Getting (and Staying) in IT

This month, our columnists address some common questions.

I want to get into IT, what certification should I get?

Ah, the $64 question. The simple fact is, right now there’s an oversupply of skilled IT professionals in many areas of the job market. Coming into the industry with no practical experience means that the main value you now bring to an employer is your energy, enthusiasm and potential for the future.

An entry-level certification such as an MCP and/or an A+ may assist in the job search. It does demonstrate an interest in the field and a basic level of understanding; but a hiring manager is under no illusions, and you’ll still need to be trained from scratch. In the longer term, it still should be possible to enter IT; however, be aware that you’ll need to knock on a lot of doors before you get started.

That being said, going toward a full MCSE without any experience is a waste of time and money. There’s a lot of advanced material to absorb, and I don’t think you can fully comprehend it until you’ve had actual experience with the products. At the same time, an employer isn’t going to put someone with little or no experience into a senior role requiring that level of knowledge.

I’m not convinced it was ever true, but the days of taking classes for a few weeks and walking into an “exciting” IT career with a $70,000 job are long gone.

If you don’t have one already, think about completing a college degree. It’ll certainly help you get hired and will assist you when moving into more senior roles later in your career. Apart from the broad knowledge one can acquire, a college degree demonstrates an ability to think and shows determination. However, I acknowledge that not everyone has the time and funds available to do this.

Should I leave my current job?

In the past, job-hopping was seen as a way to quickly climb the ladder to seniority and money. However, today a hiring manager looking at someone’s résumé with a history of changing jobs every 12 to 18 months may wonder how long that person would likely stay if hired. In many cases, it can be a matter of months to get up to speed with the business and technical environment and to be fully productive. So a history of quickly changing jobs is likely to be seen as a potential problem. It may be viewed that you lack organizational commitment, are only interested in yourself, and that you may leave when the going gets tough.

I’m not advising against people changing companies, as it can be a great way to get different perspectives of various technical situations but I really only recommend this once you’ve explored all options with your current employer. After all, your current employer already knows you well and, presumably, knows about your performance and potential for the future, whereas once you leave and go somewhere else, you need to re-establish your reputation from scratch.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a level of risk in staying at a company too long. In this case, you may have developed more company-specific skills and less transferable skills and may only have the perspective of how your company sees things. I’ve seen statistics recently stating that people who have become redundant after five years at a company tend to take a little longer to get rehired, and this may be a factor here.

In this current environment, no matter how much you hate your current job, I don’t suggest you leave it until you have another one. The current job market is tougher than many of us imagine, and the cliché that the best way to get a job is to already have one still holds.

In any case, one factor to be considered if you’re changing jobs is that you might need to take a pay cut in order to do this. Salaries in many areas have dropped since those heady days of early 2000, which may remove one key motivator to change jobs. However, there may be other factors such as the type of role offered, future career growth opportunities and company benefits such as work/life balance policies that still may make a job change desirable.

About the Author

Greg Neilson, MCSE+Internet, MCNE, PCLP, is a Contributing Editor for MCP Magazine and a Professional Development Manager for a large IT services firm in Australia. He’s the author of Lotus Domino Administration in a Nutshell (O’Reilly and Associates, ISBN 1565927176).

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