Making “unrelated” experience relevant

Let’s dispel the myth that your previous work experience is not relevant to working in IT.

Professionalism? Check! Attention to detail? Check! Customer service skills? Check! This gentleman is ready for a career in IT! Photo by Dmitriy Frantsev on Unsplash

Every day, I see a variation of this comment while surfing the web:

“I’d like to work in IT but none of my experience is relevant.”

Stop.

If this were only a ridiculous statement, I could let it be. Maybe. But this statement isn’t just ridiculous… it’s harmful.

Because of myths like this one (and its cousin, “I’m too old for IT”) there are currently hundreds of thousands of people out there who falsely believe that they can’t work in IT. So they continue working jobs they hate in fields that don’t challenge or motivate them while making much less than they’re worth.

It’s particularly pernicious when the person is in their early twenties and think that their limited experience has already defined the career paths open to them.

Newsflash: You can change careers if you want to. All experience is related to IT.

Name any career you want and I can tell you how your experience relates to working in Information Technology. Here are a few examples:

Service industry workers

This includes waiters/waitresses, bartenders, and people who work at the front desk of a hotel. This experience is highly relevant to being an efficient IT Support Specialist. I myself bartended for many years, and here’s what I can tell you about people in the service industry: they know how to talk to customers; they know how to deal with irate people; they are patient; and they are dynamic.

Sure, I’m generalizing a bit here. But I have yet to meet a bartender who’s socially inept and lazy, so I feel pretty good about saying this applies broadly.

Educators

Oh, you have experience explaining complex concepts to people? I can’t imagine how that might be useful working in IT support… And your experience dealing with angry parents will also come in quite handy that first time you need to deal with an angry end user!

Social Workers

So you made a living gaining a deep understanding of people’s problems so you could help solve them, you say? Well, when working with computer systems, if you understand why a problem is occurring, you’re 90% of the way to fixing it. (I made up that statistic, but you can quote me on it if you’d like.)

Seriously though, if you’ve ever convinced someone to attend a twelve step program to face their addiction head-on, fixing someone’s monitor is child’s play.

Medical personnel

Maybe you’re a nurse, or maybe a paramedic. Either way, you’re put into stressful (maybe even life-and-death) situations daily and you handle it like a champ. So, figuring out why the network is down is probably not going to stress you out too much.

Financial professional

Whether you’re a banker, mortgage broker, or tax professional, you’re used to working with logical concepts and math. As a bonus, you probably picked up some people skills while dealing with the public.

I could keep going and probably list out something about 99% (yet another made up statistic… I would make a great politician!) of every profession out there. Sure, there may be a few professions out there that don’t have any relevance with IT (maybe bee-keeping?) but I’d have to really think hard about it to find some.

The fact is that hard skills (in other words, technical skills) are plentiful in IT. There are tons of geniuses in this field… but these geniuses don’t always know how to interact with other human beings. And that’s where people with soft skills (such as the ability to de-escalate someone who’s angry or empathize with someone who’s going through personal issues) can really contribute to the field.

Here’s the thing: it seems to me that it’s easier to learn the hard skills than it is the soft ones. If you don’t know how to interact with people without making them angry, you have a long road ahead of you to fix that. But if you know nothing about a particular system, you can fix that in roughly three months. Just pick up a book on the topic and three months from now you’ll have the knowledge you need.

So, if you’re considering a career change from an “unrelated” field, here’s your recipe for success:

Step 1: retool your résumé to highlight the soft skills that apply and get rid of the skills that have no bearing to IT.

Step 2: write a cover letter. This will explain why you’re switching to IT (interviewers want to know!) and is a great place to ham up some of that relevant experience you’re bringing to the table.

Step 3: address your deficit. Your only problem right now is that you are lacking technical skills. As I mentioned above, this means you’re only three months away from getting those. Pick up the A+ book (affiliate link!) and study it using the techniques I mentioned in this post.

Step 4: prepare for your interview by creating note cards (or use Anki which I covered two posts back) of common interview questions.

Step 5: find interview opportunities using word of mouth.

Step 6: ace the interview. If you’ve done the above steps such as reading the A+ material and preparing flash cards of interview questions, this step should just happen!

Step 7: have a long and prosperous career in IT!

With each post, I cover a new topic to help you get your start (or keep progressing) in your IT career. If it’s your first time visiting this blog, start here. And make sure to check out these top interview questions before you start interviewing!