Of the many e-mails we receive, one of the most commonly asked questions is 'How can I get a job in IT?'. For many, it's the same old chestnut - you can't get an I.T. job without experience, but you can't get experience without having an I.T. job.
The good news is that there are always plenty of opportunities out there for newcomers to the I.T. field even in bad economic times. The bad news is that newcomers to the market are up against a lot of competition - at one end you have wave after wave of new graduates and job seekers hitting the market every year and at the other end you have high-end I.T workers increasingly being asked to bring more skills to the table for the same pay - which has a tendency to force down lesser skilled I.T. workers toward lower paid/skilled jobs.
So how can you break that 'inexperience' cycle, particularly when economic times are tough and the economy is not doing so great? Well, while there is no 'one size fits all' solution for everybody, there are some general hints and tips that anyone looking to break into I.T. should keep in mind.
Firstly, you need to realistically check your expectations. Be cautious of the career claims made by training institutions and certification vendors. They want you to take their courses and sign up for their certifications and so they spend large amounts of money on slick advertising and promises of high-paid careers. Know one thing - if you're new to the world of I.T. you're not going to complete a few weeks or months of classroom training and then walk into a high-paid I.T. job, no matter what the advertisements say.
Secondly, you need to be flexible in your approach and the types of jobs you'd be willing to take in order to get to your ultimate job. A help-desk role may not seem like the ideal stepping stone for a would-be programmer, but it sure helps to fill out some of the gaps on the C.V. and could be good from a networking point of view. Likewise, a clerical job might seem worlds away from your ideal I.T. position, but there might be numerous ways in which to use, and demonstrate, your I.T. skills in such a role which may then lead to something more to your liking. Think of it as short-term steps to reach long-term goals.
With that mindset you then need to study carefully the job market and identify the types of jobs that might be within your reach - both I.T. and non-I.T. Even if you have a particular I.T. career path in mind (e.g. Linux administrator) you should consider all types of entry-level I.T. jobs (even if I.T. only makes up a part of the overall job description) as it will help you get a foot in the door. It's much easier to get a job when you already have one and it it's much easier to change tracks within the I.T. industry than to break into I.T. in the first place.
If you decide that you want to enhance your C.V. with a certification or two bear one thing in mind - a certification alone will not land you your first I.T. job. Those days, if they ever existed at all, are long gone. Most employers are wary of 'paper' certified individuals and for good reason. What a certification can do for you however is to help your C.V. stand apart from the crowd and show that you have a willingness to learn and take responsibility for your future. effectively.