Building Your I.T. Career: Breaking In to I.T.
The Entry-Level Dilemma
One of the most frustrating elements of breaking into a career in technology is that initial job. This chapter identifies the quandary facing the entry-level professional.
This chapter analyzes the “need experience to get experience” dilemma that those who are new to the field often encounter. More important, however, this chapter discusses methods you can use to break past this barrier.
For many technology graduates, the past few years have been frustrating ones, because they have tried desperately to enter a seemingly shrinking job market. They had bought into the “get a certification—get a job” promise fostered by the marketing of many training programs. These graduates had been excited that their school had placement services to assist them in entering the growing and lucrative field of information technology (I.T.).
Unfortunately, although some technology graduates might have found their dream job as promised, many discovered a different reality.
Having followed the promised path, these eager students have discovered that many colleges have also struggled with placement. Although the schools have programs to help with resumé, and they work diligently to link graduates with employers, the fact remains that a tighter job market and a more skeptical employer pool have made job placement a nearly impossible task.
Adding to a tighter market is the fact that more experienced technology professionals have been forced to take a cut in pay and position. This has increased the competition for entry-level positions. Sometimes new graduates are competing with senior-level technologists for the same job.
Part of the fault of unsuccessful job placement lies squarely on the shoulders of the job seeker. Unrealistic expectations have many believing that a certification or degree qualifies them for positions that require hands-on knowledge.
I know of individuals who received their MCSE certification after attending several months of class. They passed the test, did some lab work, and got into the job market. Many of them expected to be hired as network engineers with salaries of $60,000 to $80,000. Their logic was that they were, as the certification implied, “certified engineers.” As they perused want ads, lesser jobs, such as those of help desk or I.T. clerical support, were undesirable to them.
This attitude has contributed to ongoing “certification cynicism” with many employers. Employers hired the “certified engineers” only to discover that many could not complete the most basic and mundane tasks effectively.
A correction has taken place in the corporate world. Companies are no longer willing to provide pay and opportunity to an unproven commodity: the entry-level technology professional. Many new technologists are unwilling to give up the idealistic dream of instantaneous job satisfaction and a high salary. Unfortunately, this is also leading some to listen to the doomsayers moaning about the lack of opportunity in I.T. Talent that would do well in the I.T. industry is leaving to find opportunity elsewhere.
If you are in that group—ready to leave your hopes of I.T. success and find greener pastures—wait!
I understand that you are frustrated and disenchanted, but I ask that you seriously consider the corrective behavior described in the section that follows. In it, I believe you will find a rekindled hope that comes with understanding the reality of the situation.
The first battle in overcoming frustration in not finding the “job you deserve” is to correct the perception of the new technologist. As discussed earlier, I.T. will remain a great career choice. However, it is no different from many other good careers. You must make a degree of sacrifice to reach the heights of professional success.
A perspective that places emphasis on long-term career goals and month-to-month personal growth is critical. You must understand where you want to be in the coming months and years. You must also set about creating the short-term plans to achieve that longer-term success.
I’m not necessarily advocating a start-at-the-bottom mentality. I don’t perceive that each person’s path, even with similar goals, will be the same. I advocate more of a start-where-you-can mentality.
If a company is willing to hire you as a full-fledged network engineer based entirely on your schooling, more power to you. However, beware of overselling yourself without first developing the aptitude that is required. Taking a job where the expectations greatly exceed your production capacity can be just as professionally damaging as it is to take a job that never makes use of, or stretches, the talents you have. In fact, I would say the former is more damaging.
It is more difficult—both mentally and from a perception standpoint—to move down the corporate ladder. It does not look good on a resumé, and more important, it can damage your confidence.
I.T. is an industry that provides ample opportunity to learn new and challenging skills. However, substantial failure early in a career can create a professional timidity that stops you from taking the necessary chances to take on the challenges that come your way.
The perception that you need when breaking into I.T. is one that seeks opportunity over position. If you have been trained as a network engineer but you find an opportunity to take a position in a clerical capacity, consider what opportunities that job might offer.
Some of the factors to consider in whether to take this slight shift in employment are as follows:
- Does the company have an effective training program?
- Is it possible to find mentors in the field you want to enter?
- Is the company growing?
- Does the opportunity exist to greatly expand your professional network of contacts?
Remember: You can safely make this consideration because the job itself is not your career. You have the freedom and ability to move within the company or to a new company when needed.
The most important factor is that you are moving toward a career goal. You might not get the title or job you want right out of school. If you can master those skills at your current position, while simultaneously building your network of contacts that lead to your dream position, you should be satisfied. You must build your career piece by piece. It won’t happen all at once.