passionate about? At one point, I got a job offer in tech that I declined, because the position wasn’t quite right for me. I explained to the recruiter what I was actually looking for, and this ultimately led to an interview for a role that was much better. That’s how I got into tech! Also, if you’re looking at startups, don’t worry too much—they’ll train you in the role they need you to perform.
What tools and resources are available to recent grads who are trying to identify their career paths?
Alyssa: As far as tools go, you can take advantage of free resources like Handshake, LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, and edX, or you can join clubs or associations on or off campus. These groups may give you opportunities to complete projects, present in meetings, or compete in competitions. Recruiters want to see this stuff on your resume! When I review candidates, I always ask: What were they part of at school? What were they involved in? Are they a team player?
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What can students do to upskill and be more competitive in the tech job marketplace?
Tony: First, make sure your Handshake and LinkedIn profiles are up to date, and stay involved on these platforms. Second, be passionate about the work you want to do. When you’re looking at tech companies—especially startups where you’ll wear a lot of hats—your transferable skills play a huge part. Finally, identify what you’re good at and what doesn’t interest you. Once you’re working in tech, it can be more like a jungle gym than a ladder. Sometimes you go up, down, and side-to-side to get to the area you really care about.
Alyssa: Take any opportunity to learn. Also, network! This can be challenging depending on your personality, but you can always do it in ways that make sense for you. I’d recommend reaching out to people on Handshake or LinkedIn who work at your dream companies. They might be willing to set up a 15-minute meet and greet, which can be a game changer. Even if you’re an introvert, take this step!
Christian: Even if you’re in a non-tech role, a quantitative way of thinking is going to drive everything you do. An analytical and data-driven mindset is critical even if you’re not a software engineer. So, find courses that focus on database storytelling, numerical organization, and strategy building. You can also use Google’s free Careers on Air service to learn about developing your resume, networking, or taking on personal projects. It’s a great accessible resource!
What can entry level applicants do to make their resumes stand out?
Alyssa: First, give recruiters information that’s relevant to the position you’re applying for, and cut the fluff. We really want to see you highlight yourself—all that qualitative and quantitative information about what you’ve helped improve, how you’ve decreased workloads, and what awards you might have won. If you don’t have much experience, include coursework that shows us what you know. The key question is always: Do you have exactly what we need?
Christian: Your resume should contain a holistic version of who you are while also being a quantified, numbers-driven synopsis of a life story you can expand upon in an interview. Every bullet should be formatted as “Accomplished X, as measured by Y, by doing Z.” That said, there’s no expectation for new grads to have a ton of corporate or non-profit experience. What’s most important is that your experience demonstrates your passions and the data-driven actions you’ve taken to get to where you are.
What are some non-technical or behavioral interview questions to prep for?
Alyssa: It can be hard, because you never really know what you’ll be asked. Regardless, prepare to speak about past projects, times when you’ve led a team, and times you’ve had challenges with colleagues during a project. And be honest. Was a particular experience good or bad? If bad, how did you overcome it? Remember: recruiters can always tell if you’re not being authentic, so be yourself!
What do recent tech layoffs mean for students who are searching for jobs?
Allysa: It’s a challenging time for everybody. But be patient with yourself, and give yourself grace. This is also a great time to network so that, when a role opens up, your contact will think of you. Also, focus on what is in your control vs. what isn’t. Do research, pay attention to which companies are hiring, and start reaching out cold to people who might be able to help you. Again, this can be a game changer.
Cover letter: yes or no?
Alyssa: No. If an application doesn’t ask for it, don’t provide it unless you really need to explain something important. Even then, always consider: Is it really important or just something you’re trying to say?
Attending hiring events: valuable or not?
Tony: Yes, but only if you actually have a plan when you go. You can’t just attend and not do anything. For example, it will help to find a recruiter and say, “Hi, my name is Tony. I’m a senior studying X at Y school, and I’m interested in learning about Z.” This is also a great chance to practice networking.
Thank you notes after an interview: yes or no?
Christian: 100% yes. Take 30 minutes to an hour to reflect on the conversation. Then, in your thank-you message, address key highlights of what you talked about that re-emphasize how fruitful your conversation was. Also, your recruiter may not always provide your interviewer’s email, so at the end of each interview, ask for an email address so you can keep in touch. Then you can send your message.
Want more answers? To register for upcoming events, click here. Recaps and recordings of past events can be found here.
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash