I have MCSE but can't get work

I am a Microsoft certified systems engineer and certified programmer +internet with four months' work experience. Will I ever get a job in the IT industry?

Dear Adviser,

I am a Microsoft certified systems engineer [MCSE ] and certified programmer +internet (MCP+I) with four months' work experience. Do you think I will ever get a job in the IT industry? Companies are barking that there is a shortage of IT staff, but I can't get into an entry-level position. Shall I go overseas like other graduates or choose some other field?

Depressed

Protocol Personnel replies: When Microsoft originally invented the Microsoft certification process it was expected that it would be used by technicians and IT professionals with industry experience to demonstrate their understanding of Microsoft products.

Most institutions originally recommended that someone with two to three years' experience in networking do an MCP or MCSE. Even the CompTIA A+ certificate was originally designed for technicians with 12 to 18 months' experience, but is now being used as a tool to get in the door with a prospective employer.

What the industry was attempting to do was show that these IT professionals had a certain level of knowledge. They were not originally intend to be used as entry tools into the industry because the organisations that wanted some form of standardisation realised that the actual hands-on experience is vital to the performance of the engineer, not just the qualification.

A lot of training organisations will try to tell you that you can earn huge money in IT and that with qualifications such as an MCSE (and even without work experience) you will earn a huge salary. We have heard stories of MCSE grads with no experience that are supposedly earning $50-$60K in their first year. The reality is very different. True there are some who are very fortunate who get exceptional roles, but the majority do not. In fac, the great majority struggle to find work, as you may be experiencing. As a note most engineers with a MCSE and four to five years' experience are only earning between $55K-$70K. Someone with your experience starting out even with the MCSE & MCP+I should only expect to earn $25K initially.

The reason we tell you this is to help you bring your expectations into line with the market. Employers want experience, not just qualifications. This may seem a very unfair paradox but it is just the way it is. What you may need to do is set your expectation level lower than where you have perhaps been aiming. With no experience you need to find a bench repair job or some form of on-site technician role - hey, you may have to even do work experience for six months for nothing - the trick is to have a can-do attitude with a desire to learn and get experience.

In other words your MCP+I and MCSE are great but you will almost need to forget them for now and check any ego you may have obtained through these qualifications at the door. Jobs don't just come running because you have these qualifications. You need to get on the phone and market yourself, go around and physically visit with companies and ask for five minutes of their time to present your proposal.

Get passionate about wanting experience. Tell companies you'll work for a week for free, and if they like your skills then they can bring you on full-time. Ninety percent of the battle is the attitude. Once you get in the door, work hard, very hard. Take fewer breaks and work later than everyone else and success will come.

There are jobs locally that pay very well, but the grass is not always greener on the other side, so be careful. True, many grads do go overseas to get work but it is not always what it is cracked up to be. Someone with a killer attitude, good communication skills and some humility will earn a very good living locally. Your attitude determines your altitude. Don't give up and get out there.

Readers with career questions can have them answered in this column by IT recruitment specialists. Send questions via Computerworld journalist, Darren Greenwood, with "Dear Adviser" in the subject line.

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