Ask LH: How Can I Move On In My IT Career?

Ask LH: How Can I Move On In My IT Career?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m a mid-twenties IT professional who works at an Australian IT startup, and I have really enjoyed my time there. I’ve been involved in everything from designing hardware, reviewing and recommending server farm infrastructure, developing automated deployment scripts, software support, training and — well, it’s a software startup, you get your hands dirty with everything at the end of the day. But now it’s time to take the next step.

Lately I’ve been looking at IT jobs online for roughly $20-30K more a year than my current salary, dealing with just one aspect of the many that I deal with weekly. Most require industry certifications (which I don’t feel I have time for right now), or a few more years in the industry than I currently have.

Beyond building an online presence, by blogging or community interaction, what other steps can I take to demonstrate that I’m able to take on one of these roles? Thanks, Jack Of All Trades, Wants to Master One

Staircase picture from Shutterstock


So here’s my first thought: it is relatively rare to get a $30,000 pay rise from a single job change. It’s particularly unlikely to happen when you’re applying cold for a role (as opposed to being sought out by a recruiter or former colleague). You need to think in smaller steps. You can always try applying for positions that appeal and making your case, but that outcome is likely to be dispiriting and if you do it repeatedly, you may sully your reputation with recruiters.

The basic truth of the matter is that roles which require you to concentrate in a specific area and want a certification are not that likely to waive the need for that certification. You’re an unknown quantity to a new employer; given the choice, picking the guy who has done the course in Technology X is generally going to be more appealing than choosing the guy who claims experience in the area but hasn’t been through that step.

If you want to get into those positions but don’t have the time or energy for certification, your best bet is to take a slightly less senior role than those you’re currently aspiring to, but within the same organisation. It’s much easier to demonstrate your capabilities on the spot than to convey them in a single interview (even assuming you get that far).

One of the most constant refrains in the IT industry is that technology workers need business experience and knowledge. From that perspective, having worked in a startup is a very sellable skill; you’ve seen not just how to use technology but the impact it has. So apply for new roles and explain that you’re keen to develop your skills in specific areas, having been in a broad-based position. As someone used to say about shampoo: it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

That’s my take. If readers have different perspectives, we’d love to hear them in the comments.


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  • As a professional in my mid twenties, I would highly encourage certifications.

    Technically you are still at the “start” of your IT career, and there a plenty of other qualified (20 year plus) veterans in the field. The easiest way to show that you can match these veterans is through certifications.

    For instance, a job may “require 5 years experience” and although you may have 5 years in industry, it may not have been specific to that role. By obtaining a certification that requires industry experience, you are providing the HR resource with an (independently verified) form of evidence that you have the experience they require.

    Additionally, if you have the same certifications as others who have been in the field longer, it shows that you’re a) willing to learn b) proactive and c) looking to constantly improve yourself.

    The other suggestion I would have is to look at Michael Page’s (Technology) salary forecast to see if the amount you’re asking for is “reasonable” within your years of experience and for the job you are conducting –

    Hope this helps!

  • Don’t. Trust me, don’t.

    Don’t be a master of one. It is a short term gain, but you will lose out in the long rung. The challenges and interesting work and most importantly, the money, is the Architecture work that integrates everything and does the big project design work.

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