Ask A Progeek – The Job/Experience Issue

And our question this week is one that a lot of people ask:

How do you make the jump between “mall/retail/survival job” and “real job,” considering the chicken-egg situation happening with jobs and experience?

This is a question everyone has asked for decades, and is probably going to keep asking for a long time to come.  How do you leap from your lousy job to a real job – and how you get the experience you need.

The first answer, of course, is to know that you’re potentially going to have a lousy “maintenance” job in your life and do everything you can to plan around it:

  • Start networking early.
  • Start looking at salary profiles, job profiles, and more so you know what to expect and what to do.
  • Get the experience, training, and knowledge you need in school or other training.
  • Apply for jobs while you’re finishing up education or training.
  • Leverage any placement resources you have.

Of course not all of us are so fortunate as to have done this, had it work, or have a functional economy.  That’s when you have to take some different tacts.  Dealing with moving from “survival” to “real” job takes the following.

Know your goal. Know what kind of jobs or job you want, what it takes to do the job, and what people are looking for.  You need this because then you . . .

Make A List.  You want that job?  You need to make sure you can meet all the needs of that position that really matter.  Doing your research lets you know what matters and what’s bullet-point fluff.  Then you can . . .

Make A Plan.  You now need to look over what you have to do to get that job.  Maybe you need experience, certifications, something else.  But at least you have a pretty good idea.  When you have a plan you can then . . .

Get Experience, Skills, and Certifications.  Here’s where you can really shine in your progeekery since there’s so many opportunities (and you have access to quite a networking base, hopefully).  Start getting what you need be it on the job, working at cons, taking an online course, getting tutored, etc. The entire experience conundrum is half-solved when you know what you need.   Of course you also need to:

Learn To Sell – And Learn Equivalences.  Learn to pitch your experience (job or hobby) in interviews and on the job search – and learn when something is equivalent to something else.  Your four years in tech support may give you enough experience to match two years of customer service, or the web page you’ve run for a con may count to web experience.

Find Equivalences And Opportunities.  Fill in the gaps with other experiences, knowledge, etc. you’ve identified – and deliberately seek them out.

Always Search.  Always.  Never, ever stop your job search until you have something you want, and keep improving it.  Keep looking for jobs, opportunities, internships that play into your plan.  Also, constantly improve your search skills, networking connections etc.

Finding the right job involves a plan,strategy, application – and adapting that plan as real life comes along.

Now being we’re a blog for professional geeks, let me expand on a few points above:

  • Seriously, learn how to leverage your fandom to get experience.  Hobby experience may not be the same as pro experience, but it can help “spackle in the gaps” in your career.
  • Sometimes hobbyist experience is professional experience.  When you put out books, webcomics, run a con for years, that is professional.  You just need to learn how to pitch it.
  • Remember the first thing to do is show you can do the job.  That requires you to know about the job and show how you fit it – that also lets you fit in your experiences.

I hope this helps – and helps you get to a more ideal career for you!

Steven Savage