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Certification only goes so far.

Q: About a year ago I enrolled in a local computer learning center (with no prior computer experience) looking to launch a career in IT. A year later I have my A+ and Net+ certifications, and I’m soon to get MCP-certified. I have sent my resume to a lot of job postings hoping to get that breakthrough job, with no luck. My problem is that I have no experience. I am willing to do anything to get some experience so I can at least get an entry-level job. I have searched nonprofit organizations and applied for internships with no luck. I recently enrolled at one of the local universities to complete a 12-course certificate program in network administration. What else can I do to get a start in IT?

A: Getting experience while going after certification is a great idea. It may be that you’re looking in the right place, but not in the most effective way. Simply sending a resume to a nonprofit that’s already short on help won’t make your phone ring. Instead, investigate local organizations and find out their needs. Perhaps volunteers at a help line yearn to have e-mail capability, or a church’s food shelf programs would benefit from being networked through an intranet to track food supplies.

When you know the organization’s needs, you can arrange to meet a representative of the nonprofit and make a proposal to address the situation. Free help is hard to resist, especially in these tight times. Also, you can probably fit the time spent volunteering around your class and study schedule.

You can be a little creative as well. Maybe you can open up your own low-cost PC repair shop. Demand for service and repair is at an all-time high, especially with the rise in telecommuters who need their systems to work now. As with other personal home contractors these days, after you get your name out there, you may find you have more work than you can handle. Who knows, you might find yourself in the enviable position of hiring former classmates to help you with your business.

Q: My son recently graduated from a good four-year college with a B.S. in Information Systems. He’s looking for a job in our area–a large metropolitan area on the East Coast. He is interested in networking; however, a friend of mine has informed him that he should take a certification class. My question is, what certification should he pursue? There are quite a few of them out there. Could you recommend a specific certification program that could help him?

A: Since your son already has some education, he’s probably in a good position to know what type of job he’d like to have. An informational interview with someone that has a career in networking similar to the one he’d like to pursue would help him hone his direction. Asking that person which certifications helped to get the job, and which are most useful, would pare down your son’s training choices.

Q: I’m 38, have a dual B.S. in Physics/Psychology and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology, and am currently taking Java programming classes after completing my first networking class. Why am I looking toward IT? I never found a job in my chosen field after obtaining my degrees. I have yet to earn more than $25,000 a year, owe mega-bucks on student loans and have lots of credit-card debt. I have been taking IT courses in the hopes I could start a home business of some sort. What do you think?

A: Unfortunately, it’s difficult to become enthusiastic about a career when you’re only going into it for the money. If you have a passion for some area of IT, like networking, then that should help limit the frustration caused by high student loans and low paychecks.

It would be ideal if you could combine your education with your desire for a home business. Technology has begun to slowly gain acceptance in the therapy field, and many psychologists are finding that they can benefit from electronic interaction with patients, such as providing e-mail accessiblity, quick online referrals via their Web sites, and even appointment changes sent as a text page.

The move toward becoming tech-savvy has been slower than for some other professions, however, and this could be to your advantage. Rather than launching a business that deals in general IT consulting, and therefore being one of many, it might be better to choose a customer niche that remains fairly unexplored, like providing technology services for psychologists, therapists, and hospital psychology departments. You already know the patient-doctor security concerns that have to be addressed in implementing a network.

Your understanding of clinical psychology puts you well ahead of others who may try to target these potential clients. Put that knowledge to work.

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