Monday, July 21, 2014

Career Changes Cometh

As we all know at this point, one of the big end-game goals of the Growing Up After 30 initiative is the goal of shifting from a McJob, into a career I really care about.  In my particular case a career in the IT industry.  I started my trek by studying for, and passing, the CompTIA 220-801 and 220-802 for my A+ certification.  The theory being that a degree in computer science (like a lot of bachelor's degrees) is highly over-rated.  I figured that a few certifications, a little experience, and some good professional connections would be just as useful, if not more so.

At the beginning of July, I aced my Network+ exam, giving me two of the big three CompTIA certifications (A+, Network+, and Security+).

Yay me!
When I first started this process and sought out feedback from people already working in IT, the general consensus was that the A+ and Net+ were enough to get your foot in the door, or as one particularly disgruntled and not so culturally sensitive IT tech put it, "that'd get your nose under the teepee."  A few days after I completed my Net+ certificate, I got the chance to test my nose vs teepee odds.
Job hunting tip #1: Do everything to you can to make yourself the best possible candidate.  If you've been turned down, don't give up.  Figure out how to make yourself a better candidate and try again.
After having applied a number of times (with no success) over the last few years, I did things differently this time.  First of all, and most obviously, this time I was applying with more on my application than "my parents always call me when their computer brakes."  This time I was applying with a couple of fresh certifications.  Certifications which were specifically listed as preferred on the job posting.  I did a few other things differently as well. I'd already been talking to a number of people in IT, looking for advice, and building good professional relationships with them.  Once I'd filled out my application, I went a step further and talked to our IT Manager.  Fair warning; that was a potentially dicey move.  If you cold-call an IT Manager, you might just annoy them.  The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but the squeaky applicant might just get put on greased skids right out the door.  Fortunately, since I'm trying to transition into IT at my current company, I have an existing relationship with our IT Manager.

There's an old adage that says 'who you know' is more important than 'what you know.'  I'm pretty sure that's mostly a bunch of BS, but who you know is really important.  When dozens or even hundreds of people apply for a single position, knowing the Manager well enough to send them an email that says, 'hey, I just applied for the job you've got posted and I was just wondering if you had any advice for me," can easily be the difference between getting an interview, and your application being just another one of the masses that never gets and interview, despite meeting the qualifications.
Job hunting tip #2: Get to know at least one person where you want to work. Anyone would be better than no one, but the higher up they are the better.  If you can't do that, find some other way to keep your application from getting lost in the masses.
I also made sure my resume was up to date,  Not just up date, but up to date and paired down to only the things they really wanted to see.  For instance, since they already had a complete work history as part of my application, I included only a few highlights which I though would really help my case.  It also got some polish.  A lot of the big IT certs come with the right to use their logos on your resume, business cards, advertising, and so on.  CompTIA is no exception, so I made sure my Network+ and A+ logos were right at the top of my resume, printed in color.
Job hunting tip #3:  It's easy to skip the resume, or just fake it, when you're applying to change departments at your current employer.  Don't. Including a well polished resume (which, admittedly, they won't read) still shows a healthy dose of what what interviewers often refer to as "giving a crap."
Between the certs, talking to the Manager, and putting a spit-shine on the old resume, I got my interview.

The interview itself was, well, it was an interview.  Like almost every interview I've ever been in, I walked out of the room more or less certain that I had the job.  Frankly, I was pretty sure they wanted to make me their ruler. His Mighty Geekness Stephen of Coons. Of course, also like almost ever interview I've ever been in, I only made it half way back to my car before I started replaying every question, and coming up with all the reasons why they would not only hire me, but also why they would place the transcript from my interview on their own blog. A blog dedicated to people who will never work in IT.

When all was said and done, they didn't make me their king, or immortalize my shame.  What they did was call me a couple of days later and offer me the job.  Granted, they offered me the job at the bottom of the pay scale, but for a first IT job, I'll take that 23.6% pay increase, better schedule, and vastly superior career track with a smile on my face, and never look back.

Here's to setting goals...

...and here's to achieving them.