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It’s the age-old catch 22: I can’t get a job without experience, but I can’t gain experience without getting a job.
It’s a frustrating dilemma but you’re not the only one who has dealt with it. It’s no surprise you are interested in pursuing a career in information technology (IT). Employment in the IT industry is projected to grow three times faster than the average rate of all other industries throughout the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
What’s more is that the median annual salary for IT jobs is nearly $80,000, which is almost twice the national average of $44,321 annually .* With such an optimistic outlook and exciting earning potential, working in IT seems like a dream come true. The key is getting your foot in the door.
“The tech industry has a lot of opportunity and you can move up very quickly,” says Natalia Burna, CEO of Parable. She advises aspiring tech pros to accept an entry-level position, learn from those around you and work hard to push for more responsibilities.
But how do you snag that first position? Keep reading for some expert advice.
We got in touch with some seasoned IT pros to get their advice on how you can acquire valuable IT experience in your pursuit of landing a job. Here are their suggestions:
Unlike a surgeon or a lawyer, IT pros have the unique opportunity to practice their craft at home. Computer systems and networking equipment are upgraded so frequently that business, school and consumers often give away outdated equipment. Scavenging used equipment can provide great material for practice and experimentation.
“Tinkering on side-projects that seem interesting is a great way to develop skills and expertise,” says Patricia Campbell, systems and development manager at LegalAdvice.
If you’re interest is in hardware, Campbell suggests taking apart a server or hard drive. If software is your passion, she recommends experimenting with developing your own code. Getting your hands dirty on projects at home will allow you to hone your skills without the fear of damaging a company’s expensive investment.
Once you feel comfortable on your own equipment, expand to your friends or family. Upgrading the antivirus program on your friend’s PC or setting up a wireless router for your uncle’s small business are examples of tangible ways you can demonstrate your expertise.
Justin Denton runs the personal support center at Collegis Education and has worked for tech tycoons like Siemens and IBM. He believes earning technology certifications is a great way to land an entry-level IT position.
Passing industry exams helps prove to potential employers that you indeed possess the skills listed on your resume. It also shows that you are dedicated to a specialized area of technical study.
Denton says certificates like the CompTIA A+ or Linux+ will likely qualify you for a helpdesk position, which can be a launching pad for future tech careers. The amount of knowledge you can gain from on-the-job training in an entry-level position is monumental, according to Mat Gangwer, information security analyst at Rook Security .
“Even in a low-level position you can show and generate value to an organization,” Gangwer says.
While IT certifications alone will likely only qualify you for an entry-level position, it’s definitely the fastest way to getting started in the field, according to Denton. But as we explained earlier, that’s often the hardest part!
Offering your services to an organization that is labor constrained is a great way to gain hands-on IT experience, according to Chris Kacoroski, vice president of the League of Professional Systems Administrators (LOPSA).
Nonprofits, school districts and churches are some examples of organizations that often find themselves in need of technical support. Providing help not only benefits your community, it also provides you with resume-building experience. Volunteering is also potentially tax deductible, so your time could be compensated to some extent through tax savings.
You likely know by now that a technology degree is not essential to getting your start in the tech world, but it can be a big differentiator on a resume. When faced with a decision between two candidates for one job, having a degree listed on your resume will likely be a deciding factor.
Not only will a formal education provide you with a strong foundation of knowledge on which to build your career, but it also is an indicator of your commitment to your field. Denton says it demonstrates to potential employers that you are a go-getter who is dedicated to developing as a professional.
Most technology degree programs place a strong emphasis on hands-on training, which will allow you to acquire practical experience within a safe environment. Many courses are also facilitated by professionals currently working in the field. Being able to develop your skills under expert supervision is another benefit to earning your degree.
What’s more is that tech job opportunities and salaries increase with education level. so you’ll have more options and better earning potential once equipped with the proper credential.
Our experts provided us with some great tips on gaining valuable IT experience, but it’s important to set realistic standards when searching for your first tech job. There’s no shame in accepting an entry-level position in order to work your way up within a company. In fact, all of the tech pros we talked to recommend it!
The key is to figure out exactly what you want to do in the IT field, according to Richard Mangahas. a 15-year IT veteran. “No company wants a bunch of ‘jacks-of-all-trades’. They want the go-to guys who will know the answer.”
So how do you narrow your choices in a field with such a wide array of careers? Start by familiarizing yourself with your options. Learn more about 10 IT careers that could be yours !
*Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
**This article was originally published in December 2010. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2014-15.
External links provided on Rasmussenare for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.
Callie is a Content Marketing Specialist who writes helpful and encouraging career-focused content on behalf of Rasmussen College. Her eagerness for helping others combined with her creative writing passion makes her a great asset to past, present and prospective learners.