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Overcoming common dilemma for IT professionals just starting out

I need some advice on what would be the best way to go in order to gain an entry-level job into the networking side of the IT industry. I have been applying for lots of help desk jobs on the Internet, but always get a negative response. Is it possible to go straight to network administrator... or would it be better to start with help desk?

I have no experience in the IT industry which is what most firms are looking for, but I have just completed a BSc - majoring in computer science at the University of Otago (New Zealand)... there are a few programming jobs around, but I am not interested in them. I ultimately want to become a systems administrator or network admin.

I have enrolled for the MSCE and CCNA courses due to the negative responses I've received from applying for jobs I found on the Internet. (Might it be better to go door-knocking?)

Anyway, I would appreciate your thoughts on the MCSE, CCNA and any advise on how I should go about trying to enter the networking field of the IT industry.

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Dear Sandeep:
You face an amazingly common dilemma for IT professionals who are just starting out. You do have a considerable advantage, however, in having an academic degree in computer science. If you stick to your stated goal of working as a network or systems administrator, the CCNA and MCSE do indeed make sense. That said, unless you have access to easy funding or low cost options, you might do better to suspend your long-term goals in favor of whatever work you can find. An employer may or may not help you obtain those certifications, but I guarantee you'll be better able to afford them if you're working rather than unemployed.

I would investigate your options for work first and foremost, though. Start with a three-pronged assault:

  1. Find out what kinds of job placements services or assistance your alma mater can provide. Use those resources to the fullest extent possible.
  2. Use your human networking capital--friends, family, colleagues, and any professional or academic links you can draw on for job information, referrals, ideas, information and so forth--to seek out employment opportunities. Knocking on doors is something of a last resort in this domain, but it's nice to read that you're willing to do so. I hope it doesn't come to that.
  3. Check all the public sources of job information--online postings, advertisements, and so forth--and follow up on every lead that looks promising.

At the same time, I'd also urge you to seek out volunteer, part-time, or temporary work in or around systems and networks. Any experience you can get counts, especially if you can do a good job of explaining what you learned thereby, and what kinds of things you know how to do.

If worst comes to worst, you might consider taking a programming job as a stopgap maneuver. Conventional wisdom says that it's always easier to find a job when you have one than when you're unemployed (not to mention a regular paycheck, benefits, and another great source for human networking to help you find the job you really want).

Good luck in your efforts. Keep at it, and you will be able to reach your goals. And no, I don't think it's always necessary to start at the help desk and move into administration from there--particularly for somebody like you, who actually has relevant academic credentials.
--Ed--

This was first published in January 2003

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