Social Enterprise

How did you get around the no-experience barrier?

Some jobs require experience but you can't get experience without a job. Have you overcome this and how?

It's a dilemma as old as life itself--how do you get work experience when every available job requires the candidate to already have experience? This is a particularly aggravating situation for new college grads who have a diploma but no practical, hands-on experience.

I've discussed this before in this blog. I've suggested doing volunteer work for a non-profit as a way to gain experience. Last week, much to the chagrin of the members reading the blog, I had an HR expert say that there's really no way around starting from the ground floor.

I'd like to hear from those of you out there as to how you overcame this can't-get-experience-without-having-experience issue.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

116 comments
jason_darmanovich
jason_darmanovich

certs help i'm a network admin at age 21. everything Mcse,MCITP,ITIL,CCNA push yourself certifications help seperate you from everyone else

GlascoeT
GlascoeT

I've been in IT for 16 years and my first IT job was at UPS. However, before I could get that position I had to work as a helper on a package car for the Christmas holidays. During that temporary position I got to know some of the HR folks personally. This allowed them to get to know me and my IT education which they matched to a position that came up shortly after my Christmas job ended. Lesson learned: take a short-term job to get to know the people and the company and then take that knowledge and use it to find a job that suits your degree/education.

Observant
Observant

You might want to check out my other posts regarding jobs. I'm almost 100% sure that if I checked the job postings of the "HR Expert" it wouldn't take much research to find an excessively padded job posting. If resume padding is a NO-NO, job description posting should be considered fraud because the resume represents an individual, the job posting represents the entire company (which should have several layers of checks for BFOQs) and therefore should have more culpability. By the way, I've had "HR Experts" think I've just sworn at them when I say "BFOQ" which indicates they know little to nothing about HR.

layer4down
layer4down

I started at Circuit City as an IT Product Specialist, cutting my teeth on PC/laptop repair in the backroom as well. Got my A+. Took a few contracting positions for exposure. Took a sub-contracting position with the military, got a security clearance (civilian). Bounced a round a few jobs in military IT contracting, got my Network+, Security+ and CCNA in the meanwhile. By far, CCNA was the most useful and desired. Now, working toward CCNP, then CCIE. Also got an Associates in between time, just in case. By far certification has been most effective in getting in the door. The job is my real classroom, the cert was just the gateway for entry.

shane.kimg
shane.kimg

I was lucky. I had applied within the orga I was with twice, asn was told I was from the wrong background. The third time they ran an aptitude test for all 40 odd candidates. I was the only one to get 100%. Guess who had to be gioven a chance. Since then I worked as desktop services, server engineer, IT Manager for a Gov't entity and now work for myself. There are plenty of those who think they know the game, but unless you walk the talk you'll get shown the door

cbrand
cbrand

At the University I graduated from they had COOP opportunities that let you work for a company, some paid and others did not, but it was great because I could work, get paid something and at the same time get experience that helped me get out of that initial barrier

Little_Erik
Little_Erik

I was blessed to intern with the company that hired me when I finished my Bachelor's and then I finished my Master's degree while working for the same company full time. It was a small company so I got to wear many hats which gave me even more experience with regards to hardware, software, and project management.

jjenkins
jjenkins

I had no experience (other than my hobbyist bench teching stuff) but I knew what I wanted to do. So I went to a tech school and did the best that I could do at that school. I was then hired by that school three months after I graduated because I had impressed the higher-ups with my knowledge, fortitude and work ethic. I was not lucky enough to be in the program when externships were offered, but now the school does offer externships and gives students the same opportunity, to extend their best effort and attempt to get a job with the site that they are placed. I know several graduates now who were hired immediately after graduation at their externship site.

TW210
TW210

Gotta do the lowest level helpdesk job. Work somewhere you may not have been hired to be a tech, but BE their tech anyway. If you worked a cash register and a scangun and learned how to use it the best and teach others, then on your resume, you were also their hardware tech. if you are a software guy and have no web or classroom experience, then you shouldn't be a software guy. Basically, you should have gained a lot of hands-on experience in the classroom and you may be able to show off you work. Otherwise, for instance, I also enjoyed politics, so I got a internship for the local county. I also said I could help them with their computers. I now had experience on my resume as that offices "IT Guy"/desktop/hardware tech. Find any job and make a small percentage of your position in showing off your technical skills whether that employer asked for it or not. They will appreciate it either way.

melekali
melekali

...volunteer. You can do so for charitable organization such as churches or small museums. If you have a job without an IT person around, become the expert and spend the little extra time without pay really providing value. You can also create your own network at home and learn to manage it like a business network.

mauited2004
mauited2004

I became self employed and learned more often than naught, the hard way, By backing my word, and learning as much as possible about the subject at hand. This has made me a "Jack of All Trades," and master of a few. Tenacity and perseverance are blended with curiosity and patience to produce positive results.

dfalcon0924
dfalcon0924

I continued to take advanced Cisco classes at the local Cisco Academy. I had my CCNA for 9 months when I was finally given a break by my current Boss. It could not have worked out any better because this job has a wide variety of work. We work with Cisco, Juniper, F5 load balancers, MPLS and a wide variety of circuits. Even though I did not have alot of experience other than Lab work at school, I feel I have done better than two other technicians that came in with 10 years experience. So thank God for my boss for giving me a break.

fabi23
fabi23

I'm Fabian from Uruguay and I'm 21 years old, I'm studying for IT Analyst and I have the two of the four years approved. Here in Uruguay I think it's more let's say not difficult but not easy to find a Job while you are studying your carreer. I started working when I had one and half year of carreer with no experience at all and I can say I'm being payed very well for not being graduated. If you are good at what you do, no matter what you study, you will get a job.

Mike R Lewis
Mike R Lewis

I had this fantasy that I would write a program so good that someone would hire me as a programmer. Which is what happened. I wrote a bulletin board for my Vic-20. It had private and public rooms (message areas), private mail and an online game. Users could start their own rooms and make them public or private. It was very popular with each user spending an average of 70 minutes online. One of my users said "Anyone who can write a bulletin board for a Vic-20 can program!" and hired me.

Barshalom
Barshalom

Prior to graduating from college, I did a summer internship. I thought that was enough to give me the experience I needed once I graduated. Much to my surprise, employers said I didn't have enough experience. After coming down off my "high horse of a college degree", I took an entry level job as a computer technician. Even though the requirements for this job didn't require a college degree, I took it as a stepping stone to greater things to come. Almost 18 years later, I am the IT Manager at a hospital. That entry-level experience has kept me all through my career. My advice to recent graduates: Take jobs that don't require a college degree but is close to the field you see yourself in. The day will come where your experience and degree will pay off. So for now, start from the bottom and work your way up.

Mustang Sally
Mustang Sally

I was not originally going for an IT career (liberal arts major) but ended up with one by working in adminstrative/customer service jobs post-graduation and becaming a super user of whatever new technology/software they were implementing (at the time going from DOS to Windows/Office). Made myself the resident expert on anything I had access to - then asked for more IT training, higher administrative access, more IT responsibility whenever possible. I found companies much prefer having someone INHOUSE who understands their core business needs do their customizations/ implementations than to pay an untested, very expensive outside consultant. My first post-college job was 100% non-I.T. Within a year it was 25% I.T. Next job - new company - responsibilities were 50/50. All the time taking full advantage to learn whatever new software/skills, etc. available that would make me more marketable (on the company dime whenever possible). Volunteering for projects outside my job description, then proving myself capable of fixing them. Next job was 100% I.T. and has been ever since. Getting there took 5 years and a few strategic job moves, but for being self-taught, not having any certs or CS degree at all not bad.

silverarrow27
silverarrow27

My subject line explains it all. To overcome the no-experience barrier from personal experience and friends & family, most of the time it's who you know and not what you know.

ferdrg
ferdrg

It's very easy to solve this. Just keep reading and practice at home and very important: Do professional practices BEFORE finish a bachelor degree

matkordell
matkordell

I got a job as a bench tech for a big box store when I started college at 22 (full time work, full time school). From that point I networked myself into a support analyst position and then to an IT manager position. All of this before I even had an associates. The two things I learned is that 1) you need to get your certs, not just study for them because it lets hiring managers know that you have some baseline of knowledge and that you have the drive it takes to succeed. And 2) you need to network. I have continued to get jobs for which I am hardly qualified because I knew the people who could give me the job. To this end, two more points. 1) Don't be afraid to get in just a little over your head. It will force you to get wet or get out of the pool. But, 2) you must be willing to put in the time and effort to do your job well. It's okay to not know everything but you must be able to do your job completely and well or they will need to find someone else who can.

agentdr8
agentdr8

The best way to gain experience when you have no job is to "play" with the technology on your own, in your own home-made lab. While it may be hard to gain server-grade hardware experience that way, you can still learn all sorts of things on commodity hardware. With the various free offerings of virtualization platforms, it's easier than ever to build and deploy virtual datacenters in a box for testing. But those looking to get into the field from ground-zero will most likely have a harder time, since _some_ exposure to technology is better than none at all. Start by going for desktop support jobs, or even IT call centers. It may take a while to get where you'd want to be, but at least you'll have income coming in, which can be used to further your education and experience.

mcooper
mcooper

I worked a few unpaid jobs doing this or that, then took a temperary job. That temp job (by the grace of god) turned into a net admin position and now my resume is much stronger.

sniperlt
sniperlt

Is my problem. I spend 8 years where I was a one man IT department. The small 45 person company I worked for were using IBM selectic typerwriters when I got there. I built their computer and network by hand. I just saw a problem,researched the solution and implemented it. I was so busy getting this company into the 21st century I did not have the time to go back and get certified and now I do not have the money or the leisure.

jnordeste
jnordeste

Speaking as a recent college graduate (May 2009) I can tell you that there is plenty of opportunity out there to gain experience. - Class projects: Ok, I'm sure all you professionals are rolling your eyes, but the classroom is a sandbox and if people take their work seriously, you can get some great experience. For example, a team I was on created a website for a local business. After the project, I then worked for them for several months as an independent contractor to add some more functionality to their site. It was a win-win situation: they got cheap labor, I got some great experience and a reference out of it. - Roles/opportunities/jobs on campus: Many students overlook the fact that there are endless opportunities offered on campus. Get a work study job related to what you're studying or want to do after graduation day. If there are no work study jobs (or you don't meet the requirements financially) then offer to volunteer or help to gain experience and a reference. College campus' usually need a lot more help than they have and can afford, so this could be another win-win opportunity. There are also numerous study abroad opportunities (granted, with a price tag) that may be unrelated to what you're studying, but show good things to employers (willing to travel, opportunist, sensitive to different cultures, etc.) -Self learning, extra-curricular, etc.: Sometimes, your best bet is to teach yourself, get a certification, or sink some free time on a weekend into a pet project. Ok, so maybe if you're self taught there is no way to prove you know what you know. However, being able to talk the talk (or understand the talk / ask appropriate questions) can be a real step up.

tom.harney
tom.harney

I found the best way was working while in college. It really gives you a leg up. I worked full-time and went to school full-time; it was difficult but I was able to find new employment 2 months after graduation.

davids_z
davids_z

I teach at a small regional university in Oklahoma. I've incorporated service / experiential learning in my upper division database and capstone classes. The payment for doing work for various organizations is letters of recommendation for the students.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

I got my first gig in IT because I knew the CEO of the company from working in a summer program (doing general labor). My mom also worked at the company and she put in a word for me. So they created an IT position for me. It payed like crap but it provided me with a nice little sandbox to springboard my career.

ogouninfosec
ogouninfosec

While you are a student and still have free time (lots of students are laughing or rolling their eyes, but it's true, life only gets busier from here on) Volunteer in the Comp Sci. society's labs at your school, apply for those summer jobs that every company and government organization has earmarked for students going into the field. If you are taking summer off or working at McDonalds you are not getting the most you can out of your time. Last, but not least, pick an open-source project that interests you to work on.

jasn7980_Jaime
jasn7980_Jaime

When I finally found my first job, the only experience I had was the college projects, so I point as many as I could in my resume, this was at least the flag that show everybody what was my interests and abilities were in that moment, at least my employer saw some future in me. Then I started from scratch, but with a lot of attitude. But after you spend several years in one specific sector, and have a good position, if you want to move to a new area, where you don?t have experience at all, is a lot different, because maybe you would need to start from scratch again? in some cases you could move to this different area by selling your self with your management experience, that could be used in every area? but I hardly see how to start from scratch again.

nonimportantname
nonimportantname

Eventually, someone will notice your for it. I started off doing preventive maintenance on laboratory PCs and at that time, that meant walking around to each one and making sure the keyboards, mice, monitors, and towers were operational. You move up because of your attitude, not your ability/inability. If you have the right attitude, someone will eventually take a chance on you albeit for less than what they would pay someone that already has the experience.

harry
harry

My brother in law has a doctors office and I set up his computers and networking for several years (that's experience). I involved myself with church doing the same thing, recommending computers, setting up the network and servers (that's additional experience).

manan123
manan123

Few ways: 1. Get Certifications (This may tilt opportunity in your favor) 2. Lower salary expectations. 3. Offer Probation period. (ask employer to see your work for month or two and then make you permanent) Combination of all three above would be a good starting point for a fresh grad.

suthross
suthross

I volunteer web site development for Non Profit Organisations as a means of building a portfolio and experience. often as the only IT guy I have a free hand to experiment with new technologies so long as every thing just works.

rampono
rampono

What a CROCK! Whether or not we'd like to believe it there are companies out there who take the chance on people with no experience. I work for just such a company. Granted they may not be an IT company per se, but they did give me a chance. I now find myself in a position that's made me a very valuable asset. My skills and knowledge have even been passed on to another colleague so I can move into another direction. So, who says you don't need experience? It's just a matter of companies willing to take the chance. They're out there, few and far between, but out there none the less.

jkameleon
jkameleon

In the olden days, before dotcom boom & dilbertization, that was easy. One day per week was reserved for self education. There were no powerpoint brigades, not even powerpoint, thank goodness. Bosses were recruited from rank and file, based on competence, and thus capable of mentoring their subordinates. As weird as it seems nowadays, you actually could ask your boss a technical question, and got a good answer. That's how I got most of my knowledge, and most of it is still useful today. Today's organization model with social engineers on the top, and techies at the bottom is possible mostly because of huge surplus of technical talent, remnant of dotcom boom. On the long run, however, it's not sustainable.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

They sponsored me through correspondence courses and as I gained good marks, gave me a start. Before anyone gets excited at this approach, it was well over twenty years ago. It didn't exactly happen a lot back then, now... Depends on what you mean by experience as well. I knew what they wanted IT for, and I knew where it could be applied to greater effect, that made any skills I had or could develop far more valuable.

jonfhancock
jonfhancock

I started working for a Boys & Girls Club as a part time tech the same month I started at University for my CS degree. The Club had 3 sites when I started. In the last 3 years, we've expanded to 11 sites with 100+ users and computers. I'm now a full time sysadmin, plus I have developed some custom apps. With a small company (especially non-profit) you might take a pay cut, but you can get great experience, and a lot of flexibility. One of my favorite parts about my job is that I get to make decisions, like choosing Google Apps, or deploying open source software without jumping through hoops.

Perry_B.
Perry_B.

I worked every low level IT contract I find. From my freshman year, I worked on Campus for one of the computer labs (got that through a friend) to my senior year as Net Admin for two integration firms and the computer lab I started in. The more low level IT gigs I worked, the more experience (and pay) I gained. Couple this with a sub-decent internship program, I had 5 years of IT experience when I graduated (I took a year off to join the military); everything from digital janitor to Net Admin. There are few HR depts. that dispute those years as real experience, but that hasn't stopped me one bit.

Kappamerc
Kappamerc

Worked as a paid intern for a county government IT department while I was in my last year of school. In order to land something as a student I had to constantly keep myself out there and let all of my teachers and local businesses know that I wanted to work, was willing to do whatever it took, and would work in current technologies for a bargain wage. Sell yourself and don't be afraid to make money. I don't believe in giving my time freely to a business. Experience alone doesn't pay the bills and for those of you who don't have someone paying your way, remember that you are worth something. Sell who you are (related to your skills) and why someone should want you. Be confident by working on you. This is your career. Most schools have career services departments and you should take advantage of any 'interview' skill development / resume building help they can offer. After I graduated (May 09) I had about a years worth of professional experience in software development. I wanted more money at this point so I started looking for a new job. I put myself out on every career website I could find and made it a point to say that I was a junior developer. If the listing had a name / email I would contact them directly, formally introducing myself and sometimes having a cover letter in the body. Don't look desperate. I landed a job with a well-known corporate company (short term contract). This got me into the area I wanted to live and allowed me to get corporate experience. My contract ended unexpectedly due to financial issues but I landed a new contract, for a much longer term, two weeks later. The key is to be persistent. The job isn't going to find you. Finding a job isn't easy, especially now. However, through hard work I managed to find two in the middle of December. The work is always out there. What you learned in school, specifically for IT, 'is' experience. Use what you learned to land the job. Be eager, hard working, and willing to learn.

zentross
zentross

You are right on with this observation. I have seen it too in a programming position that was posted. The most recent and notable job was for a web application developer, but the description read like a laundry list for a software architect/ programming manager.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

The trick is to then take these skills and find opportunities to "pad" your resume and be able to show a potential employer that you can do the job that they are hiring for.

n.smutz
n.smutz

I'm starting to wonder if the full-time-student thing is a bad idea depending on the availability of tech-friendly work. I suppose putting homework off to the weekend would give me time. Otherwise it's not rare that I'm at it 'till 8 or 9. 'Might just be a bad couple of terms. Beware the 2 credit time-wasters.

daveevans28
daveevans28

I was advised to do the same and I got lucky. A friend of a friend is a volunteer coordinator at a local NPR radio station with a small network to administrate and computers to upgrade. I'm getting some experience doing exactly what I want to do in the future - more than what I'm getting at my current job of recycling legacy machines - but they gave me a shot right out of tech school. BTW this is my second career at age 49 - I'm not about to join the military.

daveevans28
daveevans28

Don't keep it a secret! Whom do you work for? The rest of us newbies would liike that kind of shot also.

david_e_moore
david_e_moore

I started working in Maintenance department of the college I was taking my CCNA classes at and I took a lot time with the local IT support group. Then I got a break working a the local HP factory building ProLiant Servers and worked my way up to server repair technician after getting my A+ certification. Then after a year of server building, product testing and repair, I landed the job I have now working at a major oil and gas company as a technical support analyst. And I am still working my way up, working for some Microsoft certs and doing private tech work on the side.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

the military won't have you. ;) There was a 34-year-old in my flight in basic training. I don't need to tell you he was immediately nicknamed "Dad."

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

waves his bit of paper in your face and tells you it makes him better, doing that means he ain't. Ground floor greetings.

Kappamerc
Kappamerc

Wouldn't the way I found a job in the current IT environment be more relevant, not less? The process of ten years ago isn't the same as the process today. Clearly the way a new graduate has managed to land both interviews and jobs at every face to face interview he has been involved in is irrelevant to the topic.

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