Of all the questions I receive regularly from readers, site members, and the public at large, none is so poignant to me as those that might be summarized as: “I’m looking for a job in IT. I have certifications x, y, and z. Nobody will talk to me, or take me seriously because I have no IT work experience. What can/should I do?” In these tough economic times where jobs of any kind are scarce, and entry-level positions if anything scarcer, this goes double or perhaps even triple.
Case in point: I got an e-mail from a nice young man who has nine years of prior experience as a BMW technician, along with a couple of years’ experience as an electrician, who really wants to work in IT. He’s had no difficulty earning an A+ and Network+ certifications, and even took classes from a training institution that promised job placement help as part of the no-doubt expensive training package I’m sure he had to pay for to sit through their courses and work in their labs.
This person has had zero luck in finding work in IT. He’s gotten exactly nowhere with the placement office at the training institution, who turned him over to Robert Half International for temp/part-time placement help in response to his expression of concern about a lack of results. No joy on that front, either.
First thing I have to say is “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” In employment, like comedy, timing is everything. And in bad economic times, looking for employment is about as bad as timing gets, especially for somebody who apparently has trouble talking up his prior learning, job skills, and accomplishments when moving from one field to another.
The key here, as I see it, is for this person to stress what kinds of problem-solving and technical skills his BMW repair and electrical work taught him, and to explain how they apply to work in IT. I have to believe that an ability to solve problems, handle complex billing and reporting systems, interact with customers, and handle all kinds of interesting diagnostic regimes and the tools that go with them–both important parts of working with cars and matters electrical–transfer very well into the IT realm. Instead of thinking he has “no experience” he should be honing his explanation of how what he learned in those other technical areas make him a better IT person than a straight-from-school graduate whose only job experience comes from short-term summer gigs or part-time work while a full-time student.
The other cure for no experience is to get experience by hook, crook, and sheer dint of effort. Here again, my correspondent sells himself short. Although he says he has no real experience to speak of, he goes on to observe “In years past on my own, I have set up wireless networks, installed CAT5, diagnosed and replaced defective power supplies, sound cards, upgraded memory, Ethernet cards, DVD drives. When I was a BMW tech, I had to update my diagnosis and programming equipment regularly.” Obviously, he’s a bit further along than many people, but needs to present this experience in positive terms, and parlay it into value he can add in the workplace. Others who lack this kind of experience, should also begin doing as much stuff on their own as they can stand, and possibly even volunteer at local charities, churches, or schools–all of which have active volunteer intake programs–to help out with IT projects and maintenance activities.
Ultimately, I have to believe that most job searches do pay off, and produce entry or re-entry into the workforce. In the meantime, the secret to eventual success depends on staying busy, continuing to learn, and looking for and taking advantage of every possible opportunity to practice and hone job-related skills and knowledge. This is tough, but when the going gets tough, that’s when persistence and drive can carry those who refuse to give up through, while others are flailing all around them. And indeed, involvement with others by volunteering, contract placement, or part-time work provides opportunities to excel that others will notice, and that may very well provide an entree into a next (or first) job in IT.