How to Land Your First IT Job
Among the top five questions I’m asked are, “I don’t have any experience, how do I land a job?” or “How do I get experience when I can’t get a job?” Like investing your money for retirement, the earlier you prepare, the easier it gets. But what if you had a late start or are transitioning careers? Don’t worry, you have plenty of options and opportunities to land a job or build the necessary experience. First of all… you are not unique nor alone. I talk to people all the time who are trying to figure out how to land their first IT job.
School and Grades
Straight A’s are exactly that. The ability to understand, study, memorize and test well on standardized evaluations of information understanding and retention. It is not an indication of your potential for success or happiness. I won’t even provide an example of someone who has been successful despite performing poorly in school or dropping out. Google it, and you’ll find many cases. Straight A’s can be an indication of the TYPE of profession, career, role, or “success” you might have. Doctors being an example of the academic while the entrepreneur is a potential example of a non-academic. Both can be “successful.” Both may not be. Both can be “happy.” Both may not be. Talk to someone who got a degree in radiology around 2003 with the bright future of a mid-6-figure salary only to be bought and sold like a commodity because of technological advances in the field.
I’m not a huge proponent of straight-A students with six different school activities and four volunteer organizations who are building towards their Ivy League college application. That’s not how I’m raising my kids. My focus is happiness above all, health first. Neither of those comes from working 24/7 on your resume when you’re 14 years old. Having fun, and having downtime is necessary to find passions outside of academics and to develop those passions into a career. However, if you feel that being busy and having lots of activities and focusing on academics is your thing… GREAT! That’s for YOU. You will be the person that gets into MIT, gets your MBA and works your way up to the C-Suite. But to those of you actually reading this article… as I’ve written about before, are those that need help. You don’t know what to do or how to do it.
Invest in Happiness
When we talk about investing money early, typically it’s when you get your first job… maybe in your early 20s. But your career development starts much earlier. Start developing your profile as early as High School, in the form of part-time jobs, internships, volunteer organizations and hobbies, and activities – but not all at the same time! Those of you in high school and college should be focusing on evaluating your options and trying many different potential hobbies and career paths, not collecting as many points as possible to build a resume. You can do this through hobbies, part or full-time jobs, and especially classes and projects, but also sports, social clubs and volunteer work. I believe that students can and should work via work-study programs or even very distinct volunteer work. Focus on activities that make you happy.
I won’t get into the specifics, read my previous article, but certs are a critical PART of your overall plan. Have at least one of the base certs: A+, Network+, or a flavor of MCSA, and maybe the Amazon Web Services Solutions Architect or other emerging cloud certification. The primary point of that certification article is that certs can help you land a job, and validate your understanding of an area of IT. They are not the basis for your knowledge or success or the primary reason you will find an entry-level position.
How to Get Experience
When I look for experience with entry-level employees, I’m looking first to see ANY experience, not just IT experience. It is important to me to know that an individual has a work ethic, they depend on an income to live, and they apply real effort and importance to their career and life advancement. So the first thing to do is ensure you are getting WORK experience. Again, this can come in the form of a full or part-time job or merely some volunteer work or well-credentialed hobby.
Get Better Experience
The second stage in this process is to find a job in a relevant technical field of interest or a hobby. The technical side is obvious – focusing on building your IT skills. Of equal and additional importance, especially when it comes to “happiness” or “success” is to focus on your personal interests and hobbies. I wrote about this in a previous article about “Domain Advantage.”
As an example, a great job in a transition period, as part of your career plan might be a Tester or Business Analyst for a Marketing or PR firm. Your next step could then be into SEO/PPC marketing on the implementation side (develop custom Google AdWords scripts to optimize your Marketing company’s profits!) Yes, that’s an IT job!
Somewhere between your schooling and your first “real” job you should be searching for an opportunity to intern. Obviously, a relevant IT internship would be best, but again, any internship is better than none at all. They key word here is ACTIVE search. You’ll learn this lesson later during your job search if you don’t learn it here trying to land an internship. Sitting in your room blasting applications for internships will not equal a high success rate. Use your existing network, family, friends, schoolmates, professors, etc. to network your way into an internship. The entry-level applicant has a significantly higher chance for success with an internship on their resume.
Get Information Technology Experience
The third step would be to parlay both the general work experience and your technical experience, combined with your personal interests to land a job that is meaningful. You should keep in mind that you may take a “step back.” You might even take a pay cut. Ask yourself is $5-10k in the short term worth your happiness in the long run? I’d bet that it is. Keep in mind that you will have to BUILD your career, not just wish or ask for success. The primary theme of any writing on success or sustained happiness is disciplined hard work. Hard work is not easy, and it does not happen immediately. Even if your eventual goal is to be a software developer, you may, depending on your background, have to start doing IT help desk support.
Build Your Base
The simplified answer to the primary question of this article is Building Blocks. No, you won’t be able to start today, with no experience and land a job immediately. Building those blocks can be time-consuming, in the order of magnitude of months or even years, so have some patience and keep working hard! To have a greater chance of success, make sure you spend time planning and thinking about how you will get from one point to the next. Finally, while you are building your technical and work experience, you’ll want to establish your professional network. Stay tuned, LinkedIn and Networking are up next!