I was forwarded this email today in hopes that I might have some thoughts on the matter. It says:

I was just wondering how you get started in the IT field with just an A+ cert? The problem I am running into is I am trying to change careers and every employer requires at least one year experience. So, how do you get the experience if no one will hire you?

Ouch, this is an area that I know a lot of people are struggling with. But the fact of the matter is this individual’s challenges go MUCH deeper than a lack of work experience in the field. They must realize early on that an A+ is considered the single most entry level certification available. In other words, it’s essentially meaningless outside of being coupled with other more advanced certifications and some experience.

Still, it is possible to get entry level positions at places like Best Buy, among other desktop repair type gigs with a little experience under your belt. The key, besides obviously setting your sights on a more impressive certification, is to look around you at how you can build up your experience.

I’d say start at home.

Best bet is to become an PC repair resource for friends, relatives, anyone is willing to let you get a hold of their computer. While clearly working as an apprentice would be more beneficial on paper, this at least allows you to build up some badly needed experience points on how you deal with real life challenges.

So while employers require you to carry certs in order to land the job in the first place, you must also understand that you would not want a brand new mechanic working on your car even though they have the most entry level certification possible. Sure, they might get things right, but in this economy, most people would prefer the guy who has been fixing cars for a bit longer.

Building up experience

In a crappy economy, you are likely looking at volunteering for building up experience if using my above suggestion is not enough for you. Assuming you are *very* familiar with malware removal, install Windows and troubleshooting faulty hardware, offer your time to local community groups who might be looking for an extra pair of hands. Churches, believe it or not, are also an outstanding resource here. Most have a dire need for extra IT assistance and are terribly understaffed. So yes, community groups, churches, anything non-profit is generally a good place to get your feet wet.

Going it alone

Another way to build up experience, again, assuming you are damned comfortable with your skill set, is to work for yourself part time starting out. If you have the skills due to being a long time geek at home, but are just starting out and want to go into business yourself, this is THE BOOK to get you started. It is going to bring you down to reality very quickly as each page simply tells it like it is.

If it were me, I would likely do a little bit of everything above. Try to find someone to volunteer with. Learn as much as you can on your own while documenting your new discoveries. Then slowly begin offering your services as a freelancer.

I realize this is not likely what you wanted to hear, but contrary to the hot air you hear on those TV commercials, no one just walks into computer repair with nothing more than an A+. You must build up some experience and it will take time.