How to find a tech job in the North

7 Mar, 2017

With so many routes to take, getting that perfect job in tech can feel overwhelming. It’s National Careers Week, so here’s a guide to navigating the tech jobs market in the North of England. It’s not exhaustive, but will give you an idea of the options available.

A hand-written letter delivered to its Manchester office by someone who walked past daily produced one of Hiring Hub’s best-ever employees. That and the email approaches he gets every week are just some of the reasons founder Simon Swan believes the direct approach is best when it comes to tech recruitment.

Yet, if you’re a job seeker looking for your first role in technology, or a tech stalwart eyeing a move up North, how do you get that all-important foot in the door?

Employment in the digital tech economy is growing every year, according to the 2016 Tech Nation report, while northern businesses report developer shortages. This means businesses will be willing to hear from candidates directly, Swan says.

“The note we received was from a lady who worked in retail who said she wasn’t sure what we did but our office looked amazing,” says Swan. “It’s personable, it shows a bit of nouse and anyone who has specifically picked Hiring Hub is someone I want to speak to.”

Katie Gallagher, managing director of Manchester Digital, agrees the direct approach is effective, with 520 of the organisation’s member businesses “crying out” for skilled professionals. Yet candidates must not be complacent, and understanding the tech landscape will make them more employable. Gallagher suggests attending events where a company is exhibiting, as well as relevant meet-ups.

Where are the events?

Manchester Digital holds a Talent Day in February with the area’s largest employers, while Leeds-based recruitment business Herd, which specialises in tech and digital, hosts its annual Leeds Digital Job Fair on April 28 as part of Leeds International Festival.

Manchester Digital's Talent Day
Manchester Digital’s Talent Day

Sunderland Software City will hold its Tech Talent Jobs and Skills Fair on May 25 at Sunderland Software Centre, the largest of its kind in the North East with more than 500 jobs on offer.

Newcastle Startup Week, a celebration of entrepreneurialism and careers in the digital tech sector, runs from May 15-19 at Campus North, providing a chance to learn more about the sector. There are also large-scale tech conferences in the North East including British HCI from July 3-6 at University of Sunderland, Thinking Digital on May 16 and 17 at The Sage, Gateshead, and the annual Dynamo Conference on July 3.

The North East Tech Diary is a great resource and most events tend to be in Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland and Teesside, though there are always exceptions.

Digital Lancashire is set to launch its own skills and jobs fair during 2017.

Where are the jobs boards?

Vacancies can be found on jobs boards run by Sheffield Digital, Manchester Digital, and Digital Lancashire, as well as Kin2Kin in Liverpool. Digital Lancashire chairman Michael Gibson suggests looking at individual company’s jobs boards, for example Fat Media in Lancaster takes on about 12 graduates annually.

Although there is no central source for tech jobs in the North East, the support organisations are good starting points and include Generator North East, Sunderland Software City, Dynamo North EastDigital City and Campus North.

The North East Startups page on Facebook is a platform for job seekers and freelancers to post availability and often businesses use it to post vacancies.

Herd in Leeds has more than 1,000 tech jobs at any one time on its jobs board, where potential recruits can discover the city’s big brands. Skills shortages mean many companies are offering graduate academies and apprenticeships to add talent at the bottom, says Herd founder Amy De-Balsi. “It’s much more about personality now and employers are willing to offer training to get people up to speed,” she says.

A job board at Herd's Leeds Digital Jobs Fair.
A job board at Herd’s Leeds Digital Jobs Fair.

Where are the meet-ups?

Interest groups can be great places to learn about the sector and the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA), which supports the digital industry, is aiming to bring this information together.

Ian Finch, managing director of Liverpool digital agency Mando, is a member of BIMA and sits on the creative and digital board of the Local Economic Partnership in Liverpool. “It’s come up in conversation that there’s a lot going on in the North but it’s fragmented, so with BIMA we’re trying to build a community so people know what’s going on,” he says.

Creative Kitchen, which recently held its first event in Manchester, began in Liverpool and holds developer breakfasts and knowledge events. Northern UX holds meet-ups in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Newcastle, and there are tester meet-ups that can be found via Twitter, Google, Eventbrite or Liverpool Girl Geeks holds a Women in Tech meet-up in Liverpool, and director Chelsea Slater recommends the Social Media meet-up or Liverpool Tester Gathering as good starting points.

Liverpool Girl Geeks
Liverpool Girl Geeks.

Leeds has a strong meet-up community around Futurelabs, while notable Sheffield gatherings include Agile Sheffield and Sheffield Devops. Some offer tech skills courses, including Sunderland Software City and Northcoders at Manchester’s Sharp Project, which offers a 12-week course.

“While you might not necessarily meet potential employers at a meet-up you would get a bit more of an idea about what the market looks like,” says Daniel Koseoglu, managing director of Affecto Recruitment, a tech specialist in Sheffield. “Have a chat, compare yourself to other people and find out which companies might be recruiting.”

Meet-ups are general aimed at ‘coalface’ level, so those looking for senior positions should look for higher level events such as BIMA’s quarterly Directors’ Dinners, or get in touch with the IoD.

What about recruitment firms?

Using a recruitment firm can save you time by offering market knowledge and coming up with an application strategy.

“While the recruitment market is saturated, there aren’t many specialist recruitment consultancies around, so if you get in with a good one it can make the process easier,” says Affecto’s Koseoglu. “With a PHP developer, we could pretty much interview you today and get you some interviews within the week.”

In Manchester, development and cybersecurity experts are sought-after and a good candidate can “pretty much name their price”, says Philip Piper, director at Search Consultancy, who advises building a relationship with whoever is job hunting on your behalf.

“Recruitment is very technologically focused now but it’s still led by relationships, so try and meet with your recruitment consultant,” he says.

While all of the above are effective, BIMA’s Finch suggests your search should be a blend of methods and candidates should not be afraid of putting in the legwork. Digital Lancashire’s Gibson recommends applying directly to a business. “You could be saving the company up to 25 percent of your annual salary, which might give you greater flexibility in salary negotiations,” he says.

Sunderland Software City’s skills manager Amy Porter maintains that not being in a sector is no barrier to entering it. “Companies are increasingly becoming more flexible and innovative in their approach to recruitment, and drive and ability to learn is often more an entry quality than certain tech skills,” she says.

Herd’s De-Balsi, whose last jobs fair attracted 3,500 visitors, agrees. “You don’t need to look to London for a job in tech anymore, it’s absolutely booming in the north,” she adds.

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