You can hack experience

6 hacks to get IT experience when you have none.

Experience Required: 1-3 years

How many times has your heart sank upon reading that line in a job ad? If you’re like most- too many to count.

It’s a classic catch-22. You need a job to get experience but, you can’t get a job because they won’t hire you without experience. I think we’ve all been there.

What many fail to realize is that you do have experience- it’s just not paid experience from working at a job. In IT, this actually isn’t that hard to get. Here are 6 methods you can use to hack your way to experience. The reality is that you can overcome this. You just have to get some experience- but you have to be a bit creative.

Get an internship

If you are younger, or can just afford to make very little for a while, you can gain loads of experience by being an intern. You might find it interesting that while some internships are unpaid,  most internships are paid, though at rates much lower than market for a particular type of work. But when you intern, you’re not there for the money. You’re there for the experience and to get your foot in the door..

Many times, an internship will lead to a position at that company, but unlike a typical applicant, you will already have relationships there. Very nice stuff. The downside to an internship is that for bigger companies, they can be very competitive, and of course, you need to be able to pay your bills while doing it. If you can swing it, however, it’s a great way to get experience.

Volunteer

Volunteering is much like internship, except since you’re working 100% for free, there are some pluses. You get to work on your schedule. You are working for free, so usually you get lots of thank-yous. You can feel good about contributing to a worthy cause.

Volunteering in IT might look like managing the infrastructure for a small nonprofit or charity. You might look after workstations, troubleshoot software, maybe even coach the users on efficiency. It’s a great way to learn for free. If you mess up, what are they going to do- fire you?

The best way to find the opportunities is to just look in the area you live in and find organizations that do something you care about. Then, just call them and ask if they need IT help. Super easy.

Build a home lab

Building a home lab is a great way to get experience with technologies at low-to-no cost. I’ve covered that extensively here, and others have as well. The basics are that you get a computer, get trials of software that you want to learn, and go to town.

This isn’t the same as doing it in some kind of production environment, but you can at least get concepts. When you get asked about a technology, you can proudly let the interviewer know that you’ve set it up in a home lab. It’s truly the easiest way to experience enterprise software without working in an enterprise.

Go to school

I’m not a huge proponent of going to school for IT, but it can be an option if you couple it with these other efforts. Going to school for IT on its own is just not enough.

If you do go, the fastest path to some kind of completion is a for-profit training center, like New Horizons. The main problem I have with these is they shove you through pretty quickly. The next fastest is a technical school like where I attended. These are public schools that sit between high school and college. You get the technical information without the fluff- so no English or Maple Syrup classes.

If you really, really must have a 2 or 4-year degree, fine. Avoid the really bad for-profit schools, and make sure they are accredited in case you want your credits to transfer. I also strongly recommend that you start working in IT in any way you while attending school. Go entry level or whatever. It’s really silly to wait 2-4 years to start when experience is more valuable that college anyway.

Look within your current company

An often overlooked method is to see if you can transfer within your own company. You already have your foot in the door, and they already know what it’s like to work with you.

If you can’t just move to the department, you can try to do some shadowing. At my company, we call that “boot camp” and do it as often as possible to make sure everyone’s on the right seat on the bus. Just have a talk with your boss and/or HR and let them know what you’re interested in doing.

Start at the bottom

If you’re a go-getter, and can be “ok” with starting from scratch, just do anything you can to get in. Go stalk hiring managers on LinkedIn and send them letters. Attend networking events. Walk in the front door. Create a list of companies with IT jobs you want to get into then do anything you can to get to work there.

Odds are that if you apply yourself to getting in any way you can, you’ll be successful getting into the IT department at some point. You just have to be calm, cheerful, and persistent.

If you think about it, these are really the ways people break into fields just like IT. If you will apply these principles, you’ll be getting experience under your belt before you know it, and be on the launching pad of the next phase of your IT Career. I know you have what it takes. Get to work.

Question: What unorthodox method have you used to get IT experience? Let me know on Twitter or LinkedIn!

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Photo Credit: Joi Ito CCBY 2.0

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