How to Get into IT: Keep Calm, Set Goals and Connect with Others

by Jessica Frank | Jul 22, 2019

A headshot of James McCracken, who changed careers into ITStarting at a new job can be a little stressful, no doubt, but starting at your first professional IT job (ever!) can seem downright intimidating. Sure, you’ve worked before, but now you’re in that first job in the field you’ve chosen and prepared for, and you may wonder if you’re really ready.

Take comfort knowing that everyone in your field was once in the exact same place you are in right now. Entering your desired field is your chance to shine and build on what you’ve learned. After all, you wouldn’t have been hired if the company didn’t think you could do the job. You’ve got what it takes, and it’s time to prove it.

Network engineer and subject matter expert James McCracken recently went through this same situation. After owning and operating his own successful business for six years, he made a career change to IT from marketing. James went back to the classroom to train for a job in IT, earned many IT certifications — including CompTIA Project+ — and entered the IT field for the first time after that.

Now that he’s on the other side of this experience, James has some advice to pass along to the (hopefully not-for-long) occupationally anxious! He recently shared his tips on Twitter, as part of a Tweet chat with the CompTIA charity Creating IT Futures. Here’s what James had to share on how to prepare for your first IT job.

17 Tips for Changing Careers into IT

  1. Don’t step. JUMP outside of your comfort zone!
  2. Don’t sweat the first test. Instead, focus on improving.
  3. Don’t compare yourself to others. The only person you have to compete with is yourself.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your classmates. Peer learning is an essential skill for today’s tech workforce.
  5. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone as an opportunity to learn from others.
  6. Know your 30-second introduction by heart and be able to give it at a moment’s notice.
  7. When interviewing, consider how potential managers and other company leaders might serve as mentors and role models.
  8. Have a 60-day career plan ready to discuss during interviews. Discover how potential managers and coworkers might play a role.
  9. Don’t be afraid to connect and build connections with your classmates. Building a professional network begins on the first day of class.
  10. While technical skills are essentials, mastery of soft skills like communication and active listening that are just as important.
  11. Five critical soft skills for any IT professional are communication, collaboration, critical observation, problem solving and leadership.
  12. Great interviews begin with research. Don’t waste the interviewer’s time with questions that can be readily answered on the company website.
  13. Professional organizations are a great way to network and meet potential employers.
  14. Networking events are another great way to learn about potential employers and future coworkers. And they can be less pressure than interviewing!
  15. Great interviews are a conversation that is the result of planning. Prepare your questions ahead of time.
  16. After your first week of class, don’t be afraid to set goals for yourself. It will help you to plan and ask for help ahead of time.
  17. LinkedIn is an essential career tool. Get a head start on establishing an online presence by setting up your account.

James made a mid-career switch and has reaped the benefits from it. His marketing background gave him the soft professional skills he needs to succeed in IT every day.

“There’s still a perception that you can’t go into IT if you don’t have a technical background, and that perception couldn’t be further from the truth,” James said. “There is so much opportunity in IT for people like me.”

No matter your current career or future aspirations, it’s never too late to start a career in IT. So many skills from different areas are applicable in technology. If you are like James and are ready for career change, check out the career change section of our website for inspiration, advice and step-by-step guides.

18 Comments

  • Kelcey Darius Leverett

    Friday, July 26, 2019

    I would like to get into IT.

  • Riley Dobbe

    Friday, July 26, 2019

    Every IT job I've applied for requires a degree of some kind and thats an entry level job too. I wonder if tis best to get a cert like CompTia+ or Network+ just to get your foot in the door THEN get your Associates degree?

  • Bernie

    Friday, July 26, 2019

    I am getting ready for my A+ class in late Aug and very excited. I thank u for the encouragement. I am leaving hospitality to go into IT needed an confirmation and your story was it. Thank u

  • David Palm

    Friday, July 26, 2019

    Thanks for sharing! I'm starting my re-entry IT job Aug 13th! I'll keep these things in mind.

  • Matt M

    Saturday, July 27, 2019

    Or ... , go the OTHER way. Leave IT and become something else.

  • Willard

    Saturday, July 27, 2019

    I recently got lost my Job 12 years in manufacturing, thank you for the words of encouragement I got my A+ moving on to N+, hopefully will have Security by end of this year. I am so motivated and raring to go get all those certifications.

  • virginia

    Saturday, July 27, 2019

    Hi I want to have a career change from children's services/childcare to IT. I had an IT background before in 2012 as IT help desk support. I have been away from IT since 2012. I was thinking to want to take a cybersecurity course to refresh my IT skills. what do you think? what job can I get after finish Comptia cybersecurity course? Thank you for your answer

  • Michael

    Saturday, July 27, 2019

    "Know your 30-second introduction by heart and be able to give it at a moment’s notice." What does my 30 second intro need to consist of? Meaning that will help me stand out above the rest. Thank you

  • Dave

    Saturday, July 27, 2019

    I don't think feeling comfortable once you start is most people's problem. The problem is getting started. I am/was trying to make the transition from an out of practice Senior Software Developer to Security and the only jobs that I am told I am qualified for are Help Desk. You HAVE to have operations center experience to progress in Cyber Security. The CompTIA certifications haven't helped me one bit. A young person might be able to start out as Help Desk lackey and have time to move through promotions, but at my age, I can't do that. I would have been better off getting a Cisco certificate (CNNA or similar). I do agree with what James said about communications. Being able to communicate well and have a large social network is more important than what you know. The smartest people don't get the job.

  • Monday, July 29, 2019

    Hi, Virginia! Thanks for your comment, and congrats on your decision to get into IT. Your foundational IT knowledge from working the help desk will definitely help you get into cybersecurity. Start by looking for classes or materials related to CompTIA Security+ - or download the exam objectives for free - to gauge your skill level and see if you need a refresh on foundational IT skills or if you can jump right into cybersecurity. In terms of jobs, many cybersecurity jobs are not entry level, so it could be tough to land a cybersecurity analyst or penetration tester job right off the bat. You may need to go back to the help desk for a brief period or try network/systems administration to refresh your skills. In those roles, you'll still gain exposure to cybersecurity, which will prepare you for your next move. Good luck!

  • Monday, July 29, 2019

    Hi, Michael! Thanks for your question. Your 30-second intro should be who you are and why you are the best person for the job. Focus on things like what skills, experience and certifications you have, what type of job you're looking for, what you bring to the company, etc. Good luck!

  • Kenneth

    Friday, August 16, 2019

    I like ready all the CompTIA news and emails that come out. I am part of several groups on Facebook as well. I made a mid life career change to IT and havent looked back. I am currently 39, when I was 33 (married with 2 children)I was in a job going nowhere fast working for family. I needed a change, so I went back to school and got my Bachelor's Degree in Computer Networks and Security. Through my classes I was able to obtain Network+ and Security+ before graduating. I graduated in 2015 and got my first IT job about 6 months later. It took some time but well worth it. That job was a low level tech - made more money that family job and I loved what I was doing. The people there helped me a lot - about 18 months later I started at a government contractor in an elevated help desk role. I worked a year in that role and then moved up to Cyber Security Analyst with the same firm which I am still at now. I have great benefits, great retirement, make more than double what I was making working for family. I also recently CySA+ as well. This has gotten me multiple offers to work at other places for more money than I am making now (which I am considering). It can be done - apply yourself! Good Luck!

  • Rob Campbell

    Friday, August 16, 2019

    I think you are missing one huge critical piece. When I am hiring, it is the biggest bonus points someone can receive. Play with technology and live it. Set it up in your home, have a NAS, DNS server, Raspberry Pi running at home. Set up web servers and have your own domain and family or personal web page. Live the lifestyle and make sure your interviewer is aware of your love for technology. When I hire, I want to see an enthusiast! Don't just do it for a job, do it because you love it and live it! Nothing says "I can do this job" like a person who lives it every day at home, simply because they like doing it.

  • Agree with Dave

    Friday, August 16, 2019

    Agree with Dave's comment above. For those already in IT with years experience, getting the Security+ has not been helpful at all. Even though I worked in a data center and worked front line support, I can't get my foot into the Cyber Security area. They all want some sort of Cyber experience, even for Level 1. I could go for the next cert up: CySA+, but for what? If companies aren't willing to give me a chance, then what's the point?

  • Derek Chambers

    Sunday, August 18, 2019

    I just graduated with my BS in Cyber Forensics and IT Security but finding a job has not been easy. It seems like because I don't have experience or Certs they won't take the chance. I am studying for the Network + and Security + CE to take them next month.

  • Mark

    Monday, August 19, 2019

    I like what Rob says. It is easy to load CentOS on an old pc to learn Linux (for RedHat). You can download Windows server as a trial for 90 days to practice with Active Directory, DHCP, and DNS. If you are working with in a network you must know group policy and active directory. If you want to learn Networking, Cisco ACADEMIES are GREAT since they have equipment AND good software for emulation (packet tracer). You can buy used Cisco gear at eBay relatively cheaply and set up your own network, though I would recommend a Cisco Academy (NOT a general networking class). I switched careers in 2005 and wish I had done it earlier. You will HAVE to keep learning new skills!!!!! By the way, a CCNA is much more advanced than A+ and will take longer. Most folks get an entry level help desk job and move up from there. Volunteering to do web pages, networking, or helpdesk for non-profits can be a way to get experience. EVERY employer wants to see EXPERIENCE not just classes or certifications.

  • Neil

    Monday, August 19, 2019

    I have a BS in IT Management, a Project+ cert and will have my Security+ cert in 2 weeks. I also have 15+ years of experience at the IT developer, administrator and executive levels for a mid sized corporation. I cannot find work. What I have learned is that jobs have become quite compartmentalized, in that the jobs available are much more focused, as opposed to generic IT management, etc. With that, I am considered under qualified for niche positions and over qualified for general positions. Lastly, I have learned that IT is a younger man's game, at least in the employer's mind. Quite difficult for me @50, even with this always being my career!

  • Gift

    Wednesday, August 21, 2019

    Thanks for advice, it change something in me

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