Tuesday, 04 February 2014 15:22

New to the job market? Try this....

by Keith J. McLaren

I recently posted a LONG reply to a LinkedIn thread and I want to share it with the readers of this job seeker blog.  The question that was posted was about what certifications a new college graduate should get in order to find a job.  Sadly this let to a long string of replies from various folks selling the value in everything from CompTIA+ and Network+ to CCNA's and MCP/MCSE's.  Sadly I think that job seekers often loose focus and make a job search black and white.  I hear things like... "I can't find a job because all the jobs go to network engineers with CCNA's".  Does a CCNA help?  Maybe.  But it's not the answer.  

My solution is a different one, but I truly believe that it works.  The answer below is applicable to a fresh college grad, but there is something to learn even for applicants with experience.  I all too often see applicants with average or dated skills that are strictly looking for a full time, W2, 401K, full benefits position who are unsuccessful.  The conversation is often the same:

Me: So what are you looking for?

Them: I am looking for a position as a <Net Admin / Developer / CIO>.  (Then I get a PERFECT elevator speech)

Me: How much are you looking to make?

Them: I am looking for <insert unreasonable number> but I am flexible

Me: Are you looking for full time, consulting or contract to perm?

Them: I am looking for a full time position with benefits.  (Often followed by "I have a family")

Me: I often have contract work, would you consider doing contract work?

Them: I'm really looking for full time because....

Me: How long have you been looking

Them: 14 months (or some other really long time!)

Me: I am always curious, what are you doing while you are out of work?

Them: I am working full time on finding my next position and I am living on unemployment and/or savings


It may seem obvious when you read the above exchange, but when it's your life somehow people loose focus.  Employers are not focused on GIVING people jobs with benefits.  Employers are looking to find themselves AMAZING talent at the LOWEST cost.  If that talent is good enough then they want to lock you in with a full time, W2 position with benefits.  It's a negotiation to them.  If your working a full time position then they know that if they want you then they must offer a better package to steal you from your current employer.  But, it's a tough economy and employers know that they can get good people for much less and often don't look to hire an employed person.

If the employer looks to hiring an unemployed person then they know:

  • You have less negotiating power as an employed candidate would
  • You will be less expensive then a similar person who is employed
  • You were let go from your last position and you are a bigger risk then someone who was not let go
  • A long hole in your employment means your are less aggressive and thus a higher risk


Thus it makes no sense to walk away from contract or even unpaid work while you are out of work.  It brings in a little money and keeps your skills fresh.  It keeps you working and helps to keep your head in the game.  It also gives you an opportunity to fill in some of that big hole on your resume with something worthwhile.  Are a bunch of short term consulting gigs going to get you a position as a CIO at a solid company?  Not likely!  But... a bunch of short term consulting gigs will get you MUCH more then a big year long hole in your employment history!

So rear my reply to the aforementioned LinkedIn thread and see how you can apply this to your search!  If you want to chat about this or flame me then e-mail me!


My response to a LinkedIn thread on what certifications to get right out of college


I wanted to jump in and give you an opinion that may be different from many of the others on here.  I have been in the IT field for over 25 years.  My career has been in primarily operations, manageability, network support and engineering and databases.  I have started 2 IT companies and presently I am at my second startup which provides consulting and staffing services.

Newby's have always looked to certifications.  In my earlier days the hot certification was the Novell CNE.  Back then we would get resumes and weed out the "Paper CNE's" which were people with zero Novell experience but who had a CNE.  The reality was that if you read a book and take a test it does not make you a network administrator.  The same holds true today with Network+, MCP, MCSE, CCNA and the other certs.  Nobody should EVER let you work on their critical infrastructure without making sure that you have the experience to do the job.  The letters after your name do not change this fact.

You are presently on the right course to get the most important certification -- a college degree.  A college degree opens all sorts of doors and is the BEST place to start.  Will this get you a job?  Maybe.  Will a CompTIA+ help?  Maybe.  Will a Network+ help?  Maybe.   What will get you a job without a "maybe" is experience.  Thus my suggestion is that once you graduate you need to get experience before anything else.

How do you get experience? I see a bazillion explanations in this thread, but it's way simpler then people make out.  You just get out in the world and work.  Work Very Hard.  If your working hard you will be learning and getting experience and this will lead you in the right direction.  You will show people what skills you have and eventually you will be getting paid well for the skills that you have.

But you ask "how" do you find that first job?  This is where I differ from many other people out there.  You will notice that I did not say to get a job... I said get out and work.  We are in a very tight market right now and jobs are hard to find.  Work is not.  On the search side of my business I talk with applicants every day that are looking for a job.  I often have work for them but not a job.  What is the difference?  A "job" is a contract.  It's long term.  It comes with a salary, bonus, tax burden, 401k and insurance. It's a big commitment for an employer and they only want to hire someone with whom they are 110% confident.  

What is work? Work is just that.  It's work.  It might be fixing your neighbors Wifi network.  It might be a 1 day contract adding new users to an active directory domain.  It might be an internship.  It might be contract position on a helpdesk.  It might be helping a local business to deploy software.  It does not matter what it is if you are using it as an opportunity to learn and an opportunity to get experience.

So here is my crazy, radical suggestion.  (a suggestion that has made me very successful)  When you graduate you need to go right to work.  Start with spending a few weeks plastering the internet and recruiters with your resumes.  Call them and sell yourself too.  Do this FULL time.  When I say full time I am not talking about working at a bank 40 hours.  I'm talking IT full time.  If you don't know this yet, it means 60+ hours a week.  (good IT people work hard)

After 3 weeks of sending resumes your head will be spinning.  This is when you need to start working as an IT guy.  By this time you will be telling to world that your an IT guy and that you are here to work.  Don't gauge the work by the money but rather the experience.  Fix every last problem with your own computer and network. Then ask your friends and family if they have any problems and fix those.  Talk IT with everyone you meet.  Tell them your an IT guy and your always curious about what sort of problems they have.  Trust me, you will hear some stories!  You will also find opportunities to do some work.  At first you will likely not be paid.  But that will change with time and experience.

When you are not able to find something, you should go to networking events, meetings and anywhere you can talk with people.  LinkedIn has tons of these.  Don’t just go to job seeker events but also attend local groups, IT groups and groups for any interest you have.  When you get there you should NOT be looking for a job.  Instead you should be talking about IT.  Tell people what you do.  Tell them about the cool project you just finished.  Tell them about some awesome technology you just discovered.  This is what IT people do.  Then ask them what they do.  Ask if they have IT problems and learn from their answers.  Some of them may ask for your help and this will lead to more work and more experience.  You can wrap this all up on your resume as being an “Independent Consultant” and it give you an opportunity to showcase what you are learning.

You will be amazed at how quickly you learn about new technology and get experience.  This is what IT people do.  We live IT not only at our jobs but also at work, in our personal lives and at home.  Doing this will eventually lead you to a job.  Maybe a consulting gig?  Maybe a full time position?  Maybe you will start your own company?  Who knows where it leads you, but it will lead you somewhere.  The important thing to remember is that a job is NOT the destination.  A job is a part of the journey.  However, the journey also includes not having a job.  The journey includes a lot of learning.  The journey may also include unpaid work, helping others and networking.  It should also include a lot of gratification and making good money as well — but this may take some time an patience.

What this all leads to is keeping focused on on what you are doing and what you want to do.  Right now you need to focus on getting the most out of your education.  You are paying a lot for that education and you need to suck up all the knowledge you can get.  If you have spare time you might even start looking for “work” around campus.  I promise there are non-technical students that could use your technical prowess.  But keep your focus on learning all that you can while your in school.  You have a lifetime to work after graduation.

Oh, one last thought.  There is NOTHING wrong with getting certifications.  In fact, I have an MCSE and an ITIL cert.  I have studied the Cisco and Novell certs along the way as well but never knocked out the exams.  The reality is that the most important part of certifications is the learning and not the piece of paper.  If a CompTIA or Network+ cert looks like something you could learn from then knock them out.  But don’t waste time and money just to get a certification just to have a piece of paper.  This is NOT what hiring managers are looking for.  They want experienced people with passion.  Find your passion and the experience will follow!

Monday the 13th.