Ask LH: How Can I Switch From Being A Chef To Being An IT Pro?

Dear Lifehacker, I have recently left an unfulfilling career as a chef and I am moving on toward a career in IT. I have recently finished a Diploma of IT and now I am working towards an undergraduate degree in ICT as a business analyst. I also work a mundane kitchen job to help cover expenses.

My question is: how do I best market my existing skills and newfound educational success to find an “in” to the IT industry? Do I need certifications? Are high marks and no job better than above average marks and an unrelated job? Should I put a lot of effort into vacation and graduate programs? All suggestions appreciated!

Reformed Chef

IT Chef picture from Shutterstock

Dear RC,

Finding the right balance between work and study will obviously depend on your financial circumstances. In an ideal world, you could quit your kitchen job and throw yourself completely into your studies, but we’re guessing this probably isn’t feasible. All you can do is utilise the free time you have in the best way possible, which means hitting the books when you’d rather be out having fun.

At the same time, don’t overdo it or you may run the risk of burning out completely — you can read some tips on how to address ‘burnout’ here and here.

On a related note, most managers are unlikely to be swayed by your individual marks for each unit of study. Instead, their decision will usually be based on your real-world experience, people skills and grade point average. In other words, if a particular subject is giving you grief, it’s probably not worth killing yourself to get a high distinction. As long as you keep your average up, it shouldn’t make much difference to your employment prospects.

Gaining relevant certifications certainly can’t hurt your chances of employment; you just have to go for the right ones. In short, the value of certifications goes up with the difficulty and experience required to get them.

For example, if the certification requires nothing more than paying a fee and taking a quick test, it probably won’t improve the heft of your resume by a huge amount. (That said, a low level certification can still be a good way to get you a foot in the door if you’re starting near the bottom.)

Our US colleague Alan Henry offers the following advice on choosing the right certification:

It’s those higher-level, industry and position-specific certifications that are the most valuable, and while the lower level ones shouldn’t be dismissed, they don’t make you stand out as much as they may have a few years ago. Will an A+ or a Net+ help you get the edge over someone else? Maybe, but someone else with experience or knowledge they can demonstrate in an interview can easily edge out someone with little more than a cert to their name.

It’s also a good idea to check the LinkedIn profiles of people in positions you’d like to aim for. What certifications do they have? Likewise, take the time to peruse ICT job listings to see which professional certifications are common requirements.

You can also join relevant industry groups on LinkedIn and start firing questions. The more real-world feedback you get, the better informed your decision will be.

When it comes to marketing your existing cooking skills, treat it as a garnish instead of being part of the main meal. Keep it brief on your resume and then expand on it at the job interview. For example, you could highlight your proven ability to work under pressure and to a schedule.

To demonstrate a passion for business technology to prospective employers, it could also be worth launching a blog. We think The ICT Chef has a nice ring to it!

If any readers have additional advice of their own, please let RC know in the comments section below.


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