The Number 1 Question
Hi, this is Kelly Handerhan, and welcome back to our Ten Minute Series. I wanted to take a few minutes and address the number one question that I get for folks that reach out and contact me. It is how do I get a job in IT? This Ten Minute session is, of course, brought to you by the company that I founded and that I run, CyberTrain.IT. We have lots of different certifications and lots of material that we teach. If you’re looking for a course, someone to come out to your office and lead a class or a live online course, we hope to be the company for you. I’m a Microsoft trainer and have been so for many, many years. But today I want to focus on, like I said, this is the number one job that I get, and I can really empathize with folks because information technology is a terrific field to be in. I’ve been in it for 20 years, and many folks wind up, midway through their career, or perhaps at the very early stages, and find it to be a difficult field to get into. Right?
When I got into IT 25 years ago it was pretty easy. You could answer a job and say, and really that’s how I got started, I answered a want ad and said, “Look, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m willing to learn. I’ll work hard for you. I’ll work for cheap,” which speaks to a lot of people. I got my first job and really learned from there. Today it’s a little bit more difficult, so I want to give you some tips that I see work for other people, and that I encourage folks to do. Okay?
Is Working in IT right for me?
So how do you get a job in information technology? You know I think the first you should do is to examine your motives and really ask yourself, “Is this the right career for me?” When I ask people why they want to move into the field, I usually get two general answers. One, “I love IT. I’ve been working with computers on my own at home since the ’90s. I build them. I put them apart. I’m that person in the family that everybody comes to fix their systems. It is absolutely something I love doing.” Then, the other answer is I hear, “Well I hear it’s a great field and you can make a lot of money in it.” All right, that is true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this is the right career for you. Okay?
I generally tell people if you’re that person that, when your computer gives you an error, you get ticked off, and storm away, and write a nasty letter to Microsoft, this may not be the right career for you because that is day-to-day life in information technology. When I first got started in the field, I thought, “Oh, I can’t wait to learn IT,” and no one bothered to tell me like I’m telling you now, learning IT means screwing stuff up and staying there ’till midnight when you finally fix it, or it means things going wrong and you digging through every resource available in order to find some sort of mitigating strategy. It’s not a walk in the park. It’s not something that we just kick back and sit around our desks, and play solitaire all day or whatever the game du jour is. It’s a tough field. It’s a challenging field. It’s one that you really have to invest a lot of time, effort, and energy in, and that’s even once you’re in the field. You’ve got to stay current and up-to-date.
The first question before you go any further is really think about is this the right field for me. If you’re not somebody that this things going wrong, again, you know that’s what IT, in a lot of ways is. If things didn’t go wrong, I would have a job because I’m the one who comes and fixes them. I love those challenges, and I love coming up against something I haven’t seen before, and I love digging for the answers, so I felt like okay, I could answer this question. Yeah, this is the right career for me.
Gain Some Experience
Now the next thing I’m going to tell you to do is if you really want to break into this field, you’ve got to get some experience. And then people come to me and say, “Well, how can I get experience? I’m coming to you to figure out how I can get a job, and you’re telling me to go get a job.” I’m not necessarily telling you to go get a job. I’m telling you to get experience. All right? There are a couple of ways you can get experience. One of the ways that I recommend is volunteer. There are a million places that would love to have your services. Men and women’s shelters, bringing in some technology, setting up a little network together, now I’m not saying don’t just go in and do this. You could open yourself up to some difficulties there. I’m not advocating just go in and set up computers for everybody, but if you know other folks in the field, and you can spend some time working through, and researching, and providing services for some folks that are less fortunate or that may need some help from a volunteer, I would strongly encourage that.
Anything you can get to put on a resume to document your experience in the IT realm, they’re not going to ask you, or not going to be as worried about, well, did you get paid for it or not. When you can say, “Look, I installed a network for seven systems. We connected them through the internet. We provided security through the firewall services,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You can really say, “Look, I’ve done more than just read about it. I’ve done it.” Okay?
Other things you can do. You can get a part-time job. Go out to Best Buy and work at Geek Squad, or go here, or there, and work two or three hours a week, five to 10 hours a week, whatever. This is not going to be an easy transition. If you’re an auto mechanic, you can’t just tomorrow go in and start making $150,000 a year because you read a computer book. I know that’s not what you guys are thinking to do, but I really want to stress to you. This is like any other major career change. You have got to work hard to get there. I tell people, “You want to be in a great field, and make good money, and have flexibility, if you want to put five to 10 years into it, IT can be that field for you. It absolutely can, but it’s not going to be the field for you tomorrow, and it’s not enough to just go out and pass some certification exams. Okay?
So think about it. How can I bring in experience? How can I get experience? Go volunteer. Get a part-time job. Ask about an internship. Every community has a local store where they fix computers, they sell computers, a little mom and pop shop. Find one of those and say, “Listen, I’ve got a couple hours a week. Could I come in and just kind of shadow you?” You’d be surprised at how many opportunities there are out there to get some experience, but you got to hustle for them. Remember, you’re watching this video with 10,000 other people who want a job in IT. What is going to make you different from every one of those? All right? Go out and get some experience.
Next piece. Yeah, do get certified. Now I’m and saying you have to spend $50,000 in certification programs at all. There are numerous places where you can get online security classes. Here at CyberTrain.IT, we offer the Ten Minute Series, where we take a technical concept and explain it in about 10, 15 minutes, short, easy-to-follow videos. If you’re not familiar with the site, Cybrary.IT, that’s a good site to go to. They have free certification classes, entire courses available to you for free. That’s a great deal, but yeah, do get certified. Some certifications I would recommend, if you’re just getting started, the CompTIA IT Fundamentals course, that’s a good place to start. Make sure you understand the basics before you start trying to jump into networking or security.
Even if you’ve been around for a while, I would recommend looking at that course, and going through it, and say, “Do I really get all of these?” Right? Do you really understand the three-way handshake of TCP? Do you get the SYN, SYN-ACK, ACK? Well maybe not, so don’t immediately blow off this course as, “Oh, it’s beneath me, I’ve been doing this for years.” Take a look at it and make sure that you’re qualified and competent. There’s A+, you know what, that’s a certification that’s been around for a long time. A lot of still take that course. It gives you a good understanding of the hardware, and of the operating system capabilities. This another good starting point.
Network+, or Net+, start to understand networking because it’s no longer enough to just understand a single computer. It hasn’t been that way for years. You’ve got to understand the network environment. You need to understand IP addressing. You need to understand how routers work and how that’s different from switches, and broadcast domains, and collision domains, and MAC addresses, and media access control, all those pieces, you want to understand that. All right? Security+, another very important certification because this is a world in which security matters. Every week we see breaches of data. We see major compromises, and in information technology, we’re the folks responsible for mitigating those risks, so the Security+ certification is another good one.
Now, as you continue to build your knowledge, one of the elite certifications in the industry, and it’s been that way for a long time, is the CISSP exam. What this does is it merges the world of technicians and managers, and it brings them together, and it says, “Okay, let’s talk about technical solutions, but let’s do so in a way that supports the needs of the organization.” CISSP’s been around for a while. It’s going to continue to be around for a while because it’s a good certification.
Learn How to Sell Yourself
Next thing, okay, you’ve gotten some experience. You’ve gotten your certifications. The next thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to sell yourself. One of the ways that you sell yourself is with your resume, and I have seen some sad, pitiful, little resumes come across my desk across the years. These may be people with excellent computer skills, but if the resume is poorly written, it’s not formatted well, it has typos and errors … Honestly, if you can’t give me an accurate, well-written, well-formatted resume, you’re not going to be able to give me reports or documentation that I need. It may be worth spending some money to have a professional resume writer.
If you don’t have that money, if you’re not prepared to invest in having that happen, go out and search online, and search resume for systems admin, resume for this, that, or the other. Take a look at the resumes that are out there that are posted, and look at their formatting, and look at the skills that they bring to the table, and take those resumes that are out there as template, and modify and make it yours, but find a well-written resume and model your resume after that. You’ve got to have a good resume. I don’t need 500 pages. Give me two pages in your resume. Give me enough information so that I can make a good decision about you, and then wrap it up. Keep it short and light. I don’t have all day to read these.
In the interview, you’ve got to sell yourself. I know a lot of people in IT have very strong interview skills. I know a lot of people in IT don’t have that confidence to walk in and blow away an interview. That’s okay. What’s important when you come to an interview, dress nicely. A nice shirt. A nice tie if you’re a gentleman. A jacket or blazer, and slacks or a dress, or skirt if you’re a woman. But the bottom line is, dress professionally. I can’t say enough about first impressions. Okay? Also realize, when you walk into that interview, probably the person you’re interviewing with has already viewed your social media footprint, so it’s very important to have a separate set of social media for your personal life versus your professional life if there’s the possibility that that is going to be viewed. Right? We want to keep our personal personal, our political views over here, our professional to the side. Of course, make sure that if you’ve got a website where you focus on your professional skillsets, make that available to your interviewer. It’s a world of media today, so if you’ve got your own website that’s professionally-based, and your Facebook references, put that on your resume as well.
In the interview, a good handshake, look the person in the eye. Thank them for taking the time to meet with you. These little courtesies make a difference. All right? Smile. Answer questions directly. Don’t hem around the bush. If an interviewer asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, here is my well-tested trick of the trade. Okay? Hopefully you have a cup of coffee. Even if you don’t drink coffee, if they ask you if you want some, take it, because here’s what I do. You ask me a question I don’t know. “That is a really good question. I tell you what. Let me think about that for a second. I’ve never seen that situation happen, but based on what I have seen, these would be my first thoughts.” What I’ve done is I’ve bought myself five or six, 10 seconds, had a little sip of coffee, acknowledged it was a good question, said, “Let me think about that for a second.” That gets you four or five.
You can’t think about it for 10 minutes, but, “Let me think about that for a second. Huh. You know, I’ve never really seen that happen. In situations that I’ve seen, I’ve seen something similar play out this way, or I don’t really know the answer to that, so the way I’d approach finding it …” So if I ask you how you fix a thermal flux capacitor, you don’t even know what that is, say, “Well I think the steps that I would take,” and be able to demonstrate that if you don’t know how to fix a problem, you know where to find the answer for that problem. I hope that makes sense because that’s so important. When I look to hire people in IT, I don’t need you to know everything. I need you to have the good sense to know when you don’t know something, and the good sense to know where you go and get it. Okay?
Close the interview on a positive. Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me today. I love the opportunity to learn more about your company. Go, in your mind, with several questions about the organization as a whole because they want to know that you’re interested in their company. “So do you have any questions?” “Yeah, how would you describe the company culture here?” That’s always a good question, or “How long have you been in business? Where do you see this company in five years?” Those questions that show that I’m interested in being a part of something larger than just getting a job, that is always appreciated in interviews. Okay?
So sell yourself. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you know. “I may not have a lot of experience in IT on my resume, but I’ve been working was these since the Tandy. Or my first computer was an Apple IIe, and I’ve done this, that, and the other. Just because your job did not say computer technician, doesn’t mean you can’t talk about your skills. “I started as an office manager, but I quickly became the person in the office that they went to for computer problems, so when the printer spool would lock up, or when someone needed to recover a file, they always came to me.” Sell yourself. Make sure that interviewer understands your skillset.
Now after the interview, again, nice firm handshake. “Thanks for taking the time to meet with me.” Then make sure after the interview you send a handwritten note that says something to the effect of really enjoyed meeting with you on Friday, or whenever it was. “I look forward to speaking with you again in the future.” Something that shows them, yeah, you’re interested in the position. Right? Something that makes me go back and say, “Now which guy was he? Oh, he’s that guy. Huh. Oh.” That’s something that really helps keep your name in front of the decision-maker’s mind.
Also, don’t be afraid … “So we’ll make a decision by Friday.” If you don’t hear something on Friday, don’t go into the weekend saying, “Oh, I didn’t get the job.” Call them on Friday. Ask for the person that you interviewed with, and either speak with them or leave a message that essentially says, “Listen, I know you guys were making a decision today. I hope I’m still being considered for the position. I’m so excited about the opportunity. I’d love to hear from you.” All right, again, that’s just saying, “Don’t forget me.” Let me tell you, when I’m making a decision across five people that are equally qualified, show me the enthusiastic person, because somebody with some enthusiasm that really wants the job, that’s who I want working for me.
So if you can bring those characteristics to the interview, and if all things are equal across the skillsets, if you’re the one that I think would be the best fit in the company, that’s the most interested in succeeding and contributing, you’re going to be the one that walks away with the job. Those soft skills become very important in an interview. Then consider all offers. “Man, I wanted to be making $100,000. They’re only offering me 60.” Or, “I wanted to be making $60,000. They’re only offering me 20.” You know these things happen, but let me tell you, when you get two years of real work experience within an organization, you can start calling some shots in relation to salary if you’ve proven yourself across those two years.
Everybody thinks IT is a high-paying job. Yeah, it can be, but I don’t know of many people that step out of the door of a college into a $150,000 a year job. We all have to pay our dues. Right? So you don’t get the offer you want, well, do you want to keep the job that you’re in now? Well obviously you’re looking to change professions. Consider an offer. Can I cut corners for a year or two so that I can get the experience, get the knowledge? There is no better way to learn than out in the field. Right?
So consider the offer even if it isn’t what you want to be making, even if it’s not a great salary. See if you can find a way because that’s the best way to learn, not to mention a lot of companies will compensate other ways than salary. Maybe telecommuting. Do I get to work from home three days a week? Score. Right? Or will you pay for six weeks of training for me, or do I get more vacation time, or what are the other perks of the job? Great health insurance? Make sure you understand all the offer. Make sure that you understand what the offer is and determine … If it was worth going on an interview for, can you work within that offer? It’s just a thought.
Be Patient and Persistent
Then last but not least, be patient and persistent. You may not get the first job that you apply for, even if you follow all the rules. Right? But you dust yourself off, you get back up, and you go back at it again. It’s just the way it has to be in IT. There are a lot of people that want to move into this field. There are a lot of people with skills. If you’re watching these videos, if you’re really committed to making it into the IT field, you can do this. There is room in this field for everybody with every personality type. We all have skills that we bring to the table, but you’ve got to stick with it. You’ve got to be persistent, and you go through an interview, and you miss the job, there is nothing wrong with saying, calling them back and saying, “Hey, can I get just a minute of your time? Can you tell me what might have made me a better candidate for this position?”
I’ve done that before. If you hit the wall a couple of different times, there’s something that’s missing, and an HR person might say, “Listen, it was a great interview, but I really needed somebody with this certification, or I needed somebody a little bit more experience,” or whatever. But that will tell you what you’re lacking so that you can build upon it and be ready for the next interview. Okay? I know what a tough field this can be to break into. I understand that. I have a ton of students online and live that come to me and say, “How can I get there?” For me, this is the best advice that I can give you. I really think if you follow and get your experience somewhere, get something to put on a resume, get the certifications that they’re looking for out in the field, sell yourself on your resume and your interview, and don’t be too proud to accept a low offer.
That’s temporary. That gives you a chance to establish yourself, and then be patient, persistent. I really think these are the steps that will help you the most in finding your way into the IT technology. Keep your first job. Stay there a couple of years, and at that point in time, when you’ve been established, and you’ve got your skillset a little bit more pronounced, then you can start looking at going to other organizations and making that higher salary. Okay? So listen, I wish you the best of luck. I hope you’re successful. Please feel free to reach out to me if I can help you in any way. You can reach me at Kellyh@cybertrain.it. Good luck to you all.