A job in information technology (IT) can allow you to help people, solve problems, and constantly learn new things. It’s a diverse field that can reward both the generalist and the specialist.
Plus, it’s a growing field that offers solid entry-level salaries. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in computer and information technology to grow by 11 percent from 2019 to 2029 . The average entry-level salary in IT was $63,828 as of April 2021 according to Glassdoor .
So how do you go about breaking into the IT field?
If you’re interested in IT work, it’s a good idea to know what exactly that would look like, and what kinds of jobs are out there. A good first step is to do the research to orient yourself in the IT space. There are several YouTube channels, podcasts, discussion websites (like Reddit, or Quora), and blogs dedicated to helping you learn what IT work is like, and what kind of IT job might be a good fit for you.
Try putting together a list of jobs that you’re interested in. Are you interested in helping an organization’s computer networks function smoothly, or are you interested in developing websites? What sort of organizations are appealing to you? What positions sound like something you’d want to do?
This can help focus your job search. Plus, it’ll get you acquainted with some of the vocabulary you’ll encounter throughout the process. If you’re not sure where to start, try reading about common entry-level IT jobs, or explore what IT career paths are out there.
Think IT jobs are only in big coastal cities?
That’s not the whole truth. While large American tech companies and startups tend to be concentrated in urban areas across the US, IT workers can work for virtually any type of organization that uses a computer system. Your local bank, university, or healthcare facility may be hiring for IT workers. Plus, there’s evidence that smaller cities are growing into new startup hubs . Places like Boulder, Des Moines, and Ann Arbor have shown an increase in startup funding in recent years.
And don’t forget—positions located in larger cities might also be available for remote work.
Specific skills that employers are looking for in IT workers can vary from role to role. Look through several job listings you’re interested in to see what specific skills you should sharpen.
Here a few skills you might find listed in an IT job description.
Operating systems: Familiarity with Mac, Linux, and Microsoft operating systems can put you in a good position to work with a variety of devices and can broaden the organizations you’re qualified to work for.
Security: A fundamental understanding of computer and internet security can be useful to your life as an IT professional. This can include concepts like encryption and firewalls.
Networks: Knowing the essentials of networking issues, like network access and IP services, may give you a leg up in your job search.
Communication: Communicating with others will likely be a key part of your work in IT. IT professionals are often expected to help out other members of an organization with technical problems, or cooperate with team members to roll out new projects. Improving your communication skills can be a great boon to your professional life.
Learn more: Key IT Skills for Your Career
Certifications can be a good way to earn a credential and learn fundamental IT concepts. If you're completely new to the field, you can learn a wide variety of basic IT concepts by getting a general entry-level certification, like the CompTIA A+ certification.
Certifications usually require passing an exam. You can find coursework online or in-person at places like community colleges that can prepare you for certification exams.
Keep in mind: Certifications can cost up to several hundred dollars. But if you feel confident about your decision to enter the IT force and need to get some experience and credentials, it could be a worthwhile investment. If you’re currently employed and think an IT certification would be a benefit to you and your company, you may be able to approach your employer to see if they will pay the exam costs.
Whether you’re trying to be a network engineer or system administrator, experience working in your field is likely to be one of your strongest assets when it comes to getting a job. There are several ways you can gain experience.
Coursework: Coursework, whether online or in-person, often requires you to complete hands-on projects or tasks. Some may also prepare you for certification exams. Not sure where to start? Take a look at the Google IT Support Professional Certificate, which prepares you for the CompTIA A+ certification. You may also find introductory IT courses at your local community college, or elsewhere online.
Personal projects: If you work well without having too much structure, you can try to learn through personal projects. Creating your own software, building a website for a friend, or tinkering with a computer network can put your skills to the test and give you something to point to in job applications.
Internships: Internships may not require previous experience and can be a good opportunity to use your skills in a professional setting.
Freelancing: Some professions like web developers can find work as freelancers. Freelancing can be a good way to complete small projects as you look for a full-time job.
Volunteering: Many volunteer organizations are looking for support. Offering your skills can help you complete hands-on projects that you can refer to in a job application.
Education: Though having a degree isn’t a must for many IT jobs, you can gain the in-depth knowledge you need by studying a related field like computer science or computer engineering. If you have the time and resources to put into an associate or bachelor’s degree, it’s a path worth considering.
Networking can be a useful way to find more about a job or company, introduce you to opportunities you wouldn’t have heard of otherwise, or get you a boost in the hiring process. Your network can include old coworkers, friends, family, alumni of your alma maters, or people you reach out to through professional sites like LinkedIn.
Remember that successful networking doesn't always have to end in a new job. You can also network to learn more about what it's like to work in IT, or get some advice about your job search process.
Check out Coursera’s guide on networking to get interviews for more on who to reach out to, and how.
An entry-level position requires minimal related work experience in most any field. But given the variety of responsibilities you can take on as an IT worker, there are many titles an entry-level position in IT might have. Here are a few entry-level titles that you can look for in your job search:
Help desk specialist
Computer support specialist
Sometimes jobs listed as entry-level might also say they require previous work experience. Don’t be immediately discouraged. Consider applying anyway, emphasizing any experience—like projects you’ve completed in your own time—you might have. Even if the requirements are strict, if you’re a good fit, employers might overlook them.
This is also where your networking might pay off. If you have a connection within the company that can serve as a reference or forward your resume to hiring managers, it can increase your chance of hearing a call back.
In an interview for a job in IT, you’re likely to encounter both behavioral questions and technical questions.
You can prepare for an interview by practicing your answers to common IT interview questions. Read the job description to get a sense of what you’ll be expected to know. Have some stories ready about your past experiences, including times where things went well, and when things didn’t go so well—and what you did about it.
Here are a few examples of questions you might run into:
What are the main hardware components of a computer?
What is RAM?
What are some good security practices you would implement to protect a computer?
How would you work through a problem that you don’t know how to solve?
Can you tell us about a time you accomplished a task as a part of a team?
If you like helping people and being able to learn new things, a career in IT can be fulfilling. Get started by enrolling in the Google IT Support Professional Certificate—the first week is free.
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Computer and Information Technology Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm." Accessed April 14, 2021.
2. Glassdoor. "Information Technology Entry Level Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/information-technology-entry-level-salary-SRCH_KO0,34.htm." Accessed April 14, 2021.
3. Bloomberg CityLab. "The Winners and Losers of America’s Startup Economy, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-02/the-geography-of-america-s-tech-startups." Accessed April 14, 2021.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.