You can't visit an IT forum anymore without seeing a ton of posts regarding employment in the IT industry. The age old question pops up again and again - "How can I get experience if nobody will hire me?". Before we answer this question, let's first discuss our perspective on what has happened in the IT marketplace over the years. Before this wicked recession, the job market exploded. The growth of the internet and the great economic prosperity in many of the world's countries created an atmosphere that allowed for the inception of thousands of new startup companies, massive growth in existing IT corporations and greater amounts of money dedicated to R&D. This created what seemed like an endless supply of high paying IT jobs. However, the inevitable laws of supply and demand lured countless numbers of individuals into the field. The MCSE certification played a big role in this phenomena. IT journals, newspapers, websites, salary surveys, etc. contributed to the hype that falsely lead many into believing that an MCSE certification would guarantee them a high-paying job. There was rarely any mention of experience or other requirements that needed to accompany the certification in order to attain these positions.
The industry became saturated with certified individuals with little or no real world experience also known as "Paper MCSEs" who felt antagonized in the forums and looked down upon by those "in the know". They found themselves accepting jobs that pay less than they were making in their previous industry or unable to get a job at all.
Then the recession hit. Many companies have been forced to downsize and have layed off workers. Hiring all but stopped. Many IT professionals have been forced to leave the industry and accept jobs in whatever field they could gain employment. The companies that have hired have had their pick of the litter as too many people are competing for too few jobs.
In light of all of this, we have some tips to help you start your career regardless of what the job landscape looks like.
#1: This is the most important tip of all. The overwhelming majority of you will have to start at the bottom of the food chain! You will not start out as a network or systems administrator. In fact, you may even find it difficult to even get a job at a help desk or call center. You will have to work your way up in the ladder like everyone else in every other industry. This also means that you should be prepared to begin your career at low wages no matter what you hear from training companies that promise otherwise.
#2: Don't do things out of order. The best way to go about a career in the IT industry is to get a job, work there for a while and then get certified after you gain some experience. Having an advanced level certification like a CCNA, MCTS, etc. with no experience can hurt you more than it helps. Some employers may be wary that prospective employee with alphabet soup after their name and no experience, may be looking for a way to build their resume and move on to greener pastures and more money. Others may think that you are over-qualified for an entry level position. Some will automatically assume that you used braindumps to pass your exams.
Microsoft, CompTIA, Cisco and other vendors offer certification options for beginners. These will make sure that you have a good foundation of basic knowledge and will help you acclimate to the certification and testing experience while gaining the necessary on-the-job experience necessary for upper-level certs. Spend around 6 months to a year at this job before thinking about anything but entry-level certifications.
#3: In the long run, having a college degree is often more valuable than certifications, not only for getting your first job, but for getting higher level jobs down the road. Having a degree with appropriate level certifications offers you the best chance for success.
#4: Getting your foot in the door is very difficult, even during the good times. Use every resource available to you to get that first job, work as hard as you can, and future job hunts will be significantly easier.
#5: A little off the topic of experience and certifications, but this tip is very important to getting any job. Make sure that your online presence is clean. Many, many people have not been considered for jobs (even fired from jobs) for things posted on their various social networking accounts. While we disagree with the notion that employers should be examining your personal life when making their decisions, it is a reality that we face today.
So now we have come full circle and your are probably still asking yourself, "How do I get that first job with no experience?" The majority of high school and college students find themselves asking this same question after graduation. You see, the question is not specific to the IT industry and certification is not necessarily the answer.
The very first step in getting your first I.T. job is believing that there are actually jobs out there that do not require experience and knowing how to sell the skills that you do have. We have found a lot of self-defeating behavior when it comes to this subject. People will apply for a few jobs and when they don't get one of them, they give up and develop the attitude that nobody will hire them because they lack experience and that they now need to get their MCTS or CCNP in order to get a job.
YOU MUST BELIEVE that you have valuable skills to offer a company. What determines whether or not you get a computer job is rarely based on computer skills alone. Everybody has experience! Maybe your experience isn't in troubleshooting network problems, but you probably have other skills that will be considered valuable to a company that is willing to train. Accentuate those skills in your interviews and on your resume. Always remember that the way to a company's heart is how you can better their bottom line. Before applying for a job, ask yourself this question: "How can I make/save money for this company". Remember that an interview is very much like a sales call. You are selling yourself and the company is the consumer. They want to know what they are purchasing before they hire you.
BLANKET YOUR RESUME. Send it to every company that you can think of. Sending your resume to 5 companies probably isn't going to get you a job, especially if you are lacking experience. Apply for at least 50 jobs per week. Need help with your resume? Check out our resume tutorial.
UTILIZE YOUR CONNECTIONS. Where do your friends, family and acquaintances work? Do these businesses have I.T. departments? One of the easier ways to get a job is through someone that you know. Get in touch with the people that you know and get them to help you. Some companies offer bonuses to employees that refer new hires so your friends may be more eager to help than you expected. Make sure that you don't let them down! Remember, they may be going out on a limb for you.
BE REALISTIC. If you are new to the industry, odds are that you will not start at $50,000 per year. You may be lucky to start at $20,000 per year. Check out help desks, 3rd party tech support companies, ISPs, etc. Don't waste your time applying for senior level positions. Look for entry-level positions and accept the fact that you will have to pay your dues. Don't worry - this is a temporary situation. If you work hard, there is a lot of room to move up and increase your salary in this industry. I speak from experience - At my first tech job, my salary increased by $9,000 in the first year.
GET EXPERIENCE. A job isn't the only place that you can acquire experience. Build a home computer lab and read some books. At your current position, try to become the go to person for computer problems for the people in your department. We have spoken with many people that have assumed this role at their company (usually because their I.T. department takes a while to be dispatched) and it is a great way to get a little hands on. Volunteer at a non-profit organization. Start a website. Become the computer support person for your friends and family. The point is that there are a lot of ways that you can get experience, some you can put on your resume and others you can't. Regardless, you can certainly discuss them in an interview so turn off the television and get to work.
Enough lecturing! Now we need to give you the resources that you need to get your resume out there. Don't just look in the newspaper classifieds - the jobs listed there represent a very, very small percentage of available jobs.
Every major city has a ton of job placement agencies. Sign up at every single one of them. You will probably find that these organizations will keep you pretty busy and are a very useful free resource for you.
Use your online resources. Applying for jobs online not only works, but save a ton of time. Check out our Career & Jobs section to get started with your online job search. If you are looking for your first job, try keywords such as entry-level, help desk, tech support, call center, MCP (if you have one), beginner, and junior level. If you don't find what you are looking for here, there are dozens of major employment websites out there.
Check out your local Department of Labor. They will usually have quite a few job listings and often provide other free resources.
Keep your eyes peeled for job fairs.
If these resources don't keep you busy enough, start popping into companies that you would like to work for and drop off your resume. It is helpful if you can do a little research beforehand and find out who is actually in charge of hiring. Give them a call or when dropping off your resume, ask if you can speak with them briefly and introduce yourself. It will make you stand out in their mind when they are reviewing resumes.