I can’t get a job without some experience or get some experience without a job. How can I break out of this loop?

A. Probably one of the most frustrating experiences is not being able to break into the market after you've worked hard to get certified. There are several things you can do to gain some experience:

1. Try doing some volunteer work. Check with neighborhood grade schools and high schools to see whether they have any volunteer work for you. Churches and other nonprofit groups might be anxious to have your assistance and willing to write letters of recommendation for you.

2. Contact friends that have small retail businesses or offices where you can provide services. If you have some experience in Microsoft Office, volunteer to come in and teach a class on Word or Excel. If you establish your credibility as an expert, they might ask you to administer their small network. A small group of these accounts can net you some good part-time experience and a few dollars to fund your training budget.

3. Attend Microsoft TechNet or Direct Access seminars in your area and network with people you meet there. Pass out business cards. Look for events in you area on the TechNet site at IT events.

4. Visit large computer stores in your area and hang out near the computer books and magazines. When you see someone looking at books in your area of expertise, strike up a conversation and give them a business card.

5. Visit computer shows or computer swap meets and network with the people you meet there. Pass out more business cards.

6. Set up your own test lab at home. This might not impress your potential employer, but it will increase your own self confidence. Used Pentium 200 and 200MMX computers are available at very low cost and will run NT and Windows 2000 just fine with minimal RAM (64MB+). Install and reinstall software until you are thoroughly familiar with all of the installation options. Network them in every possible configuration. Get a little 4- to 8-port hub to handle the networking. Make your own cables, share drives, share printers, set permissions, create groups, and add users. Buy some plastic removable drive trays and some used 1GB to 2GB drives so you can have multiple OSs for each unit. Also, you can dual-, triple- or quad-boot a system with varied configurations. Thoroughly immerse yourself in learning. You won't have the luxury of conducting these experiments in a production environment or even most test environments.

7. Small computer stores have peak needs for PC assemblers and will consider part-timers or interns for this work. Personally visit all the stores in your area with more business cards.

8. Visit training centers in the area and volunteer to help them with their room setups for classes.

9. Locate the nearest user groups in your area and attend regularly. Hand out more business cards. Check the Mindshare database for user groups that might interest you and put you in contact with other IT pros.

An old adage says, "What you know is not as important as who you know." Some positions are never publicly advertised. Part of the key is getting your name out in as many places as possible. That's why the business cards are a good idea. Getting your name out there might be valuable not only to help you get some experience, but to help you land a full-time position in the future.

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