Whenever you look at job listings, most office jobs require you to not only be “computer literate” but to also have knowledge and experience with specific programs.
The most common of these are office suites, such as Microsoft Office which includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Increasingly, businesses small and large are turning to free, open source or web based office suites such as Open Office and Google Docs.
While word processing should already be second nature to students and new grads, knowing how to use the specific software and technology of the industries and companies you want to work with is unexpected and will give you a serious leg up on the competition. It means you can be hired and start working immediately with little technical training and the employer can feel better about spending the extra money to hire you instead of worrying about tightening the company’s belt even more.
When researching a company or industry, ask questions about what the most common software for the industry is, or ask what the company prefers its employees to use.
After finding this out, it may seem expensive to purchase this software, but many software companies offer free trials to possible consumers. Sometimes these free trials will last over a month, which is more than enough time to learn how to use a computer program. Tutorials on how to use the programs will usually either be available through the software provider or can be found online.
If you can’t get a free trial, try to line up a job shadow with someone who uses it to find out the basics. Take note of the interface, key features and most common uses.
John Taylor, education officer with the Ministry of Education, said learning how to use industry standard programs would be beneficial to potential employees. His job is to license computer software for school boards in Ontario and he hires co-op students to help around the ministry.
John said most students seem to have experience in productivity software, such as slideshows, spreadsheets and word processors, but many students have no experience with databases.
“Databases feed most websites and are integral to most business processes today,” John told me. “Most co-op students I interview say they would like to learn how to use databases, but I’m always surprised that they’ve never learned how to use them.”
According to John, this knowledge would help students get co-op, internship or even entry-level positions, even if they’ve had little work experience using the program.
Employers want to save the time and money on someone already trained, so make sure it’s you – list the industry-related programs you’ve used by name on your resume and, if you have the space, explain what you accomplished while using them.