About to graduate? 5 Chicago professionals share their tips for launching a career in tech

by Michael Hines
September 26, 2018

To land solid entry-level talent, companies need to offer more than cool swag and competitive pay.

Strong culture, opportunities for career growth and the ability to make an impact rank high for top-flight graduates. Here’s how a few of them used their first jobs to launch careers at their companies.

 

Optiver Chicago tech company campus recruiting

Optiver is a global, tech-driven trading firm with a focus on pricing, execution and risk management. Quantitative Trader Rahul Gupta had a specific list of what he wanted in a first job out of college. After interning for two summers at Optiver, he decided the company offered just what he was looking for.

 

What were you looking for in your first job after graduation?

A place with a great culture, fun and smart people, and where I’d be continually challenged. I interned at Optiver for two summers during college. Over those two summers, I realized that Optiver fit the description of what I wanted very well, and I couldn’t wait to go back full time after graduation. It also helps that Chicago is an amazing city to live in.

I got the chance to shadow traders, play trading games and learn a lot more about what it would be like to work at Optiver.”

 

What made Optiver’s recruiting process stand out?

What really stood out was the on-site interview. Instead of just a series of interviews, I got the chance to shadow traders, play trading games and learn a lot more about what it would be like to work at Optiver. Compared to other recruiting processes, this stood out because it helped me get to know Optiver better and make a more informed decision.

 

What advice would you give to a new grad who is considering a career at Optiver?

I recommend getting to know some of the people who work at Optiver. What I’ve found is that everyone is very open and willing to talk about what they do. If you’re coming to Chicago for an on-site interview, I’d also recommend spending some time exploring the city. There’s so much to see and do.

 

SMS Assist Chicago tech company campus recruiting

SMS Assist’s technology is used by property management companies to simplify and streamline their maintenance and repair strategies. While some large tech companies have interview processes that feel cold and impersonal, Software Developer Rui Feng — who joined the company right out of college — said that wasn’t the case with SMS Assist.

 

What were you looking for in your first job after graduation?

A role that allowed me to be involved in various phases of software development and gain practical experience in both front-end and back-end web application development. SMS Assist provided me with all those opportunities, but I didn’t realize this job would be such a perfect fit until I met my coworkers. Our developers, quality assurance engineers and product managers are cooperative and open to sharing ideas. My teammates are always up for taking on new challenges — including taking a weekend road trip to Niagara Falls.

I didn’t realize this job would be such a perfect fit until I met my coworkers.”

 

What made SMS Assist’s recruiting process stand out?

The process was very efficient. The recruiter I worked with was professional and kind, and followed up after each interview much sooner than I expected. My technical interview was a comfortable experience. The senior technical interviewers were respectful and made sure I was at ease. On top of that, the SMS University training sessions were really helpful and allowed me to get familiar with the business and work environment right from the start.

 

What advice would you give to a new grad who is considering a career at SMS Assist?

Be willing to take on new responsibilities and maintain accountability. Be cooperative, respectful, and, most importantly, open to new things.

 

PEAK6 Chicago tech company campus recruiting
Jake Goldrich (Center)

PEAK6 is an investment firm that has been leveraging its proprietary technology to identify market opportunities and manage risk for over 20 years. Software Engineer Jake Goldrich’s first encounter with the company came on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. PEAK6 stood out to him because of its focus on culture fit — and for its robots.

 

What were you looking for in your first job after graduation?

I previously interned with larger engineering groups, and that experience taught me that I wanted a collaborative work environment and to be a part of a smaller team. Being at a company with smaller teams would be useful for fostering collaboration and would allow my work to make a bigger impact. PEAK6 also seemed to have a pretty fast-paced environment, with the team working to provide cutting-edge technology for its finance and business teams.

There was a focus on the cultural and behavioral aspects of the job, not just technical skills.”

 

What made PEAK6’s recruiting process stand out?

There was a focus on the cultural and behavioral aspects of the job, not just technical skills, and PEAK6 actively engaged students on campus. We had to program a robot in collaboration with other candidates, and there was a virtual reality view of the PEAK6 office. The conversations I had really resonated with me. PEAK6 was presented as a fast-paced company with a startup mentality that also had 20 years of proven experience. The company is not afraid to change and is constantly adapting to achieve continued success.

 

What advice would you give to a new grad who is considering a career at PEAK6?

Don’t solely focus on your tech skills. Take an opportunity to improve your soft skills. Soft skills and the ability to collaborate will help make you successful. Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone, either. You may not have all the details and information you need, so don’t be afraid to reach out to other people who may not be on your team. Meet as many people as possible to help you leverage their knowledge and expertise.

 

Grubhub Chicago tech company campus recruiting

Grubhub’s platform lets hungry people across the country order from their favorite local restaurants, all without ever having to leave the couch. Software Engineer I Janani Neelakantan joined the company after finishing grad school, in large part because it gave her the chance to leverage the skills she learned in the classroom.

 

What were you looking for in your first job after graduation?

It was important I use the software engineering skills I gained during graduate school in my first job. My role lets me apply my knowledge of algorithms and software architecture on a daily basis. It’s rewarding to see how my work makes the lives of our restaurant partners easier. Grubhub provided a nice transition into the professional world by letting me put my academic background to good use.

Each interview was a healthy discussion, rather than an interrogation.”

 

What made Grubhub’s recruiting process stand out?

Grubhub’s recruiting team was incredibly friendly and supportive throughout the process and after I joined the company. Each interview was a healthy discussion, rather than an interrogation. Grubhub also made the experience fun by hosting a networking event where recent graduates, senior engineers and managers all went bowling. This let me meet more of the team and have my questions candidly answered, which left me with a better grasp of the company’s culture.

 

What advice would you give to a new grad who is considering a career at Grubhub?

Grubhub is a fast-paced company, so it’s important to ask questions, be flexible and find comfort in learning new things. Each of my colleagues has been helpful answering questions, especially when dissecting complex problems, developing testing frameworks and writing clean, production-ready code.

 

Belvedere Trading Chicago tech company campus recruiting

Belvedere Trading is a proprietary trading firm whose technology allows it to identify and capitalize on marketplace inefficiencies. Software Engineer Jessica Friedberg interned at the company before coming on full time after college, and sees it as an ideal place for those looking to grow a career.

 

What were you looking for in your first job after graduation?

Before interning at Belvedere Trading, I interned at both a larger corporation and a small startup. I knew I wanted to work somewhere that combined everything I liked about my past experiences. At the startup, I was able to make a large impact, and the environment was very collaborative and exciting. However, I liked the stability of the larger corporation.

During my internship at Belvedere, I saw how the company fostered a team-based work culture. I knew I’d be able to make an impact based on the fact that even interns were given important projects.

If you are looking for a name to put on your resume and to leave after two years, this probably isn’t the place for you.”

 

What made Belvedere Trading’s recruiting process stand out?

How genuinely excited everyone was about working for Belvedere, and how much time and energy everyone on the recruiting team spent making sure they were hiring the right people. The whole process was very enjoyable, and I didn’t feel like just another candidate.

 

What advice would you give to a new grad who is considering a career at Belvedere Trading?

Be honest with yourself about what you want out of your first job. If you are looking for a name to put on your resume and to leave after two years, this probably isn’t the place for you. It’s super important to do your research during the interview process to ensure that you are asking the right questions and getting the right information. Also, do not be discouraged if you have a lack of trading knowledge, as there is a lot of learning on the job. In fact, most of us came into the field without prior knowledge of trading theory, myself included.

 

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