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Opinion: How to get started in IT

by Margaret Steen, InfoWorld columnist


(IDG) -- How can an inexperienced candidate get an IT job?

My recent columns on solving the IT skills shortage (see the 'Related Stories' links below) drew an amazing range of reactions from readers. Some told success stories about breaking into IT with little or no experience; others had advice for both job-seekers and employers about how to approach the current job market. I'll talk more about those areas in the next few weeks: This week, I'll share some of the tips readers offered to those who are trying to get a job in IT.

"My specific recommendation for anyone feeling they can't break into IT is to check out short-term contracting," one reader wrote. "I know of several guys who knew nothing about computers but came on as short-term bodies to help out with moves, adds and changes. They picked up enough to get a start, and one of them is doing very nicely now."

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Note the words "one of" in this reader's tip; he doesn't say what happened to the others. There are no guarantees in this or any business, but contracting is at least a way in.

Another reader suggested working with recruiters.

"I'm finding they have more of an inside track to jobs, often jobs that aren't advertised," the reader wrote.

Working with recruiters can be helpful at many stages of your career, but it takes extra work on your part to develop and maintain relationships with good recruiters. For more on working with recruiters, see my columns from last fall listed in the 'Related Stories' section below.

Another reader emphasized the importance of starting small -- and perhaps not in the exact area of IT that you want to end up in.

"Don't be afraid to start at the bottom and get your hands dirty," the reader wrote. "Tech support is a nasty, high-stress job -- but it's a great place to start, especially at smaller companies. There are always openings, and if you can hack a year in tech support, you'll not only gain technical experience in the way things work (or don't), you'll have proven that you can deal with the extra stress of the job."

This reader also suggests looking for jobs with smaller companies at first.

"Look for companies that have passed the start-up phase and now need people to help them expand," he said. "This gives you a (usually) less politicized environment to start, and you inherently have a greater hand in helping shape the direction of the company. Being able to put that you structured the organization and operations of a department on your résumé is priceless."

Finally, one reader sent what he called the "semi-secret easy way to get a job in IT": Take any job -- regardless of what area it¹s in -- at a company you want to work for and stay there long enough to pay back the employer's investment in your training. Then start learning IT skills -- either by taking classes or through self-study. Get some IT certifications and start applying for IT jobs as soon as you're allowed to.

"It also helps to get to know the IT staff at your chosen place of employment -- they're easy to spot since there are usually so few of them and they're running around like chickens with their heads cut off -- and maybe volunteer to come in a few hours here or there, on your free time, for hands-on learning while helping your beleaguered IT co-workers out," the reader wrote.

None of these tips will work for everyone, but one of them might work for you. Next week, I'll share the lessons readers have learned about the job market -- and how you can apply them to your next job search.

Margaret Steen has edited InfoWorld's Enterprise Careers section since its inception and has worked as a high-tech journalist since 1994.

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February 26, 1999
All IT workers want is time off
February 24, 1999
Opinion: Y2K - Everyone's new best friend
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