Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Graduates: How To Secure an Interview for a Computer Forensics Role

In the first of a series of articles David Sullivan, a specialist computer forensics recruiter at www.appointments-uk.co.uk, provides some guidance for graduates who are looking to secure their first role in Computer Forensics.

I spend a lot of my time during the autumn speaking to University students studying computer forensics. During these talks, I try to give a broad outline of future career prospects, and, let’s make no mistake about it, for the graduates who secure an outstanding first position in CF, the future is incredibly exciting if they work hard and achieve outstanding results.

In this short article, I am going to cover what you need to do if you are a recent graduate yet to secure an interview for a graduate position. I will cover interview technique and preparation in another article, but if you have recently graduated your number one priority has to be getting an interview for a CF position.

This subject gets covered time and again on Forensic Focus and I get numerous calls asking for advice. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers and in my view, achieving success all comes down to the following points.

1. Professionalism

You really must treat this whole process like a professional project. Keep a record of everything you do, everyone you speak with/write to and the results of the communication. This means you always stay in control and can accurately track progress.

2. Your CV

I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to make your CV a document that sells you well. Decision makers tend to make decisions on your CV in the first few seconds so it really doesn’t matter how talented or enthusiastic you are, if your CV isn’t clear and professional, you will not get selected for interview. When you send your CV to a company you only have one shot at it so make the effort to make your CV stand out from the others they receive.

There are numerous free resources on the internet (including this article I wrote for Forensic Focus last year: http://www.forensicfocus.com/writing-a-winning-cv ) so there really is no excuse for not getting this right.

Incidentally, the main criticism I have of graduate CV's is that the course details are often tucked away in one line half way down the CV whereas the bar job in the Student Union is described in great detail. At this stage of your career, your degree is the key selling point so make it stand out! However, not to the point of my second major problem with graduate CV’s, where there is a list of every option taken along with grades. Stick to the basic course details and include a strong paragraph on your final year project, concentrating on achievement rather than description.

If you would like me to look over your CV, feel free to email me.

3. Making contact

As a recruiter who places a large number of new graduates into CF roles every year, I am of course going to suggest you contact recruiters advertising roles in this area. This can be an easy way to secure an interview.

Often, you can’t just rely on recruiters and need to contact some organisations directly as part of a mixed strategy giving you the widest range of options. However, you cannot do this unless you take control when dealing with recruiters and are absolutely clear which companies they are currently working with and which companies they are going to contact on your behalf. Once you know this information you then have the freedom to contact any other organisations directly. For a fuller discussion of this point, have a look at the following thread: http://www.forensicfocus.com/index.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=2640

4. Who to contact

Whether you are going via a recruiter or directly to a company, please don’t just send your CV to info@ or HR@ a certain organisation. Any covering letter I see addressed to ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ is automatically deleted. Take the time to find out who is likely to make the hiring decision and contact them directly.

Go beyond the obvious: if you haven’t researched it already, you will be surprised at the number of Public and Private sector organisations with a CF capability. Generally speaking, those organisations which have a lower profile and are harder to research will have fewer applications which means you are more likely to be successful. As always, it really does pay to do your research thoroughly.

5. Covering Letter

Keep this very short, punchy and emphasising achievement. My advice would be to include a short opening and closing paragraph along with maybe four/five bullet points as opposed to a page of text.

It sounds a small point, but always include your phone number in a prominent area as this makes it easy for the decision maker to call you. Again, as in all this advice, the whole point is to make it easy for the decision maker to invite you to interview.

6. Persistence

Many (hopefully all!) the people you contact will be busy with operational issues and sometimes just aren’t in a position to focus on your CV. Make it easier for them by chasing them: ensure sure they have received your CV and emphasise how keen you are to join their organisation. If they aren’t recruiting at this time, ask them when they are likely to be recruiting. Ask them if anyone they know is recruiting. See if you can arrange some unpaid work experience, even if it just to make the tea as once they have seen you in person, you become more than just another graduate.

Ok, so we don’t want to take it too far and become a borderline stalker, but recruiting plans can change very quickly so if you can establish some sort of relationship with a decision maker you are at least putting yourself firmly in the frame.

7. Summary

As I hope I have been able to demonstrate in this article, for a lot of graduates who have secured their first role it was about preparing properly and then approaching the process in a thorough and professional manner before, most importantly, getting lucky due to being in the right place at the right time. However, to paraphrase the much-used Arnold Palmer line, the harder you work at it, the luckier you are likely to be in your search for this first role.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article, please comment on the Forensic Focus forums or contact me at David@appointments-uk.co.uk


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the enlightening post. I found it very informative. I hope the others will think so too. Looking forward to more posts like this from you.

Andy Atkinson said...

This was very nice article, its scary how hard it is to get your first job as any graduate.