People who want to break into networking face the classic conundrum for job seekers: How do you get a job without experience? Or, perhaps more frustrating, what if you have a bit of experience but are competing against candidates with recognized certifications like Cisco’s Certified Network Associate?
Is it impossible? No. You can find a job even without experience or credentials, especially if you look at small companies, where IT staff wear many hats.
“One of the reasons I see certification as not being critical is because the positions people are being hired into [at small companies] tend to be so diverse,” says Jonathan Lampe, vice president of product management for Wisconsin-based file-transfer specialists RhinoSoft. “There’s networking equipment, but there are also servers and workstation maintenance — they’re usually cross-functional IT positions.”
Here’s some advice from Lampe and others.
Play Up Your Other Skills
Find a company that hires on potential, advises Tim Wisard, system engineer at eGroup, a South Carolina-based IT services firm. You’ll need a successful body of IT work to demonstrate skills you’ve gained from previous projects and your high capacity to learn.
“I recommend job seekers for networking roles demonstrate expertise in closely related technologies such as servers or storage, and how that knowledge can tie back to networking,” he says.
Show Your Passion
“Every successful person I’ve met in the field works with some of this technology at home,” Lampe observes. “Maybe they’ve put together their own DVRs, they may have their own libraries and servers set up at home and they’re getting intimately familiar with the concepts of bandwidth, quality of service, making sure their videos are streaming among the various options at home. These are the same issues that are dealt with at the corporate level.
“If you’re working with someone who’s been working with a fairly complex scheme or not something handed to them by their cable provider, those are skills you look at from the other side of the desk. You know that this is a person who can learn some of the equipment that we’re using in a particular situation at work.”
It’s important to list your home experience on your resume, Lampe says, and post about it on social media. Your resume likely won’t make the cut at companies where HR does the filtering, but it will stand out at those where hiring managers read resumes.
Highlight Your Other Experience
Playing up your communication and people skills can help move you to the front of the pack.
“Some of our employers have suggested that generic, non-technical call center experience could be useful in landing foot-in-the-door help desk jobs,” says Bob Bunge, an associate professor in the College of Engineering and Information Sciences at DeVry University in Seattle. The reason: “It’s all about customer service,” Bunge says. “If you can prove you have great customer-service skills, many companies will be willing to let you grow into a more technical role.”
While the CCNA provides a good foundation in networking, many pros never deal with Cisco products, he points out. Learning as much as possible about virtualization — whether on VMWare, Citrix, Microsoft or other products — is a sound career strategy.
Says Wisard: “I know a lot of people who don’t have certifications, but they grow into certain roles and move from project to project gaining experience — being a server admin and moving into more of a networking position. If you are smart, proactive and willing to take on many projects, wearing different hats, you’ll be successful.”