Dear CertMag: How do I get started as a certified technician?
Dear CertMag is a weekly feature that addresses common questions about certification and related IT issues. Have a question? Send an e-mail to editor (at) certmag (dot) com.
Dear CertMag: I’m a certified technician and have recently completed CompTIA Network+ and Server+, but I have no job experience. What steps can I take to stick out to employers as I apply to entry level help desk support jobs? Your advice is very much appreciated.
— Shirley, Los Angeles, Calif.
Although it may seem a chicken-and-the-egg observation, the most critical element of shoring up your job candidacy is to build up that experience! Even if you still are pursuing paid work, there are many nonprofit organizations that accept volunteer assistance with certain types of computer activities. Finding opportunities that allow you to apply your skills and start listing relevant volunteer and freelance work can make a significant difference to how an employer looks at you as an entry-level candidate.
One of the common mistakes I have seen many newly certified technicians make is to only apply to roles that are the “dream job.” As a result, they are up against more experienced and credentialed candidates who are likely to eclipse them. The same title, benefits, brand name, and/or perceived job security that is drawing your application to that role is often drawing others as well. As a result, you may need to consider working through an escalating scale of intermediate work to get to the types of work you want.
An example from my own career was getting into IBM through a relatively narrow Windows systems administration role as a contractor. Ultimately, I was able to expand my role to include virtualization, application ownership, working with tools teams, and other valuable experiences. Another possible track is to work with small local businesses. A role with a moderate size local employer as a desktop and server Jack of All Trades is likely to demonstrate better capability as an applicant — not to mention earning you money in the meantime!
One last thought: Take the time to be critical of your resume. Is it quickly getting across the most important points about you? Perhaps asked a trusted professional in your family to review it. I have seen some serious mistakes in this area. One candidate, as an example, listed participation on a college dance team as relevant experience. While it may have shown her passion for her interests, it drew unwanted attention as the only listing in relevant experience, and did not convey the message she wanted. Not every mistake will be so blatant. Does your tone seem aggressive? Have you described your skills? Is the resume very readable?
Your resume provides an employer’s first view of your qualifications. Finding interim opportunities to bolster your project listing, as well as ensuring that your resume has the right messaging, can go a long way in the application process.