Friday, January 4, 2008

The Non Traditional Tech Student: 6 Steps to Competing With College Grads for Tech Jobs


We all know that technology is the one area where a college degree sometimes doesn't matter. But if you want to compete with design and computer science grads, you need to have a strategy, the right resources and a bangin' resume. How?

Step 1: Find a technology niche
It's great to be well-rounded but employers want to see discipline and focus on a subject area if you do not have a degree. You don't have to leave your passions behind, just stick them in the skills section of your resume. Pick one technology career path that best fits your current skills and abilities and build upon it. I chose graphic design because that's what I am the best at. However, I am also good at databases, website development, and computer training. I had to choose one focus and build upon it.
Here are resources to help you find your niche (don't be discouraged by the education requirements, we'll cover that next):

Step 2: Self Study
You'd be surprised how many brownie points you get from employers when they see this on your resume:"Certified Master Web Designer (Self Taught)". It shows discipline and hard work. To employers self studying is admirable; use that to your advantage by following these steps:

  1. Create a list of skills you need to learn to be a professional in your chosen IT field. If you want to be a web developer you can easily search articles and biographies and learn that you should master HTML, CSS, ASP, SQL, and Adobe Dreamweaver. Don't waste your time on learning things you can steal from the internet for free, like Java Script, there are just to many ready to use codes out there for you to waste your time on learning the language.
  2. Using your list from step one, purchase the best selling tutorial book in each topic and learn it. Set a schedule if you find this overwhelming. Mondays & Wednesdays from 6-9pm Introduction to HTML, etc.. Still having problems making the material stick? Join online training libraries, my favorite is www.lynda.com where you can pay $25.00 per month and access the entire training library at your leisure.

Step 3: Get Certified
You would be surprised at the number of IT certifications out there. Microsoft and Cisco are not the only respected and credible ones. I went to my local university and joined their continuing education program. I was able to become a Master Web Designer in 6 months by taking four classes. The smart thing about using continuing education departments is that you can use the college's name on your resume. The best way to stay on top of your certifications? Subscribe to Certification Magazine, a must have subscription for any IT professional.

Step 4: Gain experience for your portfolio
Portfolios are not just for graphic artist. Take screen shots of your databases and software programs. Keep track of every tech favor you do for friends and family, this could be used as experience and great material for your portfolio. Need more experience? Volunteer at a non-profit organization or a community technology center. These organizations always need free tech volunteers and you can use the experience you gain there on your resume. I work for Joy Corporation of Baton Rouge, like other non-profits, we are always looking for tech interns and volunteers.

Step 5: Join two to three major associations or organizations in your field.
I am a member of Association of African American of Graphic Designer and Professional Association of Women in Technology. These things make your resume look amazing compared to a college grad with no work experience.

Step 6: Become a freelancer
Okay, why would you freelance if you are looking for a job? Well let's say you don't any job experience in your field. You can replace that section of your resume with freelance jobs you completed. This will show you employer that you can work under pressure and with little supervision. The best way to prove your credibility as a freelancer is to:

  1. Join www.elance.com
  2. Create a one page website showing off your portfolio (make sure your domain is your name…www.janedoe.com, this shows that you are a freelancer and not a company which cause doubt about your commitment to a company)
  3. Put your website on your resume

As a final note, remember that all these steps can be done simultaneously within 6 months to a year. Good luck!

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