Take a moment to consider the following hypothetical situation: You want to enter the information technology (IT) field, but you don’t have any on-the-job experience. A few prospective employers interviewed you as a courtesy, but all told you that you were unqualified because of your inexperience.
Days and weeks pass, and you ultimately throw your hands up in frustration and exclaim to anyone who will listen:
“I need experience to get a job in IT, but I need a job to get the necessary experience!”
Does this situation sound familiar? Have you confronted this chicken or the egg dilemma? In this blog post, I’ll share three tips intended to get you working in IT full-time, regardless of your degree of previous experience.
Tip #1: It’s all about networking.
You’ve heard the expression, “It isn’t so much what you know, but who you know, that matters.” I’m here to tell you that nearly every full-time or contract gig I’ve had over the span of my career emerged through networking.
In a career context, networking relates to the process of meeting and cultivating relationships with people who work in industries that interest you. I’m not for one minute suggesting that you pretend to like people just for the sake of manipulating them into helping you. Rather, I suggest that you keep your online and in-person social calendar open for new opportunities that just may happen to materialize for you.
For instance, I landed my wonderful job at CBT Nuggets as a result of sending James Conrad a fan letter. In that e-mail message, I thanked James for helping me gain an excellent foothold with Windows Server technologies. I had no ulterior motives in that correspondence.
James noticed my e-mail address in my signature line, ascertained I was also a technical trainer, and gave me a call. One discussion led to another, and here I am, happier than I’ve ever been in my entire life, both professionally and personally. And I’m grateful to call James a good friend.
Okay, how do you become more connected with important industry people? Here’s a short list of suggestions:
- Build your LinkedIn network. I found the tips in the book How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile did in fact “turbo charge” my LinkedIn profile and led to a great expansion of my professional network.
- Join user groups. If you’re interested in SQL Server, then look for a local SQL Server user group. If you’re into open-source development, then look for user groups that cater to that sector. By meeting people who live in your area and who work in the field you’re interested in, you expose yourself to opportunities that you may never have found otherwise. To get a head start, run some Google searches to find IT-oriented user groups in your area, and get involved!
- Don’t be afraid to send “cold introductions.” I landed three book deals, two full-time jobs, and seemingly innumerable consulting contracts by sending simple, unsolicited introduction messages to decision-makers at various organizations. At worst, your recipient will ignore you. At best, you’ll get a personal response, and who knows what can happen from there!
I know first-hand that in order to break into the IT industry with no prior experience, you need your first “big” break. In other words, somebody in the industry has to give you a chance to prove yourself.
Once you receive your first break and hit your learning curve, then you are golden. You can interview for additional jobs with the confidence that you have that all-powerful, honest-to-goodness industry experience under your belt. It makes a world of difference, for sure.
Please keep in mind that while cultivating social contacts will open some doors for you, it is up to you to prove that you actually know how to do the work — if you fudge facts or fabricate skills on your resume, your deception will eventually be uncovered and you’ll take a step backward, career-wise. In fact, CBT Nuggets HR provided some real resume tips on how to write a killer IT resume.
Tip #2: Any college degree is better than no college degree.
I’ve seen people with a lot of field experience get turned down for IT jobs simply because the candidates did not possess a college or university degree.
You’ll find that many organizations, especially huge companies that are loaded down with institutional bureaucracy, are bound by hard-and-fast educational requirements for their posted jobs. These requirements often can’t be bypassed even if you do know the right person or people inside the organization. It’s a big reason why you weren’t hired.
Thus, I always stress to IT newcomers how crucial it is that they earn a college degree in any subject. In my opinion, you don’t necessarily have to major in computer science to be qualified for the IT industry. Ironically, I feel that comp sci degrees may be limiting because the major’s intense workload limits your freedom in broadening your intellectual horizons in other areas. Don’t forget that there is much more to life than information technology!
Tip #3: Certification can “make or break” your job candidacy.
If two otherwise equally qualified candidates competed for the same position and I were the hiring manager, then dollars to donuts I would select the certified individual. This is a primary reason for you to earn industry certifications–the credentials serve as a way for you to differentiate yourself from your competition in the job market. And if you don’t have experience, you need all the help you can get to stand out from the crowd in a positive way.
Also, some situations require that you possess one or more IT certifications at the outset. For instance, if you want to contract with the US federal government on IT security matters, then you’ll need to earn one or more industry credentials to demonstrate competency in that subject area, like Security+, CISSP, CCNA Security, White Hat Hacking, and even Network+ and A+.
The rest of the CBT Nuggets team and I want to hear about your experiences. How were you able to break into the IT industry? How did you overcome the first job vs. no experience “chicken and the egg” puzzle? Please let us know in the comments portion of this post.
Here are a few more CBT Nuggets resources about gaining experience in IT:
5 Tips for Getting Hands-on IT Experience
Getting Started in IT
How to Become an IT Security Expert
How to Get Your Network Career Started
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