How I Got an IT Job Without a Tech Background
When it comes to landing a job in IT, there's more to it than technical skills.
Don't have an IT degree or special IT certifications? No problem. You can still get an IT job. I've done it – and then turned my experience into a six-figure business.
How did I get an IT job?
First, here was my background when I started my IT career:
- A Bachelor of Science in psychology (I've since added a Master of Arts – in recreation.)
- No IT certifications (I still don't have any.)
- Very limited experience coding, not even HTML
All in all, my resume was pretty slim pickings when it comes to IT.
Experience Isn't Always Important in IT
One of the reasons I've done OK in the tech world is that besides being a geek, I'm fairly personable, which can go a long way when working in IT (or any job, for that matter).
When I first got into IT, I had just relocated to a new city where I didn't know anyone, and had no professional network. I trolled the want ads and applied for tech jobs – lots of them. I even applied to AOL for a call center job, and never heard back. Not even AOL wanted me. Ouch.
But I kept applying wherever I could, and finally landed an interview at a small software startup that needed support reps. This turned out to be a bit of luck, since one of the things that caught the hiring manager's eye was my nontechnical background.
For a long time, I've had a belief that if I could snag an interview, I could land the job. Now, this hasn't always panned out, but having that confidence going into an interview will go a long way toward getting you hired.
Anywho, I interviewed for the job and got it. My first IT job.
Four months later, I was laid off with the rest of the support team when the company went out of business. (Just because you may be starting at the bottom doesn't mean you can't aim for the top. Check out 8 Ways to Become an IT Leader.)
A Little Experience, a Small Network, a Lot of Initiative
But guess what? That short stint gave me an IT job to slap on my resume, and more importantly, it gave me a small professional network. This led to my next IT job.
My next IT job was at another startup, but this company knew what it was doing. It actually had customers and revenue. And, it was more interested in hiring for attitude than background. Again, being able to talk like a human instead of a robot was a big reason I got the job.
The application process at the startup was an applicant "party" where a dozen or so applicants showed up and talked with a couple dozen current employees, then went through a few team-building and problem-solving exercises. I'm pretty sure that the rest of the applicants had more tech experience and knowledge than I did. What was worse is that I'm not very outgoing, so parties and mingling aren't exactly my idea of fun. But apparently, I did OK, and they hired me. I also knew a couple of current employees and secured solid recommendations from them.
Early on, I thought I wouldn't last through the 90-day probation. It was such a steep learning curve! Nevertheless, I stayed at that job for nearly eight years.
While there, I took the initiative and learned some specific tech skills – notably SQL development, custom report development, and VBA for Excel reporting and automation. That helped me excel, compared to other employees. Plus, it was all on-the-job learning, which involved taking on thorny projects, so I could learn more.
Starting a Consulting Business
But things didn't last. The company was purchased; management changed; morale plummeted and I could see it turning into a call center. The old corporate startup culture was gone, and so was the fun.
I switched jobs, and started working at a tiny nonprofit, developing its website functionality and managing the member database. Although I worked at a nonprofit, I still had an IT job.
At the same time, I started my consulting business. I noticed that colleagues from my former job had started consulting, and I knew that there was demand from law firms for the kind of work I'd been doing (like automation and customization of an enterprise software system). Better yet, I knew that the hourly pay rate was several times my former salary rate. After doing some cold calling to try to drum up business, I finally got my first consulting job as a subcontractor to another consultant.
When I got my first consulting paycheck, I was hooked. I couldn't believe I was being paid four times my old hourly salary rate to do the same work! From there, I started getting more work, and was able to land other clients as word spread in my tiny niche that I was available for consulting work.
I grew my consulting client list and workload during the following year and often made more consulting each month than I did at my day job. I realized that my day job was getting in the way of how much I could earn consulting, so I transitioned to part-time at the day job for a few months, and then quit it completely to do consulting full time.
Since then, I've quadrupled my former day-job salary, I work less, have equivalent medical and retirement benefits and have much more flexibility and financial security than I ever did at a day job.
All without an IT degree or any IT certifications.
Can You Do It?
Am I the exception? Definitely not. I know other people who have taken similar paths. Some of whom, like me, created six-figure businesses after getting some IT experience.
Patience, persistence, confidence and a little luck go a long way. As for luck, just remember: The harder you work, the luckier you become. (A great application doesn't hurt either. Find out how one job seeker used Twitter to land a tech job.)