Need advice on getting an entry level IT job
February 26, 2008 7:53 PM   Subscribe

Help!! Looking for Entry Level IT position - ZERO Professional experience. Need some advice.

I am currently enrolled into a 2 year Computer Information Systems Bachelors Degree with an expected graduation of 2010. I've worked on computers pretty much all my life and am really interested in making it a career. After getting the hang of administration and whatever else I need to learn I would like to get into management.

Here's what my plan is so far...

I will be going to class 2-3 nights a week. I work full time but I am off by 5 or so. If I go to summer classes I could graduate earlier.

In the mean time, I am thinking about getting some certifications (CompTia A+ MCDST anything else I can afford) so I can get an entry level help desk position (for experience).

Without a doubt I want/need to go to college but I want to get some experience in the field while I am going to school and possibly after school progress to a new opportunity.

I would rather my career path be on the Admin side and not the programmer/developer side of things.

I have a pretty stable work history outside of the IT field. In the past 10 years I'm on my 3rd job (which I just started)

If I go for the certs what should I go for first? The A+ or MCDST?
What other certs should I go for?

Here's the kicker I'm an IT recruiter and place candidates with clients all day long but not entry level. I've talked to several candidates about their career path and it seems like I would be right on track. Also networking with client to find out more about their entry level positions.

All help is appreciated
posted by bsexton to Technology (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't be the best at telling you which cert to go for but here's one bit of advice I'd offer as someone on the developer side: leaf through a PC Connection type IT equipment catalog and just make sure you can identify what each software and hardware product does and what it would be used for or what problem it would fix. Just doing that is a good start at complementing your book learning from the classroom.
posted by XMLicious at 8:00 PM on February 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

when i broke into the field, i took night classes in c++ for a while, which was useless. upon trying to find a temp job, i was told "it's a shame you don't have nt administration skills, i've got a million jobs for that i can't fill" so i turned around, took a 2 week course in nt administration, and immediately scored a permanent job with stock options.

i don't know if it's going to be as easy as that these days (this was back in internet bubble times) but i rekon it's still usefull to find the right cert that everybody wants and no one has, and take a quick course?
posted by messiahwannabe at 8:03 PM on February 26, 2008

Get a job in a small company for a couple of years. You will end up doing more and getting more responsibility handed to you than if you're just a peg in a large machine. Just call around all of the smaller firms located near to where you're settling. One of them might be thinking of hiring someone; just present yourself as someone who's smart and a fast learner. Anyone who really knows anything about IT knows that technologies can be learned, so it's how good of a thinker you are that matters. Certification will probably come in more useful later on, I would imagine.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:12 PM on February 26, 2008

a helpdesk role can be a foot in the door.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:47 PM on February 26, 2008

The certificates are generally scoffed at by professionals in IT, but (in my experience) they're sometimes enough to get your resume a second read by an HR person who may not really see anything else valuable on your resume (either because you really don't have anything else, or they don't understand the significance of it).

The entry-level CompTIA ones are generally understood to be the easiest, though, even by HR folks I think. That's not to say it wouldn't be worthwhile (I've known people who have sat down for the test cold and passed, with basically nothing more than an interest in computers and a few years of reading Slashdot), but you're not going to be impressing anyone with it.

Is there anything within IT that interests you and you know more than your peers about? Are you a Linux* or Windows guru, to the point where you could pass one of the more advanced tests? If so, I'd go for that. Into networking, maybe look into the Cisco ones (although I've heard they're harder and a lot more expensive). Play to your interests: a little bit of specialization may bring your resume to the top of the stack, above lots of other people with otherwise-comparable skills and zero experience.

And finally, if you can't get a job immediately, consider some volunteer work to build up your demonstrable experience and gain references. Lots of organizations need IT support; look for projects that are well-defined, where you'll have a specific problem to solve, rather than someone looking for an ongoing on-call person. (Even better is if the people involved aren't completely technically clueless, so that they'll realize and appreciate your work and results.) You might even ask the networking/infrastructure people at your school if there's a project you can work on to gain experience; chances are, they'll have a few things kicking around on the back burner that they haven't had time to investigate, and if you're reliable, easy to work with, and not incompetent, they may appreciate the labor and be a good source of contacts.

* The Linux Professional Institute seems to have an decent reputation as a certification authority in the OSS world, or at least they don't seem to engender the same sort of derision as the CompTIA ones do. They're reasonably priced and not hard to find study materials for. (I have no affiliation or relationship with them, although I've considered getting certified and decided they'd be the one I'd go with.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:54 PM on February 26, 2008

I'm kind of in the same boat you are, and I'm already enrolled in classes. Really, the A+ class is a one or two section class depending on how it's taught. especially if you already have a good understanding of hardware and XP. I'm currently in an A+ class and am in the XP workstations class for MCSE cert. I believe the MCSE uses a different exam (70-270) while MCDST uses 70-271 and 70-272. I'm not sure about the differences between the XP exams, but there is already enough overlap b/w the a+ and XP-mcse material that I could almost just study for one and get by. My point is, that if the 70-270 is anything like MCDST's exams, I would study for both concurrently considering the overlap.

However, if you plan on going the admin route, I might shoot for just getting the other 4 or 5 exams (CompTIA can substitute for an MCSE requirement) and going for your MCSE. While knowing workstations is sufficient for help desk, you'll want to know Server and networking in general to move up to administration. Even if you don't specifically need MCSE cert, having the knowledge base certainly can't hurt.

Either way, to get a job, I would absolutely use your connections. The old saying- it's not how much you know, it's who you know. I know there's a few guys in my IT classes who are entry-level IT minions for the school, so you might start there. Also ask your teachers if they have any ideas. If you can handle that much technology, being immersed in an IT environment while studying it really helps to reinforce what you learn from the text book.

After re-reading your question, it occurred to me that you might want check with your program coordinator about certs. Mine's also a two-year program under the same name and every class is taught to some certification exam. The program might be built around certs, so you might be overthinking how/when to take the exams. For instance, last quarter was A+ hardware. This Q is A+ Software and MCSE-XP workstations (70-270). Next Q is Network+ and MCSE-managing Server 2003 (70-290). By the time we're done, the program's intended to have be fully MCSE certified, A+, network/security+ and CCNA (Cisco) certs and something else.

I can see where certs are considered overrated by the IT industry. To a 20-year IT veteran, a kid fresh out with just an MCSE cert will obviously seem like a n00b. However, for neophytes like us, we need to start somewhere and studying certs has been a good starting point as any.
posted by jmd82 at 9:26 PM on February 26, 2008

After getting the hang of administration and whatever else I need to learn I would like to get into management.

Well, you can always start with help desk. It has the highest burnout and the highest need for folks.

If you really want a career you might want to investigate what it means to be a "systems engineer" or architect. It's more interesting as a career.

Any guy or gal with an interest in computers and a few certs under his belt can work for a local IT services provider running cable through dentists' offices for 20 dollars an hour.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:52 PM on February 26, 2008

We hire entry level IT folks, particularly into our Help Desk and infrastructure support roles (kind of a second-level help desk) and much more rarely into our development teams. I have a soft spot for people who are making a career change and have found some superstars who followed that path. I both scoff at certifications and tend to hire people who have done them. The explanation for this apparent disconnect is that someone who takes the time to get a cert is much more likely to be serious about the career change than someone who has taken no tangible steps in that direction. I also look for charity work on point -- most of the local charities always need tech help and that is a great way to get some experience. One resume I saw last week had a long description of the environment the applicant built at home with meticulous descriptions of the various servers and services being run. It would have been a pretty good server farm for a medium size office and got our attention (although as I recall, the decision was not to hire him). Since I'm looking at certs as evidence of serous intent, the difference between an A+ and a MCDST is not great, but I guess I'd have more respect for the A+ certs generally. Obviously a MCSE/MCSA would be better. I should also say that I'm much less involved in our recruitment efforts these days, but I see resumes of everyone we hire still.
posted by Lame_username at 10:23 PM on February 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, here's ComputerWorld's The 8 Hottest Skills for '08, 8 Ways to Boost Your Career, and 12 IT skills that employers can't say no to. (Not all entry-level.)
posted by XMLicious at 1:57 AM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

ComputerWorld's QuickStudy articles are good too but be aware that they're going to be biased by vendors. Subscriptions to the magazine are basically free so it's entirely driven by ad revenue. In many respects it's a good publication but much of the time it's a mouthpiece for the vendors.
posted by XMLicious at 2:04 AM on February 27, 2008

I was in the same situation you were not too long ago (minus going to college). When I posted here on AskMeFi, everyone yelled at me and told me I needed a college degree to do.

Fortunately that wasn't the case. After applying for IT jobs, even entry-level ones, for months, I finally got an interview... kind of. The guy I was interviewing with basically said he brought me in with no intention of hiring me, but he wanted to give me some tips on my resume. I was kind of miffed by this at first, but I appreciated his advice in the long run, which was this:

As many have pointed out, to a person already in the industry in anything more than a help desk position, the CompTIA A+ or Network+ doesn't really mean much. But to someone in HR or even an executive, those certifications are important bullet points that will save your resume from getting pitched in the trash. He also told me the really valuable certifications are MCDST, and depending on if you want to get into administration, MCSA. After doing more research, I have found that this is pretty accurate.

So I guess I would say it would be worth it to take at least the A+. If you're going to school for this stuff and you've worked on computers all your life, as you say. It should be a breeze. If I were you I'd pick up this book and make sure you can answer most of the questions without too much effort. If you can, you'll likely pass the test with flying colors.

Once you do that, hopefully you'll get into a good company that will pay for the rest of your education and/or certifications. Good luck.
posted by joshrholloway at 9:45 AM on February 27, 2008

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