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IT Experience for Newcomers - Tips, Advice on how get a Job In IT

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“How do I get a job in IT without experience?” “I am a newcomer to IT but I don't have experience. I've been obtaining certifications, yet I still haven't gotten an IT job.” 

One of the biggest challenges facing beginners in the IT profession is getting hands-on practical experience. Newcomers in IT are caught in a catch-22: You want a job to gain experience but employers only want people with experience. This experience can be quite frustrating. But new people are coming into IT daily. Some are able to break in because opportunities exist. But these opportunities don't usually come on a platter of gold. As a newcomer, what can you do to brighten your chances?

Training/Certification

 Training and certification is a good place to start acquiring IT skills and knowledge. Training is usually the first organized point of contact for most people who come into the profession without a formal background in IT.  Click here for more about achieving your IT education in a traditional college / university setting:  (http://jidaw.com/certarticles/dinosaur3.html).

However training is useful for all newcomers; irrespective of whether you have a formal background in IT or not. IT training centers offer a wide variety of programs on weekdays, weekend or evening, part time or full time. These programs cover most of the high demand areas in IT such as tech support, programming, database development and administration, Web development and networking.

But beware of training and certification myths. A popular myth is that the acquisition of several popular advanced level certifications eliminates or reduces the need for work experience. Another fairy tale is that these popular certifications guarantee jobs, and work experience. Indeed some unscrupulous training providers use job guarantees to entice prospective students. “Run, don't walk away, from any training provider that says you're guaranteed a job if you register for classes with them. Be wise. Are you more interested in giving somebody money than your education or career?”

Listen to the news: certifications don't guarantee jobs. Getting a top-notch certification or first class training is often more straightforward for motivated newcomers than getting an IT job. Training and certification alone are not all you need for a career in IT. Unfortunately, many still can't see that experience has no substitute.

Avoid the temptation to go for a massively popular training program, unless it fits into your career plan (http://www.jidaw.com/careerplan.html) and it will help with gaining work experience. How do you determine which training program to choose? Is your decision based on popularity or work expectations? Choose your training option with your career growth, including experience in mind. According to H. Spencer, “The aim of education is action, not knowledge”.

 

As a beginner it makes sense to master the basics before moving to the advanced. I have met Oracle Certified DBAs who didn't have a clue about what MS Access was. Even MCSEs that couldn't format hard disks. They didn't have a clue about IT basics or fundamentals; and even with their OCBAs and MCSEs, they still couldn't get IT jobs. Why waste your money and time on advanced level training and certification that is not useful to you at your level?

Don't just plan for training and certification, plan for experience as well. When starting out don't aim too high in training and certification, but make sure your experience and learning options match. Always start with the fundamentals - entry-level training and certifications. Basic fundamental knowledge and skills are a necessity for sustainable career growth. 

Although there are opportunities in all areas of IT, training in tech support and related areas creates more opportunities for newcomers to get useful work experience once training is concluded. Such tech support programs are usually instructor-led with an emphasis on learning by doing through hands-on exercises. This is quite unlike training in more complex applications where opportunities for newcomers to gain experience are limited. Tech support experience often opens doors to these other career paths that may otherwise be inaccessible.

Market yourself

To get a job, IT or non IT you need to market yourself. Your tech skills and training decisions are important, but if you can't market yourself, getting a job will be an uphill task. What do you have to offer to prospective employers? Do your resumes and cover letters promote you effectively?

How effective are your interview skills? Marketing yourself entails developing your soft skills and being ready to demonstrate them. Soft skills such as basic business understanding and communications skills can be very useful in job interviews. Highlight and use soft skills and hands-on experience you have gained from training, part-time positions, temporary jobs, etc.

Incorporate and identify your personal traits and skills you already have that companies will consider valuable such as attitude, reliability, communications, time management, etc. Emphasize these attributes in your job search activities. Furthermore, since you're a newcomer, your desire to work hard, learn and contribute to the bottom line should also be evident in interviews and on your resume. Keep perspective: It's not just about you, your certification and your career. It's not about sympathy or begging for a job. Do you package yourself as a value provider? Listen good: nobody owes you a job - what organizations are looking for are people who add value - solution providers and problem solvers. Let your value proposition stand out.

Work on your interview and job search efforts. Do research on the company and be well prepared before the interview. Which organizations, markets are you targeting? Where are people with your background and skills employed? How creative are you in getting exposure to the employers you're targeting? Don't limit your job search efforts just to the newspapers or your local area. Job hunt wisely at every opportunity you have. Take your job search as your job - 8 hours a day!

Everybody has connections. Are you using your connections?

A mistake many make is in looking for experience only through the formal and traditional means.  Market yourself using your connections. How effectively do you use your personal network of friends, family and acquaintances? How about your social or religious clubs or associations? Over 80% of all career opportunities are gotten through personal networking; not through adverts. People will connect with those they know and trust. Continue to use your previous connections and make new connections. Where do your friends work? Do they need IT professionals? Do they know of organizations that need IT staff?

Do members of your network know what sort of job you need? Do they know what sort of skills you have? Why not become the “go-to” computer support person for your friends, family and acquaintances? This gives them a better idea of what you have to offer. And you are actually gaining some useful experience.

A reliable and powerful personal network, however, doesn't work for you alone. It isn't a self-centered one-man show. The key to having a dependable personal network that works is not "receive only" or "give to receive", but instead it is "give more than you receive."

Realistic expectations

Many newcomers assume that their advanced level certifications will translate to high paying, high level jobs. No matter your background, if you don't have experience, it pays to be realistic. Having multiple certifications, or degrees doesn't guarantee anything without experience. This can be frustrating if you had to shell out good money for training and certification. But this is reality, not a training sales gimmick. Don't waste your time and effort applying for senior level jobs. Focus on entry-level jobs. You need to have the right attitude: Be ready to start from the ground floor. Start low and work your way up.

Work for a Small Company

People with little experience find it easier to get jobs with small companies rather than big ones. Small companies obviously won't have the facilities and benefits of large companies, but they can offer you real world experience. Many small companies need IT professionals and if experience for your career growth is your priority, the size or glamour is immaterial, as long you have as you have the opportunity to grow and develop professionally.

As a beginner, is your priority good career growth or job titles, salaries or conditions? Can you make the sacrifice? It may not be your ideal, but there is no substitute for experience.

Volunteering

Volunteering is an option overlooked by many. You can volunteer for your Old school, religious body (Mosque, Church, associations), NGO or your community group. Many of these organizations need computer professionals. And they aren't too fussy about previous work experience. Most of these organizations may not pay much or even pay at all. But volunteering creates opportunities for you to gain not only experience, but also valuable references. It further helps in building your personal network and developing your soft skills.

Another related way to gain experience is through internships or industrial attachment. Again internships may not pay well but just like volunteering, it is an effective way to build your personal network and gain valuable experience.

By taking some of these paths you are indirectly paying for experience. But is that so strange? If you can pay for training and certification, why can't you pay for experience, which is even more difficult to obtain as a newcomer?

Home Lab

Hands-on experience is not limited to the workplace. You can gain useful experience by building a personal network of computers in your home - a home lab. You can setup your home lab instead of spending huge amounts on unprofitable advanced level training and certification. Unprofitable? Yes! With some these expensive ventures, you get heavily certified but you're still left jobless, with no opportunities for growth! The cost of training and certification of some of these exotic programs is more than double the cost of both an effective entry-level course and setting up a home lab.

Although a home lab has its limitations, especially in terms of workplace interaction, there is a lot to gain in terms of hands-on experience that adds value.

Keep yourself up-to-date

Everyone in IT, not just newcomers, needs to know how to monitor technology and career trends in the IT industry. The Internet is particularly useful for current IT trends, learning and networking with other IT professionals. Keep your skills current through books, seminars, conferences, exhibitions, etc. Listen to career talks, either formally or informally, especially those that provide insights on IT, jobs and career opportunities. A popular and enlightening career forum is the free IT Career seminar series (http://www.jidaw.com/netseminar.html)

Self belief

What I have listed here are suggestions. But there is no magic formula for creating career opportunity. What works for you may not work for me. Lack of self-belief is often a major hindrance. Many rather than believe in themselves hanker after silver bullets, magic keys or 100% guarantees. So when rejection comes, it hits hard. When the jobs don't come, it is quite frustrating. Rejection can be quite painful especially when hopes are based on unrealistic expectations. Unfortunately while rejection should be seen as a challenge, it is often seen as failure. "Failure is a perception, not an option for those willing to learn and grow from their experiences."

Even if you've taken wrong steps like investing in unprofitable programs, or you're simply not getting results, the solution is not to give up. If you truly have a passion for IT you must know how to develop and toughen your backbone. Face the reality and get back on track.

Start by believing that you can add value and that you deserve to be successful. Then get creative. Be resourceful and persevere.

It is tough for newcomers but opportunities always exist for the resilient.

Finally, note that experience is not an end in itself. Indeed experience is a big fat zero without initiative. What is experience without passion?

I hope you have found these suggestions helpful.

Good luck!

Jide Awe

Jide Awe is the Founder of Jidaw.com  


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