Breaking into IT

Among the toughest challenges you might face in your career is the process of breaking into a new line of work. An employer must spend a lot of resources (both time and money) to hire a new employee, so you can understand why companies prefer to hire candidates with experience. However, employers must also figure salary costs into the equation—experienced candidates naturally expect more money.

When entering a new field, you must have realistic salary expectations. Many specialty training schools have raised expectations by promising high salaries upon graduation. But graduates of such schools quickly realize that unless they've also acquired relevant real-world experience during their year of training, these promises are usually empty. A year or two of grunt work at low pay can be frustrating, especially after you've spent a couple of years studying and acquiring certifications while working full time at your previous career. However, after you've acquired this requisite hands-on experience, a big step up in salary is much easier to come by.

Working around this apparent catch-22 (i.e., needing experience to land a job and a job to acquire experience) can be a challenge. One way to find a position is to find someone who can vouch for your knowledge and work ethic. Employers are often willing to overlook a lack of experience if one of its employees recommends you highly. To this end, make sure all your relatives, friends, and acquaintances know that you're actively seeking employment, and make sure they know exactly what kind of job you're looking for.

Next, consider what I call the John D. Rockefeller method, which is to wear out some shoe leather (or perhaps your telephone) by contacting every employer in your area. Using this tactic landed Rockefeller his first job, and although this method is time-consuming, it's effective. In "What Color Is Your Parachute," Richard N. Bolles writes that 47 percent of door knockers and 69 percent of telephone callers succeed in landing jobs. As a group, 84 percent of people who use the telephone-book method find the job they're looking for.

You can also peruse the classifieds and spend hours searching the Internet for your dream job. This approach might seem easier than the other methods I've mentioned, but it's also less successful. Companies advertise positions as a last resort. When they do advertise, these companies usually receive a flood of resumes that they must wade through to find viable candidates. Of course, only the resumes that list ample relevant experience make the first cut.

If you're interested in breaking into the IT industry but have taken on a mortgage, car payments, and other responsibilities that your first career has afforded you, you might be unable or unwilling to accept the drop in pay and status that accompanies an entry-level position. But you can work around this dilemma: You can save cash to supplement your entry-level salary until you earn more, or you can leverage your previous career experience in your new career.

Leveraging your previous career experience isn't easy, but it can be rewarding if you succeed. You want to find an employer that needs the expertise you've acquired over the years and also needs an IT coordinator or liaison. For example, if you're a sales person, you might try to find an IT job where your sales experience would come into play. Most sales people are notoriously techno-phobic, so someone who can speak their language and anticipate their computer and database needs could become a valuable asset.

Finally, I should once again mention a book that's far more helpful in the job search than anything I could possibly write. "What Color Is Your Parachute" is the best-selling book of this type for a reason. To learn more about this title, see the author's Web site.

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