Prove your knowledge to an employer
Years back, the certification craze hit a wall. The term "paper MCSE" became a major negative in referring to those people with minimal to no experience but nonetheless took and passed the Microsoft exams and got their "engineer" title. Such certifications became something for experienced IT pros to mock.
But today? A certification might be the thing that distinguishes you from the next guy. Taking a certification exam doesn't guarantee you know how to perform each and every last task with the product you're certified in, but it does ensure you are up to date on that product's major topics. It certainly gives you a leg up on someone with no experience whatsoever. Take SharePoint 2010, for example. The certification exam doesn't ask you for the nitty-gritty how-to or step-by-step aspects of SharePoint, but it does ensure you have a solid foundation in all the primary elements available. That's more knowledge than most would have -- and with the cert, you can prove it.
Key certs to consider today include Comptia's A+, Network+, and Security+. Microsoft's certification programs have many branches, so you should target the specific field you want to pursue. You might also consider vSphere certification, XenServer certification, or Cisco's CCNA certification to show your versatility with different products and vendor environments.
A certification won't trump actual experience, but it sure gives an extra boost to a résumé if you're up against people with an otherwise similar background.
You might also consider taking online courses to pursue a degree. Even a single class in computer science is a plus in continuing your education and gaining you knowledge you may not have through pure job experience. In addition, it gives you the ability to honestly say on your résumé "currently pursuing my bachelors" (or masters). Knowing you are proactive about your own personal education makes an employer feel comfortable that you aren't a "sit back, do my job, take a class only if you pay for it" kind of employee. In other words, it makes you a keeper.
Make a good impression on the interview -- and at your current job
When you land an interview, it's important to be able to clearly state what you've done in other environments. It is not a time to be modest, nor is it wise to overembellish. Remember, telling an employer that you led a team of 20 that designed and deployed Exchange 2007 in an existing environment using high availability and unified messaging sounds a lot better than merely saying you headed a team that deployed Exchange 2007. Be as detailed as possible in your description, while remaining truthful.
In your current employment, be eager to pursue any opportunity that will add to your résumé. Don't beg off the tough stuff. Get your hands dirty again. You might just find that by being eager to work harder where you are, you won't even need to seek employment elsewhere (unless you choose to).
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. It's a tough economy and a competitive job market. But whereas many of your peers may be blind in seeing the need to up their game, learn more technologies, prove it through certifications, and enhance both their résumé and their interview skills, you can be that one-eyed man. Better yet, open both eyes to stay relevant -- and well employed.
This article, "How to find -- and keep -- a good job in IT, even today," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.