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Where are you in your job search ?

Before you give your two weeks notice and start on your new path, you should take a moment (or two) to figure out what path in tech is right for you. Yes, you have the skills, and those are important! But now, you need to figure out what you’re passionate about—and how exactly that translates into a job.

So, where do you start? Check out these three methods for finding a tech job that fits you, your knowledge, and your life.

Research : You probably don’t head off on vacation without reading up a little on where you’re going and what you can do there—and that’s just for one week of your life. Your new career will be significantly longer than a quick getaway (but hopefully, just as fun and interesting!), so it’s worth investing the time to look into the different kinds of jobs available.

A great place to start is by reading job listings for a variety of position types. You’ll quickly learn more about titles, responsibilities, and expectations for each role, as well as the types of companies that are looking for people to fill those positions. And you’re sure to find some jobs that you didn’t even know were out there. Surprise: Not everyone in tech is a programmer.

By now, you know you like tech. In fact, you like it so much that you took the time to learn more about it in your free time. But, now you need to figure out what parts of it you’d enjoy doing five days a week.

Analyze : In many tech companies, there’s a lot of variety when comes to available positions. So, if you’ve always loved working closely with customers in retail, check out the marketing or service roles of a tech company. Or, if you relish planning and coordinating events for your local youth club, think about digital management, operations, or administrative positions.

Also take a look at the kinds of working environments you’ve thrived in. If you once got a thrill from running your own business (whether it was small, big, or just a side project), working at a startup could feed your entrepreneurial spirit. Or, if you love stability and routine, maybe the schedules and traditions of a more established company are more your style.

And don’t forget to take into account your situation in life right now. If you live in a small town or just can’t stand to commute, working remotely could be an excellent solution. Or, if you need to be able to devote time to your family or other commitments, look for part-time or contract-based work. Last, but not least, if you’re ready to strike out on your own, the freedom and flexibility of freelancing might be perfect for now.

Act : As you start to get ideas about the kinds of jobs that you’d like, start looking for chances to do that kind of work, even on a very small scale or as a side gig.

See about taking on some technical tasks where you work now, like updating web pages or working on email newsletters. Or ask a colleague who’s working in a technical role if you can shadow for a few minutes now and then. (Remember: It’s always a two-way street when you’re asking for a favor, so don’t forget to offer something in exchange for his or her time.)

Or, if you can’t let on about your tech aspirations at work, create your own projects to work on. Turn your friend’s blog into a responsive web design wonder. Look for charities or nonprofit organizations that need help with IT projects (Idealist is a great place to start). Or put yourself out there and earn some cash by bidding for projects on sites like Upwork or freelancer.com. Whichever type of “client” you work for, you’ll be gaining valuable experience from actually doing the work you’re considering.

Having digital skills can make all the difference between a good and a great job. And figuring out what kind of tech career is right for you can turn that great job into your dream career.

Smart ways to gain IT experience

Practice

IT isn’t a field of abstraction. While knowledge certainly matters, the real bottom line for hiring managers is what you can do. This could be why so many entry level IT jobs still expect their candidates to have experience. So what you need is a way to show employers that you can walk the walk.

“Start tinkering,” suggests Ben Landers, CEO of Blue Corona. “Build something. Buy some servers or get some donated from a company and do something with them. The best way to learn is often to stop contemplating and to take action.”

Computer systems and networking equipment are upgraded so frequently that businesses, schools and even consumers often give away outdated equipment. Obtaining used equipment can provide great material for practice and experimentation.

“Build a lab at your house,”.“When we interview inexperienced applicants who have the ‘book smarts’, a home lab shows passion, hunger and hands on knowledge.” They ask about home labs even while interviewing more experienced professionals. “It shows initiative to continue their education.”

Getting your hands dirty on projects at home will allow you to hone your skills without the fear of damaging a company’s expensive investment. Once you feel comfortable on your own equipment, expand your services to your friends or family.

It might not seem like a big deal, but helping a friend recover from a computer virus or setting up a wireless router for a family member’s small business are examples of tangible ways you can demonstrate and hone your expertise. When you’re just getting established, every bit of tangible experience counts—you just need to actively seek it out.

Earn certifications

Watch Videos of Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning Technology, Learn and receive Free Cloud Credits, MacOS Tutorials, Travel vLogs, Drone Videos,Unboxing New Tech, and much more.Some Youtube Machine Learning channels allow you to earn free machine learning certificates in around 15 minutes or less.

Earning industry certifications is a great way to gain and showcase your IT experience before getting hired somewhere, according to Anthony James, CEO and Founder of Linux Academy. “Students gain skill sets in a specific technical area and receive a credential within a matter of days,” he adds.

These certifications don’t have to be extensive in time or effort either. Some precise skills can be earned in the form of micro-certifications, which are essentially badges that signify you possess a certain skill. James cited a recent Linux Academy survey of 6,000 IT professionals in which 94 percent of employers said they believe micro-certifications give entry-level candidates an advantage.

And it’s not just for the rookies either. IT certifications are often necessary even among seasoned professionals in the field to stay current with technological advances. So you might as well add a few to your resume now. Passing these industry exams also helps showcase a specialized area of technical study.

Volunteer

Similar to the “just get your hands dirty” idea, volunteering allows you to build IT experience along with a collaborative, team-oriented attitude. One great way to do this is by volunteering to help small businesses create a new program, web site or mobile app for free.“Small businesses generally are open to receiving free help,” she says.

Charities are another great place to offer your services, suggests Bernard Morgan, General Manager of Computer Recruiter. “[It’s] a great way of showing a potential employer that you have acquired hands-on experience and that you are willing to go the extra mile,” Morgan says. As compensation for your work, ask the business or charity for a statement of recommendation you can highlight in your job search.

If you manage to make these volunteer hours happen while in school or working other jobs, that is even more appealing to employers. “Working in IT can sometimes be a 60-100 hour per week job,” . “So learning to work on extra projects keeps your mind sharp, helps you develop skills and work on fun projects in the area you want to get into.”

Internship

“For information technology students who prefer a more organized approach, the best way to gain industry experience prior to graduation is an internship,”  . And don’t stress about whether or not the internship comes with cash or school credit.

“Paid, unpaid, summer, during the school year, for-credit or not, it doesn’t matter,”  . “And for students who think the internship market is competitive, just wait until you are competing for a full-time position.”

Checking out local job boards and seeking out your school’s career resources are good places to start. But don’t be afraid to reach out to local companies without visible internship job postings. Sometimes a company could benefit from an intern but hasn’t yet considered the need for one. You’ll never know unless you ask, so being proactive is always a good idea.

Network!

Never underestimate the power of meeting in person—especially in the tech industry. IT is a surprisingly collaborative field, so candidates who can represent their ability to connect with other professionals (e.g., dropping a comment like “my mentor suggested…” in a job interview) will stand out from candidates who go it alone.

“Go to professional networking events for the areas you want to get into,” . Whether for BSA, project management, software engineering, QA or another niche, it’s helpful to learn about the projects these professionals are working on and think about ways you may be able to help them. Consider asking to shadow them if they’re open to it. “You may also find a mentor to help you in your career development,” she adds.

Forming professional relationships is also a great way to keep a pulse on what’s happening in the IT industry. If you are unsure of where to start, do some research on IT events in your area. Follow industry leaders and organizations on social media and maybe even reach out to some directly. Many professionals are happy to share their wisdom and career advice with the next generation of tech pros.

Learn

You likely know by now that a technology degree is not essential to getting your start in the tech world, but it can be a big difference on a resume. When faced with a decision between two candidates for one position, possessing a degree could very well be the deciding factor.

Most technology degree programs place a strong emphasis on hands-on training, which will allow you to acquire practical experience within the safe confines of a classroom. Many courses are also facilitated by professionals currently working in the field. Being able to develop your skills under expert supervision is just one of the many benefits to earning your degree.

Best of all, tech job opportunities and salaries increase with education level, so you could enjoy more options and better earning potential once equipped with the proper credential.

Don’t be intimidated

“The one thing that always amazes me [when talking to students] is the irrational fear they have,” . “They worry about failing, losing a few hundred dollars or looking like a fool.”

If concerns like these are holding you back from offering your work to a nonprofit organization, cold calling a professional for advice or even from buying up some old computers and tinkering around,  you should shake it off and take a leap of faith. Many of these methods for gaining some IT experience won’t require a large commitment of time or finances.

Start small, and you’ll have a much better idea of what you need to land your dream tech job. It could be something you haven’t even considered yet. Want to learn more about what an information technology career has in store for you once you get yourself established? Check out our article, “Top IT Job Titles for Every Stage of Your Career.”

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