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Hello to everyone.

I have a serious problem that I don't quite know how to address due to my unique situation. I am thirty years old and work full time during the day and go to college at night. I'm a junior entering my senior year in the fall. I'm working towards earning a BA in business administration with a major in MIS. My dream and goal is to one find a great career in management. I currently work as a dental technician and have absolutely no experience in the field I'd like pursue, IT/MIS. I have a great GPA (3.7) but I'm deathly afraid of how my lack of experience will affect my employment prospects after graduation. The people I ask for advice on this dilemma ( professors, career counselors) don't seem to grasp the gravity of my problem. I'm married and have a 8-year-old son. I feel a passionate responsibility to succeeding for the good of my family. They are depending on me.

I don't feel like the MIS classes I'm currently taking will be enough to get me an entry level IT/MIS job. One of my professors suggested me going to another school on weekends and getting certified as an MCSE to help boost my resume. Would this actually help? I'm also currently debating going to earn my MBA after I graduate if it would increase my chances of getting a better job. Is this a good idea or should I wait a few years?

Any and all advice would be greatly and sincerely appreciated.

bflynn's picture

First - deep breath and relax. You're not in a bad situation.

You are correct to sense that what most schools teach about IT isn't exactly what businesses want a graduate to know. What you might not be aware of is that most businesses have the same view. Coming out of school, you are usually not hired for technical skill. If you have it, great, but hundreds of thousand of people with no experience get hired every year. So will you. Use your career services department at your school and interview early and often. Have a good handshake, a great smile and a great attitude.

MCSE would be a plus, but its a two edged sword. If you get it, you will be interviewing for a computer networking job and narrowing yourself down to only computer networking jobs. If you're confident about your other qualifications, I recommend not pursuing the MCSE and be sure to keep that 3.7 average as high as you can. Its hard to raise it at this point, but very easy to bring it down. You're almost there, just keep pushing.

As to an immediate MBA, I would wait. Existing experience will make the MBA concepts more real when you learn them and improve what you take away from it. Additionally, an MBA candidate graduating with no business experience is not a top candidate regardless of academic performance. Wait 5 years and go back then. If you plan for going back now and go ahead and save, it will be much easier.

Hope this viewpoint helps. You're in a good situation. Keep moving forward.

Brian

tomw's picture

Brian is right: Breathe. Smile. It's not that bad.

When businesses interview for entry-level positions, they realize you do not have every skill in the world. What they are looking for is ability to grow and improve. They are more interested in how valuable you will be to them a year or two from now.

The MCSE might be useful if you had experience already and wanted to deepen your knowledge, but there are a LOT of "paper MCSEs" out there, people who have certifications without any experience to back it up. There is a big difference between holding a certification and being a capable systems engineer. As Brian said, the MCSE also tips you toward network administration, which does not sound like one of your goals.

You should prepare yourself for a lower starting salary than you might want. Entry level positions often do not pay very well. If your wife works, you may find yourself more reliant on her salary for a couple years until you have the experience to command a higher salary. It may also mean tapping into your savings, so (if possible) start building that up a little now.

I commend you for your efforts and your concerns. If I may give you some feedback (hopefully M&M will forgive me for assuming your agreement), when you show such concern for your family it makes you look mature and responsible. When you hold such a high grade point average as an adult student, it shows you have devoted yourself to your studies and would likely put in the same effort in a professional context. Keep up the good work and the best of luck to you!

MattJBeckwith's picture

I couldn't agree more with Tom and Brian.

An MBA without experience may prove to be more of a liability than an asset. The longer you wait to "jump in" to your field the harder it will be (if for no other reason than salary). Plus, you may find an employer down the road that can help pay for graduate school.

Thinking about this stuff now is great! Balancing work and school, and getting those grades, isn't easy, kudos to you!

akinsgre's picture

I'll also echo the other advice and add a couple things....

While you're not any worse off than other graduates and the GPA is a differentiator, you're also not any better off. And when you start interviewing you'll be in competition with those other graduates.

What has impressed me, among fresh graduates, are those that exceeded in school and had ANY experience to show both acumen and interest.

MCSE might be too distracting to your school work, and that should be primary. Moreover, how do you know that your first or best opportunity won't be in MS technologies.

However, there are plenty of opportunities to gain some knowledge in IT without having a job (maybe more opportunities than other professions).

Decide what direction you might like to take.

Networking? Setup a home network and get experience with routers, TCP/IP, firewalls
Programming? Expand on what you've done in school by getting involved in an opensource project
Management? Begin contributing to the organization of a local user group
Web development? Create a blog on a free web host? Offer to do some work for your kids soccer club.

If none of those work, call me. I have plenty of extra work for a "free" volunteer :wink:

drinkcoffee's picture

I respectfully disagree with Greg's comment:

[i]While you're not any worse off than other graduates and the GPA is a differentiator, you're also not any better off.
[/i]
A 30-year-old raising an 8-year old son has 12 more years of life experience than your average graduate, plus the invaluable "management" experience of raising a family. Play that up in your interviews! You're also going to school at night -- your time management skills must be amazing. Indicate these as strengths and you'll have a leg up on the competition when it comes time to interview.

slymcmosa's picture

Hello,

I'll throw in some extra thoughts. The sentiment expressed by the other contributors is right on. You are doing a good thing, and something of which you should be proud. So don't worry.

You will face challenges, but any change brings those challenges, particularly one that tries for progress. In the end that is a reward unto itself.

If there is any way to make an internship work either after your course work is complete or now (although that seems a bit rough given your obligations) I would suggest it. If not, then the hobby/volunteer effort is certainly a way to go, provided you find the right way to sell it in an interview. Think of it as a portfolio.

And here is one random suggestion from my personal experience. I started out in Real Estate Investment before switching to Software. My first jobs in Software Engineering were building investor contact management systems for Real Estate brokers. I was able to sell that background to prospective employers.

So since you have experience in the Dentistry space, your knowlege of that class of customer might seem very appealing to a company which manages IT solutions for medical facilities and offices. Or the computer based medical equipment used in those offices. I know my doctor's office just recently started using computers during patient examinations rather than the old paper and folder mechanism. There is a whole technology stack there that you could find some synergy between your two disciplines.

Don't worry about taking time to find the right match between you and a company. If there is a company that doesn't like that this is your second or third career, then you probably won't get as much out of working for them as a company that views it as a positive. You'll find a fit.

If you haven't already I would also suggest checking out the book "What Color is Your Parachute" and look at the bits on changing careers.

I'd say wait on the MBA for the reasons stated by others. I would however make sure when you are interviewing that you ask questions about career path opportunities. That being said, I personally find it off-putting when someone one is only interested in the next step rather than the current job they are applying for, but others might feel differently. So balance your enthusiasm for a management position with your excitement about the opportunity immediately ahead of you. No one is going to look poorly on the idea that you want to grow. And you want to make sure there is upward mobility possible. Often in IT it is hard to find people who want to manage, so your prospective employer might be glad to know you are inclined that way. As with all interviews it depends on the person.

That was lengthy, sorry, I am a podcast behind. Good luck and keep the forum posted. This may be a network for you that could lead to an opportunity.

Cheers,
-Sylvester

Mark's picture

You're fine.

Your situation is not unique, and things will work out. Your focus now out to be on your transition - whom are you going to go to work for? What companies will interview FCG's (Fresh college Graduates), and for what positions, and where and how? What 20 companies are you going to target?

Mark

pneuhardt's picture

There are many hiring managers who will consider your "life experience" as an asset, most especially when coupled with your drive and dilligence in going back to school and acquiring the degree. There are also many who will not.

I know I would prefer to work for the first type and not the second. (I once hired someone in a situation similar to yours, and it was one of the three best hires I ever made. This explains my bias, I suppose.)

Don't let the second type get you down. Keep searching for the first.

Good luck to you.

bertkamp16's picture

Thanks everyone! I knew I'd get get great advice here in the MT forums. It is very reassuring to get advice from folks who are actually out there doing what I hope to do some day. Part of the anxiety that I have been feeling as of late is due to the fact I don't have a mentor to advise me. So again, I'm sincerely touched to get advice from experienced professionals who have taken from their precious time to reach out to me.

What I do know so far is that I can be a great manager and that I am leaning towards a career in programming. I served in the Navy right out of high school and did quite a bit management towards the end of my enlistment. I loved it and was actually good at it. I have also learned so much listening to the Manager Tools podcasts that I want to try! So as far as managing is concerned, I feel very comfortable with that aspect of the future. My main worries lie with the programming aspect, getting training and experience. From all the MIS classes I've taken, programming is what has appealed to me the most. Akinsgre suggested that I get involved in an open source project, but how can I best go about this?

Thank you too, Mark, for taking the time to drop me a post. Your post leads me to even more questions. I feel like the more research I do, the more questions I have because I keep unearthing new topics! How do I narrow my search to 20 companies? How do I know which ones hire FCGs? Can I be that picky? I'll be completely honest, at this point I'll be happy if anyone wants to hire me. Ideally, I'd love to work for a one of the Fortune 100 most admired companies. I also like the thought of working for BMW, they have their US manufacturing plant about 20 minutes from where my mom lives in South Carolina. But I'd have no problem moving anywhere in the US to pursue a great job offer.

arun's picture

Hi there,

Some great advice already been given by others.

I too think that you will have greater benefit from an MBA after you have had some more years of experience under your belt. A number of students in my MBA class started the course straight after an undergrad degree and they were really struggling with some of the business concepts due to the lack of experience. You will also be able to apply your classroom learning to real life work situations better.

A lot of companies also take on interns and assist them through their courses. You may want to check out the Careers and Training page on the BMW USA site for more info if you are interested in working for them.

Good luck

tomw's picture

[quote="bertkamp16"] Akinsgre suggested that I get involved in an open source project, but how can I best go about this? [/quote]

For the open source projects, I would start looking at things like SourceForge, where there are hundreds (or thousands) of projects in motion, some done, some with open requests. You can also get involved with the "big boys", like Firefox, Thunderbird, and OpenOffice.

[quote]...I feel like the more research I do, the more questions I have because I keep unearthing new topics! How do I narrow my search to 20 companies? How do I know which ones hire FCGs? Can I be that picky? I'll be completely honest, at this point I'll be happy if anyone wants to hire me. Ideally, I'd love to work for a one of the Fortune 100 most admired companies. [/quote]

As a former boss taught me: The Great Google knows all :-) This is almost the hardest part of professional life. The more you learn, the more you realize you need to know.

You probably will have a hard time finding out which companies hire new graduates since that may be situational. Sometimes a company will, sometimes it might not.

It's also hard to find out what the company is really like. Google might be a top ranked company to work for, but would you really like it there? Or would it be too unlike your own preferences for you to be happy?

That kind of "fit" is hard to predict. When I came to my current company, it was very different than it is now. Over time, it has grown more to my liking (and I like to think I helped influence it). If it had stayed as it was, I would not be here.

Your best "in" will be your network. Meet everyone you can in your field. It's often a person who one of your acquaintances knows who has worked some place for 10 years and can tell you all about the company... oh, and she'll know the HR director too. Nothing helps like a current employee hand-delivering a resume to HR.

The "top rated" companies will get thousands of applicants just for being rated (even without a single position listed as being open). You could probably find a company where you would be just as happy (or more so) without all the aggravations of getting into (and being at) a high-profile company.

akinsgre's picture

[quote="bertkamp16"]My main worries lie with the programming aspect, getting training and experience. From all the MIS classes I've taken, programming is what has appealed to me the most. Akinsgre suggested that I get involved in an open source project, but how can I best go about this?
[/quote]

Involvement in Open Source projects isn't that tough. Find one you're interested in and starting learning about the application. Hang out on the support forums to learn what other people are contributing, and where additional help is needed. Try writing some documentation, or something else that entails less risk to the project maintainers (They will love you for contributing documentation).

You're undoubtedly really busy with your school, work, family shuffle... But the nice thing about these projects is that you are the one who controls how much you're involved.

For more detail, like what projects are good, where you might contribute the quickest.. Give me more some more information about your background.

[list]
What programming languages have you learned in school?
Do you have any hobbies, for which an opensource project might exist (Workout Scheduling, Coin Collecting, Car Maintenance)?
Is there an area you'd like to focus on (Manufacturing, Finance)?
[/list:u]

Also, look around for local user groups... You'll learn something, they are good networking opportunities, and sometimes they'll run "side" projects to do just what you're looking for. In the ones I've been involved in, we've created our own software, run study groups for certification and just generally spend a lot of time coding.

I just searched Google for "Miami User Groups" and found this http://miamijug.wordpress.com/

Coincidentally, the April 17th meeting has a fantastic speaker (Dr. Venkat Subramaniam).. I wish I could be there to hear that!

This might be a little off-topic for this group; so if you want to talk programming more, feel free to email me at [email protected]

AManagerTool's picture

I haven't posted for quite some time but this one struck close to home. I graduated from college at 28. I agree with drinkcoffee about playing up your maturity and work ethic. When I tell my story, I always include the fact that I worked my way through college at night. You have the maturity factor working FOR you not against you.

Mark's picture

I agree. One of your accomplishments could be "I paid 100% of my college expenses by working full time as a student."

This is many recruiters favorite college accomplishment, to say nothing of it being paired with a 3.7 GPA.

Mark

bertkamp16's picture

I can't thank you all enough for all the great advice so far. I've add two great accomplishments to my resume that I never thought of before:

·Routinely managed small teams in carrying out divisional and ship-wide duties (I put this bullet under my work history under US Navy)

·Maintained a 3.7 GPA while working full-time and maintaining a family
(This i put under my accomplishments)

Should I word them differently?

I can't believe that that I've had such an attitude shift since joining the MT forums and communicating with all of you. I feel much more in control now. :)

I've decided I'm going to hit the library and start reading as many books about programming as I can get my hands on. I'm also going to join an open source project and help in any ways that I can.