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Top 7 Ways To Prepare for Your IT Job Hunt


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Sure, there’s plenty of advice out there for IT job hunting, but do you know the all-important steps to take before you start working on your resume?

by Robert L Bogue

10/8/2003 -- Breaking into IT is getting harder and harder. You need a leg-up, and that leg is going to mean a lot of hard work before you ever send that first resume. However, if you really want a career in IT, you’ll see the need for being properly prepared. The following steps will make sure you are.

Step # 1: Figure Out What You Want To Be When You Grow Up

One of the fundamental steps in beginning a career in IT is determining exactly what you want to do. The National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies (NWCET) has created classifications for the different types of IT careers. It is a classification system used by the Information Technology Association of America (“ITAAâ€) in its annual report on the state of the IT Industry, often quoted in the news media regarding the number of IT jobs available.

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If you want a summary of the breakdowns created by the NWCET, you can find them in the CertCities.com article “Newbie's Guide To Choosing the Right IT Career Path." This article gives an overview of varies IT job paths, typical starting requirements, etc.

Step #2: Lower Your Expectations

Before we continue, it's time to reset some expectations. If case you haven’t looked at the calendar for a while, it’s no longer the late-‘90s. The IT market bubble has burst and there is a fair amount of fallout. Finding an IT job is no longer easy.

As a result of the higher IT unemployment, outsourcing and the overall economic recession, IT salaries have fallen. You can no longer expect to walk out of a technical school to find high-paying job offers (if that time ever existed in the first place). Now you can expect a fair wage, but nothing that is going to lead to a life of luxury. And you -- like most everyone else breaking into this industry – will have to start at the bottom. Unless you’re willing to pay your dues for a few years in PC repair, tech support, or some other low paying IT job, then IT probably isn’t for you.

Step #3: Get The Knowledge

One clear way to distinguish yourself in this competitive world is to show that you are always working on improving yourself. Show that you’re not waiting for someone to hand you your future; you are going to reach out and grab it.

To get an IT job today, you must already have the knowledge. You can’t expect a company to train you in the necessary skills for the position you’re being hired for.

Getting the knowledge does not mean paying a fortune to go to a technical training center -- although you can do that if you want. Try self-study materials. Purchasing books is a much smaller investment than other learning tools -- it can be even cheaper if your local library happens to have the books you need.

Another option is to attend a local community college. More and more community colleges offer basic computer training courses, including those that lead to a certification. These classes are typically only a few hundred dollars each and are a relatively inexpensive (that is, if you have some time to wait for the course to be completed). Online learning is another option growing in popularity thanks to its flexibility and lower costs.

Note that with the job market as tight as it is, a college degree more valuable now than ever before. It may not be practical for you to go and get a four-year degree at this time, but if you already have one, be sure to emphasize it on your resume (even if it’s in an unrelated field). Business skills are also vital: A couple of business classes from your local community college may go a long way in showing potential employers that you understand what they want from IT professionals today.

Step #4: Make Some Experience

You’ll need to put that experience to use before you land that first IT job – it’s the catch-22 of our industry, and it’s not going anywhere. Classroom learning is great, but employers need to know you’ve worked with the technology in real-world situations.

The number one question people ask me is how to get that experience. The answer is, simply, any way you can. Volunteer, trade, and negotiate. Your community probably has many opportunities to get such experiences. Churches, not-for-profit organizations, foundations, and small businesses typically do not have the money for all their IT needs. If you’re focused on network administration, install a small network for a local business or community center. If you’re focused on software development, write a small scheduling program to help your church schedule its volunteers.

These experiences may not pay anything, but that’s not the point -- the goal here is to have something you can put on your resume that shows you’ve worked with the technology hands-on.

Step #5: Start Networking Now

As many as 70 percent of all job openings are never listed anywhere. They are positions that are only available to those people who know people. When you are getting started, it is not very likely that you are going to know the right people.

As you meet people in the industry – or really, just about anyone who might know someone -- ask them for a their card. Collecting these business cards will not help you get a job, but it will help to have people that you can call when you are ready to make your move into IT.

More than gathering business cards, you want to make regular contact with the people you meet so that you can develop a relationship with them. Develop enough of a relationship that they would be willing to forward your resume on for any internal openings and potentially refer you to the right person in their organization. In this way, you are building a personal network that may help you find a job when you are ready.

Another excellent way to make connections is to attend local user group meetings for whatever software or technology you’re interested in. At these meetings you’ll be surrounded by professionals who do what you want to do, and aside from being excellent contacts, these pros can also offer you personal advice for making your move into IT.

Step #6: Optimism Or Delusion -- You Decide

One of the hardest things that you will have to face in your search is becoming discouraged. You are going to hear “No†more times than you may like. It may or may not damage your confidence and begin to discourage you. Decide now that you’re not going to let that happen.

There is a definite advantage to seeing the glass as half-full: There are hundreds of opportunities – you only need one job. This is the kind of optimism that looks at the overall situation and realizes that it is not “that†bad -- exactly the attitude you’ll need to make it through your upcoming search, even if it reaches the level of delusion. Employers want to find employees that have self-confidence, determination and who are generally happy and upbeat. See your job search as a way to test these qualities in yourself.

Tip #7: Develop Your Unique Value Proposition

In marketing and sales, professionals are taught to clearly understand their unique value proposition. You should know your unique value proposition in regards to potential employers. Figuring out your unique value proposition is not as difficult as it is deliberate. You must take a painstaking inventory of what you do well and where you struggle. Take the areas in which you do well and group them together, and that will then become your unique value proposition.

In developing your unique value proposition, there are two key points to remember. First, it is a painful, deliberate process. You cannot cut it short, so be honest and take it seriously. Second, you must be able to approach the value proposition from any perspective. You must ask yourself hard questions like “Why do I care?†and “What would happen if I did not have this value proposition – what would the potential employer be missing out on?†Once you have developed your unique value proposition, you will have to update it, sometimes daily, to reflect your changing value and your better understanding of how that value translates into things that employers need.

Now Get to that Resume

As you can see, the above can be a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it. You will have a much better shot at landing that first IT job if you do the above before sending out those resumes. Of course, the real key to getting your first IT position -- as is anything else in life -- is not giving up. Yes, the job market is tight, but if you do everything you can to put yourself in the best position possible, you’ll have a much better chance at landing that all-too-elusive first IT job.

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