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CS graduate jobs: What do employers want to see?

James Davis

Computer science graduates are among the most employable in the country, but it can still be tricky knowing what employers are after.

As the digital economy continues growing, so too will the demand for skilled, versatile CS graduates. Companies across all sectors require database managers, software developers, people with machine learning experience, data scraping, systems analysis, IT consulting and more. From minor to major functions, just about every facet of the modern will require your expertise. It’s exactly these myriad needs that make CS grads so employable. In this article, we’ll go over soft skills and harnessing the hard skills earned throughout postgrad to pump up your cover letters. Let’s get stuck in.

How do you show off your soft skills?

There are a couple general qualities employers across all sectors like to see.

  • Time management
  • Team work
  • Organisation
  • Diligence
  • Receptive to feedback

You get the idea. All these things can be incidentally demonstrated by highlighting coursework or activities that required them. For example, you can bring up that project you lead second year of undergrad, or in which you resolved a dispute. You can demonstrate diligence by describing the effort you put into troubleshooting stubborn code (leaving out the part where you were just missing a parenthesis after accidentally deleting it at three in the morning). Maybe talk about some collaboration you did on a thesis issue, or how you implemented feedback from a supervisor. This all just requires creativity. Everything you’ve done for your degree is an opportunity to elaborate on these ‘soft skills’. Even if your potential employer has no clue what your research topic was, everybody understands what effort looks like. Spell it all out and you’ll go far. You need to be organised to get a thesis done in a timely manner. You need diligence to stick with it. You can’t be too prideful for feedback. These aren’t implicit unfortunately, so must be communicated. If you’re applying for a job in your niche or close to it, you won’t need to worry about this so much.

So how and where is all this communicated? Generally, cover letters and interviews. Your CV/ resume should just be honest and succinct, listing work experience and extracurriculars. The latter should ideally be some GitHub side projects showcasing your skills. If you’ve already got some industry experience, focus on using your work as indications of both technical expertise and soft skills within cover letters and interviews.

If you’ve hopped straight from undergrad to postgrad, consider using other extracurriculars. This can mean volunteering, university clubs, sporting teams, bands you play in or hobbies. These aren’t necessarily CS related, but they do show employers what sort of person you are. They’re another avenue for showing off those soft skills. Play basketball regularly? Must be a team player. Musician? Well you need discipline for that. Once again, creativity is king. You’d be surprised what experiences you can mine.

How do you show off your expertise?

Employers will put out fairly detailed job descriptions listing key responsibilities and skill sets. First, do your research. Find out if your prospective employers operate in your industry of choice and learn about their past projects. Once you’ve got a shortlist, you’ll want to match all cover letters as closely to their formatting and vocabulary as possible, tailoring each cover letter to the employer.

Let’s say you’ve done your CS undergrad, a few years of work followed by master’s in cyber security. Now you’re looking for a role in the sector. XYZ Security Consulting Solutions puts out an analyst job requiring project execution and management, managing security incidents, penetration testing etc. They request experience with contemporary cyber security threats, ethical hacking and communication skills. What they’ve just given you is how you want to structure your cover letter. Start with contact info in the heading, then open with a single sentence saying you believe you’re right for the job, followed by a dot point list of why, using the order in which each requirement appears in the job ad as your guide. Example:

To [Name],

I recently saw your job posting for [role] and thought I’d be an excellent fit. Attached is my CV and references.

  • Experience executing and managing the ABC project at Old Company Pty Ltd, resulting in positive project outcomes.
  • Experience managing security incidents at Some Bank Pty Ltd.
  • Experience with penetration testing during internship at DEF Systems Pty Ltd
  • Performed extensive research on contemporary cyber security threats like spectre tech during master’s thesis. Subject matter expert.
  • Experience with ethical hacking during Uni Hacking Competition 2019.
  • Experience negotiating with clients and collaborating with peers.

Look forward to hearing back.

Kind regards,

[You]

And just like that, you’ve got a great cover letter that doesn’t go into too much detail. An important thing to note is you’re likely talking to a HR rep. Use the exact language mentioned in the ad, or they may not understand your experiences are applicable to what’s listed. Simple and concise is key.

If you’ve not done any internships, work or side projects, feel free to mention how your thesis or coursework was pertinent in each respect. After that, consider doing some! Boosting those extracurriculars helps you stand out. A postgrad degree helps in that regard too of course, but the effort and value isn’t communicated as easily. It’s up to you to help employers understand what your academic experiences are worth.

You should now have a better idea of what CS graduates at the postgraduate level can do to boost job prospects, although ultimately you shouldn’t be too concerned. You’re in a bountiful field! No matter where you take your qualifications, we’re sure you’ll make meaningful contributions and wish you all the best.