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’ve been out of a job and looking for the past 10 months. My employer, a small IT consulting firm in Atlanta, hung in there for several years after the recession hit, but finally closed up shop at the end of last summer. My work was mostly visiting with small business clients and helping them sort out their computer snafus. I got hired through a friend and worked there 12 years. I have a two-year degree from a career college, and I picked up a lot of skills on the job, but that’s about all I have in terms of IT resume fodder. I feel like my work experience doesn’t carry as much weight as it should, though maybe I’m looking in the wrong places. Any suggestions?
— Tony, Sandy Springs, Ga.
Many professionals are finding themselves in a similar position to your own — you are not alone! Employers today are looking for a set of experience, credentials, and also staff that can be consultative and customer-facing. In some ways, the most important thing about finding a new position can be the thing that is hardest to control: finding a way in. Success rates in going through job search sites are often far lower than someone who is recommended by a talent recruiting program at a company, or a simple person-to-person recommendation at companies that do not have this type of organized candidate search.
When you apply through a job search site, you are often competing with tens or hundreds of candidates for the same position. At this level of scale, recruiters are forced to use automated criteria — like the lack of a 4 year degree or other supposed “requirement” — so you may not even be getting to steps where a human has the ability to consider your resume. This means that you need to be as prepared as possible: Your resume needs to hit the key criteria the job search is looking for, and your interviews need to count!
My suggestion would be to work with friends and colleagues, especially if you have a friend who is (or was) senior to you in an IT organization, and who would be willing to do some mock reviews with you. Start with a resume review, and then set up some time to do mock interviews.
The practice together doesn’t have to be anything super-formal, but you want someone who has enough experience to look at how you present yourself through the same eyes a potential employer might be using. Does your resume say the right things about you? Is it in a very outdated format? Does it target key words that employers you are applying with are looking for? Save some job descriptions from websites that you are interested in. Compare the job description to your resume. Do they match? How close of a fit are you?
Certification is likely only a small part of the challenge you need to overcome to find that next job. Can you match up well against some of these target roles if you just add a credential from one vendor or another? If so, spend the money to get that “leg up” on the competition. If not, spend your time and money in getting yourself as prepared as possible for your next interview.
Beyond the resume, spend some time in a few sessions with a couple of different people doing mock interviews. It would be great if at least one of them were technical, but it’s actually better if a couple of them are not. How do you present yourself to a business? Are you talking about yourself too much? What do you focus on from your past? Is it about how you fixed a computer by clicking a mouse, or how you completed troubleshooting for a small business, with end-to-end analysis and resolution? About how you took accountability for finding and making changes?
It may seem like sophistry, the same things said in different words, but how you describe your experience, and your dedication to your customers, can make all the difference in how you are perceived in that critical one-shot opportunity!