I 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.
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.
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.