Creating Your Educational Plan B

Whether you’re just starting out in your degree program or at the end of it and starting to stress about the job market, you’re probably wondering, “What’s a student to do?”

Just as current IT workers are diversifying their skills and portfolios and planning for alternate career strategies should cutbacks come their way, so too should students be putting strategies in place to ensure their success in these challenging times.

First, start simple: One easy way to be successful is to set aside enough time for studying. This might seem like a no-brainer, but midterm season is upon us, and it’s likely your projects and exams are beginning to pile up. You may be itching for some time to let loose — but stay the course.

Another important part of any student’s portfolio is authentic work experience. This might be an internship or even a job shadowing experience. Do you have something like this under your belt? If not, now’s the time to start thinking about this. Consider who you might reach out to for a spring or summer learning experience.

According to About.com Internships Guide Penny Loretto, employers are emphasizing internships more than ever. She explains that there’s been “an increase in the number of employers requiring internship experience prior to getting hired in the field.”

In terms of finding a learning opportunity of your own, Loretto suggests contacting your career development center, talking to professors or other school staff who might be able to recommend internships or companies to reach out to, and networking — reach out to family, friends, co-workers and even other students.

Another trick for planning for a bright future is to diversify your course work. Getting an array of skills under your belt now will serve you well when you enter the workforce.

According to a report by TechRepublic and SkillSoft, the No. 1 skill in the next five years will be VoIP.

“The demand for IP telephone systems for SMBs will explode in 2009,” writes Ted Stevenson of VoIPPlanet.com. Companies are expected to heavily increase their demand for VoIP as they turn to the technology to replace their traditional phone lines. Skilled professionals will need to aid in this mass transition.

Other top skills include unified communications, hybrid networks and wireless technology. As companies, and even individuals, seek ways to modernize their communications and make them more convenient and real-time, they will need support to set up and troubleshoot these systems.

Another area to focus on in your course work is business skills. Companies of all kinds have begun to express their interest in customer-service-centric IT people. It will be imperative for you to have strong interpersonal skills and business savvy to succeed in just about any job role today.

A March report by the Society for Information Management (SIM) documents the strength of this trend. IT executives identified customer-facing skills as imperative for internal IT professionals. Two business-related items mentioned in SIM’s survey were business domain knowledge and managing client relationships.

Seek out business courses at your educational institution. If you’re unsure about which to take, consult your academic counseling center, or talk to your IT instructors for suggestions on which will help you most in your IT career. Honing your business skills now will serve you well as you enter the field and work your way up the ladder.

Lastly, and perhaps most important in this economy, you must be adaptable as an IT student and employee. Set goals for your career, but realize you may have to modify how you get there given the challenges in our economy. You may have high aspirations for your career, but realizing you will have to take an entry-level position at a company that wasn’t your first choice — and maybe not even your second or third — is a lesson you will have to learn early on in this job market.

So don’t despair this midterm season. There is much to look forward to in your educational career and beyond. Throw your bag over your shoulder, hit the books, and when you’re done, start planning your future IT career using these strategies.

Mpolakowski is a freelance technology writer based in Michigan. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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Meagan Polakowski

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