I’ve been asked a few different times to advise young (and sometimes not so young) people trying to get a start in IT. Every story is different, but there are a few commonalities. So here’s my generic IT career/job seeking advice in rough order. Note that some of it is a bit Australia-centric.
- Prove to potential employers that you are a lifelong learner:
- If you don’t have a tertiary qualification, get one. If you’re not sure how good a studier you are, start with a Certificate III or IV or Diploma.
- Keep going! Get a Bachelor’s degree from a recognised institution.
- Free MOOCs are fine if you just want to learn a new area with low financial risk, but they’re not worth listing on a resume. They’re worth every penny you pay for them.
- Look for an employer who has a reputation for training their staff.
- Work on relevant vendor certifications as you have the time/money; hopefully you’ll find an employer who will at least pay for your exams & textbooks, if not courses. Make sure the certifications are from reputable sources (e.g. Cisco’s are very good, Microsoft’s about average, many others quite poor); ask colleagues for recommendations.
- Think about a Masters, but not until you have a few years’ experience under your belt. Don’t do it straight after your Bachelor’s.
- Make sure you know enough actual computer science to be a decent coder and scripter, regardless of your area of specialisation. You should expect to automate yourself out of a job several times over the course of your career.
- Be prepared to start in a role that involves menial tasks; you’re not an expert in anything yet. Sometimes the very best thing you might be able to do for an IT department is organise the storeroom, clear out rubbish, and put labels on things.
- If you can afford to do it, look for volunteer opportunities and work experience placements. Do something useful rather than sitting at home sponging off your parents and playing World of Warcraft. It’s totally legitimate to list volunteer experience on your resume. Sometimes volunteer opportunities turn into jobs, or great references, or both. (I started volunteering for Carinity, testing and cleaning decomissioned PCs, and eventually ended up as the IT Operations Manager.)
- Join relevant meetups and user groups; meet real people in the real world and try to learn what you can from them. (Without being a creepy groupie, of course.)
- Follow interesting people on Twitter (ask me for some recommendations), and learn to ask good questions of them; sometimes they actually reply! (Again, don’t be creepy about it.)
- When you apply for jobs, actually read the advertisement, and the selection criteria, and actually address the selection criteria in a structured manner in your application.
- Have a really clear, easy-to-read, spacious resume. Yes, spacious; don’t try to fill it with too much. Less is more if it’s well-designed. Fit it on 1-2 pages if you can. Most people reading resumes are reading 40 of them at a time; make yours jump out at them. My abbreviated resume is 4 pages covering over 20 years in the industry, and I have an additional document containing a 1 page-summary of each major job that I give to people when things progress to interview stage. (Some recruiters will like to have this earlier – that’s OK too.)
- Many recruiters know almost nothing about what actually makes a good IT professional, and don’t know, for example, that Linux, FreeBSD, HP-UX, Solaris, and AIX are all Unix-like OSes, and skills in one will usually transfer to another. Make sure your resume contains a skills matrix with the right keywords for them to find you in a text search of their database.
- Have your work history and educational qualifications published on your preferred social networks – LinkedIn is the one recruiters seem to like most; Google+ and Facebook also have places for it.
- Seek seems to have dominated the online job ad market in Australia. Register with other job sites if it takes your fancy, but definitely make sure you register for relevant email alerts on Seek.