With graduation season coming to a close, I have been fielding calls from friends and relatives about job opportunities in the IT sector.  While overall this is a difficult job market, those with the right credentials and contacts have a good chance of landing a solid entry level position. Here are a few tips I’d like to share with those still in school – because you really need to start thinking about that first job way before you march down the aisle with your classmates in your cap and gown.

Tip #1 — BE ACTIVE in the community of your field of study, whether online through forums and social media or in person by attending conferences and local gatherings. Being active in the IT community will help create professional connections. These connections are vital to finding the best job. In addition to being a great source for job leads and possibly interviews, your connections can offer advice on how to succeed during the interview and land the job.

Tip #2 — GO TO THE SOURCE. When an employer is hiring, it is hard to stand out among hundreds of other applicants, even if you are the best candidate. My advice is to go directly to the position’s manager and skip the hiring department initially. This will require some research; however, going directly to the manager will yield better results, as he/she is the final decision maker. Reaching out directly to the manager will show you are willing to go the extra mile to research the position and that you are motivated to get the job.

Tip #3 — RESEARCH THE COMPANY you are applying to. Understand the company’s business and how your area of study fits into the larger picture of the business. You have a better chance of standing out among the applicants if your cover letter talks about the company and how your skills can help them solve a problem.

And just know that finding a job after graduation is one of the toughest jobs you’ll ever have!