Love iPods but not a computer nerd? It might be worth investigating a career in IT: you could be surprised. Industry insiders are keen to get across the fact that those who are passionate about technology – not only those with IT-related degrees – are in demand.
Companies in the communication and retail sectors are among those hiring this year who are looking for enthusiasm and commitment, not necessarily science, engineering or technology degrees. People with those qualifications are preferred, says Khalil Ayub, technology careers manager at Thomson Reuters, but if you don't have them, his advice is that you should not rule yourself out.
"I'm looking for strong evidence of a passion for technology and its application in business, and for cultural awareness," he says. "Here at Thomson Reuters every technical role involves interacting with people around the world in different time zones. Our graduate programme places individuals abroad for six months, so I'm interested in people who have relevant work experience or perhaps took a gap year abroad. I have taken on people who would certainly not describe themselves as technical. There's a wide spectrum of roles available, far more than merely coding; for example project or service management and business analysis."
Ayub's advice to graduates attending fairs this autumn is to study the range of jobs on offer. Thomson Reuters will be at this year's Graduates in IT recruitment fair at East Wintergarden, Canary Wharf, London, on 30 October, to provide just that sort of opportunity, and despite the current economic downturn expects to be hiring a similar number of graduates as last year – around 10.
The non-technical roles that employers will be discussing with graduates include those in consultancy, telecoms, sales and marketing and HR. The idea that IT is about programmers is out of date, says fair organiser Tony Olson. "It's about people who manage systems and improve the business process. The Government has told me that the people they most need are virtual librarians to order and deliver information."
Another blue-chip employer looking for staff is Tesco, which will be searching for 13 graduates to join next September in Tesco Stores IT and Tesco.com IT. Recruitment manager Amanda Jemmett, who will be at the fair, says the company has recruited graduates from diverse backgrounds into IT in both arms of the business. "At various stages we have taken philosophers, medics, economists and historians," she says. "You can teach people IT and how to understand codes and the nuts and bolts of the system but it can be more difficult to teach communication and leadership skills, and these are very much what we need. Our scheme may not be right for those looking for a purely technical career."
Olson believes the IT market will be stable even in unpredictable economic conditions – it is at precisely these times that companies need people who can help them rationalise, streamline and manage systems, improving the business process, he says.
Many companies in the eye of the current storm, such as high-street and investment banks, will be at the fair and are still hiring, though some investment banks will already have finished the hiring process by the end of the summer.
Despite the general economic gloom many organisations – Barclays, Deloitte and Norwich Union among them – are, like Thomson Reuters, promising to recruit the same number of graduates as they did last year.
Barclays expects to take on around 200 graduates. Although it doesn't break down the numbers it expects to join the IT scheme alone, Barclays stresses that it is looking for graduates with a technology degree or one with technical modules.
Deloitte says that 100 of its expected 1,000 graduate vacancies will be in IT, but graduate recruitment manager Sarah de Carteret warns that vacancies are filling faster this year than in the past, as the number of roles available to graduates elsewhere reduces. "Graduates need to apply as early as possible and not leave their job hunt until the end of their final year," she says.
Matt Miller, head of business analysis at Motability Operations, which supplies cars for drivers with disabilities, confirms fairs do provide an opportunity to impress. "We'll be looking for four graduates with a clear vision of what they want to do in IT, who are articulate and driven and not afraid of hard work, plus anyone who really shines at the fairs," he says. It may be worth the trip.