6 Challenges of Starting A Networking Career

StartingI spend a considerable amount of time on the Cisco Learning Network. This forum caters to those studying for Cisco Certifications and learning specifics of Cisco Products. Although there are many advanced and expert contributors, the site seems to be predominantly consumed by those early in or just starting a networking career. I regularly see techs who are getting frustrated, and sometimes giving up, because they can’t get that first job.

I also often hear another side to this argument. The other side is from businesses who say they can’t find qualified technical candidates to fill their openings. It is obvious to me that there are risks that business aren’t willing to accept and refuse to place lesser qualified individuals into these roles. Technical education and certifications alone don’t always provide businesses with the comfort level they require to fill a position.

My belief, although I haven’t specifically researched the statistics, is that there is a high ratio of entry-level job seekers to the jobs available. It is also my belief that most employers are seeking a disproportionate number of advanced and mature individuals as their technical resources. This article outlines six challenges that I think entry-level network technicians should plan to face and overcome as they attempt to enter the job market.

Jobs Available

 

1. No Experience, No Job–

This is one of the more frustrating catch-22 situations for technology job seekers. The problem is that it is difficult to obtain a job without experience and challenging to demonstrate experience without finding a job.

For those in this situation, I recommend creating a diary of past and current projects that they are involved in. Even if the engagement was a pro-bono effort for a church or charity, it could help overcome this hurdle. Volunteering not only helps provide a track record, it also can help build a personal network that may be leveraged for leads and references.

2. The Certification Trap–

Those striving to enter this field for the right reasons, simply love technology. One of the common misconceptions is that obtaining a certain certification will land them the job. Certifications are only part of the equation and are NOT meant to land the job. A certification only means that an individual is proficient at completing the tasks in the associated exam blueprints. Job requirements rarely align verbatim to certification objectives. Certifications are only one of several components that an potential employer would typically use to become comfortable with an applicant.

I am actually a huge proponent of certifications and have held several from various vendors. However those who fall for the misconception that certifications should land them a job, often seek additional certifications when their job search isn’t going well. I have actually heard of job seekers obtaining their CCIE and still struggling. My thought on this is, “Of course!”. Now their information is coming up in employers’ job searches for CCIE’s and the qualifications will consistently fall short during the interview due to their lack of experience.

Job seekers should address their deficiencies. When the certifications held sufficiently meet the posted requirements, it is time to figure out what weaknesses are preventing employment. It is all too easy, given the typical introverted tendencies or technical people, to think that pushing forward with one more certification is the key. That often isn’t the case.

3. Lack of Confidence–

When interviewing or working in networking, being well prepared is very important. However it is even more important not to misrepresent or guess when responding to situations. While it might be frowned upon to say “I don’t know” in an interview, it is better than being confident and wrong. In this case, the candidate should follow the “I don’t know” with how they would proceed and gain the requisite knowledge so they could do the required task.

Some people think that they should have an answer for every question. I’ve been in the industry for more than 15 years and certainly don’t have all of the answers. Having the confidence to say “I don’t know” is important, liberating and helps keep us all out of trouble.

4. Entry Level Salary–

Some have unrealistic salary expectations when entering the field of networking. I sometime hear advertisements from technical schools that are similar to these misaligned expectations. The bottom line is that an entry level job might not pay what some would expect. This is mostly a problem with career changes who have family obligations or lifestyle expectations that they are trying to maintain.

For those having fewer obligations, an entry level networking job might be enough and is a great starting point for what may be a great technology career. Those having higher initial income requirements may need to work in the field as a second job until their knowledge and experience can command an adequate salary.

5. Knowledge Limitations–

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, those beginning a new career has some limits in their knowledge. Having not faced and solved many of the real world challenges yet, they’re bound to make mistakes. It is important to recognize high risk situations and perform adequate research prior to making changes that could be “career limiting moves”. When mistakes are made, and mistakes WILL be made, it is important to learn exactly what happened and how to prevent similar issues in the future.

6. Tendencies of Introversion–

Introverts tend to gravitate away from roles like sales and marketing and find themselves in fields where they spend more time working alone or in less visible environments. As a result, many of those seeking work in networking seem to have introverted tendencies. This affects how they approach things. Some may fall into the trap of going for another certification when they should be figuring out how to build and document experience on their resume. Those working may continue to struggle with a problem that might be easily resolved by collaborating with someone more familiar with the particulars of the environment.

Introversion is not something that is easy to overcome. However, it is important to realize that these tendencies exist and that there is benefit from the interaction with others. When the logical next step is to open a case, ask a colleague for help, or network with like minded individuals, it is necessary to push beyond the reluctance to deal with others. It takes a lot of energy, but is worth the effort.

Conclusion

Getting started in a networking career can be challenging. Most importantly, job seekers should do some planning and level-set their expectations. Understanding the opportunities and expectations of the available opportunities will keep expectations in-line and highlight any areas requiring attention.

There are several obstacles that networking hopefuls should expect to face. Depending on the situations, some of these are more or less relevant. Additionally, some are more difficult to overcome than others. Those pursuing a networking career because they love technology can be successful if the understand these obstacles and create a plan that overcomes them.

About Paul Stewart, CCIE 26009 (Security)

Paul is a Network and Security Engineer, Trainer and Blogger who enjoys understanding how things really work. With over 15 years of experience in the technology industry, Paul has helped many organizations build, maintain and secure their networks and systems.
This entry was posted in Career, Certification, General, Technology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to 6 Challenges of Starting A Networking Career

  1. Joe says:

    Paul,
    Great post! I know first hand how frustrating it is to find a networking job, especially with very little experience. I spare you my life story, basically I got into IT much later in life then others. It was a complete career change for me. I was a machinist for many years, and as the economy took a down turn I was laid off. I was about 30 at the time married and had a baby on the way. I’ve worked with computers since I was a young teenager, and I admit I regret not pursuing it like I should’ve when I got out of High School. I was my severance pay from my old job to go back to school. I took a class on Networking, Windows servers and Exchange. I then got a job working for a small managed IT company working only part time. I admit it was difficult to live on, but I knew I needed the experience if I wanted to get anywhere. I stuck it out for a little less then 3 years. I knew around that time I had enough experience to move up. And I did, I found a job at a automotive manufacturing shop as a Network Administrator. I was probably the best step forward for me. Infrastructure wise it was a mess. I saw my opportunity there, and ran with it. I virtualized the entire server infrastructure all on my own, a complete network upgrade, and my last project will be working with an outside company upgrading our telephone networking from Digital to VoIP. So I’m moving on again. I passed the CCNA a while back and am working on the CCNP. I just put out my resume to a few websites and got responses instantaneously. The VoIP project is next week and i have two interviews right after it, probably the same week. What I didn’t mention was how many times i was passed on because I didn’t have enough experience. It sucks, but I never let that get me down. It was a very humbling experience, I know many of us feel we can learn quickly, and I’m sure we all can especially when we find our passion. We all need that chance to prove ourselves. I’ve been lucky as well with at least two different individuals who have given me a chance, and I proved myself time and time again. And I, have paid it forward. I knew someone who worked their butt of to try and get into this field. Only to be rejected, not enough experience. I gave him a chance, I knew he could learn, and I knew I could teach him. So don’t get discouraged, stick with it. Someone will see your determination, and will give you that chance.

    • I can sort of relate to your past. I actually ran a press brake in a fabrication shop for a while just out of high school. I made the transition into technology a little younger. One thing that made it easier for me was it was 1998 and the dotcom bubble hadn’t burst yet. I see people struggling to get that first job and can see how I could have easily found myself there. I think your story is one of many successes. Those battles are hard fought, but good wins. Thanks for sharing.

      • Joe says:

        Thanks Paul, happy to share it. I personally know a few people now trying to advance in IT. Its tough especially in our small area. The better jobs are in Chicago, but thats a tough area to crack as well. It stings when someone tells your not qualified or dont have enough experience. It bruises the ego, but I use those experiences to push myself.

  2. Elias Santos says:

    Hi Paul,

    It is a very interesting article, indeed! Just to add some thoughts, I think some people can also be “close minded” (like I assume I was) when first entering this road of challenges.

    Prior to getting my CCNA, I had even heard from people on the market speeches like “get your CCNA and you’ll choose you job”. That sounded fantastic to me! But as time went by, I felt something was wrong, even after getting my CCNA. It took some time to realize some mistakes I had to correct in my strategy. Also, I had the problem of being a career changing and I used to work with systems, not networking.

    But hearing other people’s thoughts about it gave me insights and adding to it what I learned from my mistakes, I consider I achieved better results than when I started. One of them was to improve my resume, just as you said in your article. And I also gathered some very interesting, helpful tips from Cisco Learning Network too, most of them from more experience guys working in networking. I will not get into specifics here, but after some changes, I was reached out by some recruiters and had some interviews.

    In summary, I have learned a lot in this jorney. I just wish I had been more open minded from start and paid attention to tips like those you are giving. Even though I didn’t have this open mind at first, at least now I’m happy that I have changed my thoughts and haven’t given up my goals!

    Thanks for the article! I hope it finds people that need to read it to open their mind too.

    And, by the way, thanks for Joe above to share his story too. Real stories like this helped me to achieve my CCNA certification when I was to take the exam and I think these same kind of stories have helped me in the pursuit of my career goals.

    Regards,
    Elias

    • That is awesome additional information and feedback. I wish I could somehow package up all of the misconceptions (both positive and negative) that I’ve come to understand in my own journey. If I could, I’d share them with everyone so they can learn from them. Then again, sometimes we (and I’m talking about myself here) just have to learn things for ourselves.

      To your point, getting that first good job can be difficult. However, I think it is well worth it. I love this type of work and believe it is one of the best fields of work for those as weird as me.

      • Elias Santos says:

        If you could share those misconceptions, I’d be among your audience. It’s not that people lie about the reality, but maybe they makes us think, or we just choose to believe, that their reality is the sole truth in the universe.

        I do believe that some people might even get a good job with only a CCNA R&S, but it is more logical to think that there are important details hidden in the backends. For instance, that person could also have other technological skills relevant to the job opportunity (even some relevant internship experience) and, most of all, skills to stand out in a stack of resumes and during an interview.

        Anyway, I think what I’m trying to say is that “there is no one-size-fits-all” approach. Interesting thing: I first learned someone using this expression on a webinar for the series “Around the water cooler” at Cisco Learning Network. The context was different there, they were talking about the approach to use to get their first CCNA, but I think the logic applies to this discussion too.

        Thanks, Paul!

        Regards,
        Elias

      • I absolutely agree. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. I am a huge advocate of looking at where you are and where you think you want to go. Your plan should include small steps. Certifications are one way that you can show some level of proficiency without experience. However, it usually doesn’t help to get those too far ahead and out of balance.

        As for misconceptions, I think the biggest two are:

        1) There is plenty of work just get and you’ll be golden
        2) There is no work so you just need to go back to what you are doing

        The first one is a misconception that leads to disappointment, and ultimately, the second misconception. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle, requires a reasonable plan and a lot of work. For those who love this type of work, it is usually attainable.

        Thanks for the feedback.

    • Joe says:

      Not a problem Elias, hoping my experience helps out those of you are stuck in a rut. I hope you find the job opportunities you’re looking for. I’m doing what I can to pay it forward. Just had a friend contact me today about moving from systems to networking. I gave him access to all the materials I used to pass CCENT/CCNA. And of course offering any help beyond that if he needs it.

      • Elias Santos says:

        Thanks Joe! It is really good to know that someone out there, wherever your friend lives, has succeeded in changing their path.

        It is motivating and I’ll use it to help me keep going forward.

        Regards,
        Elias

  3. Kinet1c says:

    Super article Paul. My few certifications managed to get me interviews but I definitely had knowledge gaps that some hiring managers would’ve turned their back on. It was my interest in technology (from a career and hobby pov), honesty about my knowledge limitations and eagerness to get exposed to new technologies that landed me my new job role. It was a drop in overall pay (~10%) but the knowledge acquired and technology exposure will be far more valuable in the long run.

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