How to get your first job in IT

I helped a friend of a former coworker with his resume this week. He’s looking to get their first jobs in IT, and found it difficult, even though he was applying for an entry-level helpdesk position.

His resume certainly indicated he was educated and able to hold down a job, but that wasn’t quite enough. Here’s what I had him do to beef up that resume to get past those initial rounds of screening and get interviewed.

Play up skills right up front. My resume begins with a summary of capabilities, and theirs should do. Ditch the objective; what hiring managers care about is what you can do for them. I have a track record to play up, but even if you don’t have much of a track record, you have skills. This guy has taken college-level classes on Unix and Java and C#, but you didn’t see the Unix stuff until the last line of the resume, and he only said “some programming.” When I talked to him in person, I asked him what languages, then put that right in the beginning. He won’t be expected to write any Java or C# as part of the job, but it demonstrates a level of understanding about how computers work that not everyone has. When I started out, I had 6502 and Z-80 assembly language on my resume, for exactly the same reason. But Java and C# are much more useful than obsolete assembly languages are.

Besides, I’ve seen project managers put Java and C# and other programming languages on their resume, because they’ve managed people who know those languages. I don’t condone that in the least. But if you’ve actually taken a class in a language and can remember enough of it to be halfway useful, include it!

Any professional computer experience you have counts. I went straight to his job history and inserted a section right at the top, calling him a self-employed computer installer. I asked him when he first did something–anything–computer-related for money, and put that as his start date, and “present” as the end date. Then I asked him what kinds of things he’s done for other people, or as volunteer work for charities. It turned out he’d done some virus and rootkit removal, memory upgrades, power supply swaps, and he’d secured some routers. Perfect.

It wasn’t full-time, and he didn’t make a lot of money off it, but it’s experience. If someone else applied for the job only because they heard computer helpdesk operators make more money than they’re making right now, this gives him something they don’t have.

You’ll know it’s time to drop that item when your IT-related on-the-job experience no longer fits on two pages. That could take 10 years, and that’s fine if it does.

Be selective about what you say about those other jobs. If you picked up useful skills in those other jobs that will help you in the job you’re applying for, talk about those up front. This guy worked in a garage for a while, where he had to calm down irate and irrational customers who were mad about something or other. That’s something you’ll have to do from time to time answering the phone on a computer helpdesk. He also had to explain to people who aren’t car people what was going on with their cars in layperson’s terms. Again, that’s a useful skill on a helpdesk. Enthusiasts rarely call helpdesks–usually it’s the people who just want the stupid thing to work who call.

I do the same thing today. I only apply for computer security jobs these days. When I talk about the job I had in 2001, I talk about the forensic investigation I did that year, the antivirus deployment I did that year, and stuff like that. It’s security experience. I did a lot of other things back then too, but nobody cares about my experience troubleshooting extensions under Mac OS 8.5 anymore.

Your other jobs count, but mostly to demonstrate your ability to hold down a job. Don’t underestimate the ability to show up for work on time and hold down a job for more than six months. I’ve worked with people who couldn’t manage either. But that’s the only reason the hiring manager is interested in this guy’s stints working plastic injection molds and taking orders at a barbecue joint. He had three different positions listed for the same company, because he was promoted twice. I lumped all of that together under one heading, and mentioned at the end that he had been promoted twice. That’s impressive. Listing the same company three times makes the reader think about why it’s listed three times. Better to just come right out and say you were promoted twice. Bragging? Maybe a little, but it’s also true.

Education counts for a lot, if you’ve got the right kind. My education is at the end of my resume, but I put his up front. Why? Because in his case, he has more education than he has experience. His two years of formal education in IT are probably his best qualification to sit on that helpdesk. My current job is the first job I’ve had since 1998 that cared about my journalism degree, so it’s at the end, just to show I attended a respected university and graduated in four years, which demonstrates an ability to finish what I start. I probably would have double-majored in IT, if formal education in IT had existed when I was in school, but it didn’t.

If I go back and get a master’s degree in IT management, then I might put my education up front again. Until then, I’ll lead off with my certifications.

Certifications? He doesn’t have any, but mentioned he was studying for Security+. I left that in, because I know the company he’s applying at will help him get Security+ if he wants it, and showing that initiative is likely to impress the hiring managers. He’ll need Security+ to get promoted, and the hiring managers know that.

One thought on “How to get your first job in IT

  • January 28, 2013 at 10:08 am
    Permalink

    I’m an IT student, and I plan on entering the job market within a year’s time. I’m saving this permalink and returning when I’m working on my resume!

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