All IT job seekers have seen it before, that section of the job description where your potential employer says,“We are looking for someone with hands-on experience!” It’s a totally reasonable request. But if every job posting requires it, how are you supposed to get experience when you are just starting out?
Don’t worry! It’s possible to get informal experience and include that experience on your resume in a way that resonates with hiring managers. There are plenty of things you can do on a minimal budget within your own home that can build practical IT experience. What kind of experience you need to build will depend on your chosen IT path (Security, SysAdmin, etc.), but many IT pros start out with just basic knowledge, passion and the willingness to apply what they learned to any project.
For Network Specialists:
If you want to get experience troubleshooting a network, there are plenty of things you can test within your home. Home networks frequently get spotty or slow and you can’t always blame the ISP for throttling your speed. Practice troubleshooting on your home network and you can add that to your skills list.
Another way to get practice with real-world IT skills is subnetting your home, creating and documenting different subnets for each room. Then you can say you have hands-on experience with the practical and very important skill of subnetting and documentation. Need a refresher? Check out Keith Barker’s guide to IPv4 subnetting.
You could also do a home network assessment and choose to get cracking on an overhaul of the WiFi in your home. If you do this, you will have experience completing a site assessment and troubleshooting a WiFi network.
For Help Desk and Network Engineers:
A simple but essential skill for IT pros is creating your own patch cables for various devices. You’ll be using these with network devices all the time, so you’re going to want to make the most of what you have without creating messy puddles of excess wire or spending excess funds on custom cables.When creating the patch cables, you will need to purchase a few things to get started.
It’s good to get familiar with the basic tools you’ll use every day as an IT pro and the investment in starter tools is minimal. There are starter kits available that will provide all the essentials needed to get the job done. If you wanted to piece it together there are three things needed: A wire-crimping tool, wire strippers, and a network tester. You can read more about the necessary hardware and where to purchase them in this tutorial.
Answering Networking Questions
If you’ve identified physical networking experience on your resume, prepare to be asked about it during the interview. You’ll mostly be asked about how you identify problems and what you do to solve them. So, we’ve gathered some of the questions that you’re most likely to be asked and how you can respond to them:.
What experience do you have with running wire to a host?
Use this question as an opportunity to talk about creating your own custom ethernet cables for your home lab. Give specific details on how you were able to solve a problem, such as, “I had dead spots in my home so I decided to run ethernet cables and wanted to learn how to make my own. After investing in the tools I created my own cables. I solved my problem by creating the custom cables and running them through the walls. I learned a lot about the most effective and efficient placement of network outlets and devices.”
Have you ever done a site assessment for a client?
With this question, there are a couple ways to go about it based on your experience. Let’s assume you have never worked in IT or in any position that can correlate to doing site surveys. You can easily use your home network assessment as your experience. You can mention drawing up a floor plan of your home, using it to identify dead spots with a WiFi analyzer, and documenting the dead spots, using that map to better locate your wireless routers for optimal coverage. Take the time and indicate on the documentation where a wire drop would go. You can then build out an Excel sheet with details on locations, port numbers, etc.
This experience will be especially applicable if you go so far as using a WiFi extender to cover the dead spots or using the floorplan to develop the best way to run a cable through your home. Your answer might include examples like this, “I noted that maximum coverage was provided by the main router placed in the garage, but that produced a dead spot in the master bedroom. I addressed the dead spot by running an ethernet cable through the attic and down a wall to the master bedroom. Then I connected a WiFi extender for the remaining coverage.”
Anecdotes like that prove you have the knowledge, inquisitiveness, and experience to tackle real networking challenges. For more tutorials on the hands-on skills required for IT professionals, check out Jeremy Cioara’s new course, IT Expertise: Installing Cabling and Devices.
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