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IT Certification, the Chicken, and the Egg

By  May 28, 2008

Topics: Certification

Here is the scenario: you are new to IT, and by virtue of your aptitude, passion, and hard work, you have earned some IT certification credentials and have begun the process of finding a job. However, the repeated rejections you receive from IT headhunters and industry hiring managers possess a common theme: "You need more experience!"

The conundrum is clear enough:

You need industry experience to obtain that IT position, but because you are new to the industry you need that IT position to procure said experience.

Ah, yes: the problem of the chicken or the egg.

How can we address this seemingly hopeless situation? To answer this query, please indulge me to present another cliché for your consideration:

It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.

Let us examine my own career trajectory as a simple case study. I earned a master's degree in secondary science education from Cornell University in January 1997. After my graduation I set out to earn a job as a high school science teacher.

While waiting around for a full-time teaching position to become available in my area, I took a job with a neighborhood "mom and pop" computer repair business as a bench technician as a stop-gap measure.

In those days IT certification was nowhere near as important as it is today. In point of fact, at that time I had no earthly idea that IT certification even existed. At the time I was doing nothing more than biding my time, waiting for my "real job" to materialize in secondary education.

What is interesting to me when I consider this situation in retrospect is that I derived more satisfaction in performing the low-wage PC bench repair work than I did teaching high school science. In truth, never really had much aptitude for chemistry or biology. On the other hand, I historically possessed great aptitude and interest in computers and computer networking.

What color is your parachute? Indeed!

At any rate, one day I found myself at the store, chatting with a customer who showed up to pick up his personal computer. During our conversation Jim says, "Tim, given your interest and background, it sounds like you would enjoy doing what I do. Why don’t you send your resume to our general manager; here is his contact information."

Jim worked as a desktop applications instructor for ExecuTrain of Syracuse, NY. I did submit my resume to their GM, and the rest is history.

That "lucky break" gave me the foothold I needed to enter the IT industry. From my position at ExecuTrain I have worked both as a technical trainer as well as an honest-to-goodness systems engineer and network manager (after all, what good is a technical trainer without industry experience?).

Moreover, the industry contacts and friends I developed over the course of my career fairly well insure that I will never have to search again for IT industry employment; it’s a veritable smorgasbord!

So…how does the aforementioned anecdote affect you, dear reader? Insmuch as I am attempting to emphasize the importance of social networking as much as possible, you will want to take heed of the following practical tips:

Get Linked In

Please visit LinkedIn.com and create a profile for yourself immediately. LinkedIn is a business-oriented social networking site where you can get connected (or reconnected) with past, present, and future business associates.

The key to using LinkedIn effectively lies in your developing NEW contacts; it is from these new affiliations and friendships that a glorious job opportunity may very well make itself manifest to you.

Join User Groups

Run a Google search to discover the technology-related user groups in your area. Again, the more industry decision-makers you become associated with, the wider your job-search network becomes.

Consider Freelancing

If you believe that your technical skills are up to snuff, then vigorously market yourself to family, friends, neighbors—anyone who will hire you! These “odd and end” jobs, which could be as fundamental as cleaning spyware off of a neighbor’s PC, can result in important industry contacts and job offers later.

Post Your Resume

You need to get your resume and professional interests published post-haste on the major job search indexes:

The goal in posting your resume on these boards is that you want to attract the attention of IT recruiters in much the same manner that a well-placed salt lick attracts herds of deer. Or honey attracts bears. Or…well, you get the idea.

Depending upon your geographical location and present experience/certification level, these IT “headhunters” will sometimes almost literally fight with each other to attract your interest.

Of course, if you are new to the industry you probably will not have the vociferous response from recruiters that a certified veteran receives. Nevertheless, it is more than worth it to get your information beneath as many of their noses as possible.

Be a Helpful Netizen

Join as many technology-related discussion forums as possible; here are a few to get you started:

The idea here is, again, for you to embed your name in the minds as many IT industry folks as possible, and have them associate your name with being a skillful, helpful member of the IT community. Answer peoples’ questions, develop relationships—who knows what professional opportunities can emerge from such interactions!

I hope that this essay has been helpful to you. At the least, my goal in writing this piece is to instill hope in IT industry newcomers who are discouraged by their job search results thus far.

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