A big problem for people who are starting or advance their careers is often "lack of experience". If your like me when I started my IT career over 8 years ago now, every job including seemingly "entry level" positions wanted 5 years experience with 15 different technologies of which I barely knew anything about. This can be discouraging and leave you feeling lost for what do do next. People with prior experience also face this challenge when moving up in their careers or moving across specializations. To better understand and solve this problems we have to understand the motivations of the the people posting the job ads and what goes own in our own mind.
Read between the lines
There are two main areas where lacking experience comes up, 1. in the application process, 2. during the interview process. For now we will focus on the application process because this is where people initially have the most trouble.
So you've decided you want to look for a new (or your first) IT job and you start searching the common job boards and a consistent theme comes up. Everyone is asking for more experience, technical skills, certifications etc than you currently have. Maybe you aspire to some of these things but right now but you trapped in a cycle of needing the "experience" to get the knowledge in the first place. Let's first laugh at what "other people" do and we steer clear from.
- Thinking every job is above or below you so you apply for absolutely zero jobs.
- Getting frustrated that every job is above or below your requirements so you apply for absolutely everything.
So now that were done laughing at the other guys and patting ourselves on the back for never having this problem, let's come back to reality and realize most of us have felt like this at some point or maybe somewhere in between.
I will tackle the issue of poorly written job descriptions later as this is a chronic problem in our industry that affects employers as well as the applicants but for now I will leave you with one main thought. Do not look to check all the boxes/bullets on the job description. Determine the primary motivations the company hiring for the position and decide if it sounds like something you could help solve.
Easier said than done right? Here are some tips to get you started.
- What's written first and repeatedly is often most important. Pay attention to the technologies/requirements the job description mentions first and also anything that gets repeated more than once.
- Look for words such as "nice to have" or "must have" and keep them in mind.
- Find a theme in the types of technical requirements; Is this a desktop support role, system administration, networking? Make sure it is a good fit for what you are prepared for.
Now that you have a starting point for how to look at IT job descriptions, let's move onto the next step.
Know what you know
What are your top 3 skills and how do they match up with the underlying requirements you were able to decipher from the job listing? Forgot about the nice to haves and the secondary items. If your top 3 skills don't match up to the level of the major motivations they have for hiring then the job simply is not a good fit. High performers and high earners are always looking to learn more and have an objective view of where they currently stand. Which brings us to our final point.
Know what you don't know
In some cases, you actually do lack the required experience to perform a job. What this often comes down to is a technical skills gap. Rather than just thinking 'experience' think of "technical skills and the context to use them in the real world". If you can demonstrate your ability to execute technical requirements in the environment that you will be working in with confidence, you are unlikely to be turned down often. Thinking of the word "experience" makes often takes the burden of of yourself and onto others for not giving you the chance to give you that experience. You may not have direct control over who and when people will hire you but you do indirectly because you control the ability to improve your skills. One of the reasons I like the the IT industry is that it often rewards based on technical merits and not only on years of experience, where you went to school and other trivial factors.
Your ability to objectively identify your gap in skill set it is the first stage to put a system in place that allows you to reach your goals. Self education is a major theme that we will be exploring in the coming months so subscribe to email updates to ensure you get the latest information about rapidly increasing your IT skills.
I will leave you with this slightly modified Sun Tzu quote.
“If you know the underlying hiring requirements and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred interviews. If you know yourself but not the underlying hiring requirements, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the underlying hiring requirements nor yourself, you will succumb in every interview.”