Paper MCSE

by Daniel Petri - January 8, 2009

The "Paper MCSE"

Imagine this scenario: You’ve been studying for the MCSE certification for over six months. You’ve gotten passing scores on all the tests. And now, Systems Engineer Certificate in hand, you decide to jump into the job market in search of your extra $10k a year in salary. Then the rejection letters come. How can this be? You thought that this job market was so hot it could melt anything. (Especially that hole in your wallet for those courses you’ve taken.)

Why are you getting rejected? Well, there is still some more hard work out there for you “newbie-MCSEs” with no experience and no insider connections to help you out. Luckily, there’s enough work in this market for everyone. It’s just a question of reassessing your game plan and a little change in attitude.

What’s The Matter With My Attitude, Punk?

Speaking directly to those who never worked in the “New Economy” before, there are a few things to learn about techs that may or may not have been readily apparent. You see, there are people out there who will have you believe that God had them in mind when networks were created. These know-it-alls may be able to run a network from their palm-pilot or have written a series of automated batch files to do their work for them. But their whole play is that they portray themselves to be invaluable to the organization. That’s their attitude for better of for worse. The part that makes these people so valuable is that if they don’t know the answer, they can look up the answer quicker than you can ask it – therefore never displaying their weaker side.

Of course, no one likes know-it-alls anyways, right? But having the right attitude starts with being confident but no cocky. When someone comes out of computer science bachelors program from a university, they usually get hired when they finish because the companies believe that someone who studied for all this time can be shaped and molded into something the company can work with. MCSEs, on the other hand, don’t have the likes of IBM or Arthur Andersen to court them after finishing their courses. In their eyes, a paper MCSE is inexperienced and shouldn’t be let loose on critical network resources.

The Job Hunt

Scanning the job ads can certainly be depressing for a paper MCSE. When looking for system administration jobs in your area, you won’t see “Wanted: Entry-Level Systems Administrator for fortune 500 company to perform all network installations and maintenance.” So how do you find a job that fits your inexperience and willingness to work?

First of all, it’s important to note that most companies simply do not post all their open positions in the newspaper. It doesn’t make sense for them to spend that kind of money on want ads that will most likely go un-filled in their tight job market. Therefore, you need to promote yourself. Make a list of all the companies you’d like to work for. Include those that didn’t necessarily post System Administration positions into the mix. Then, using the power of e-mail, send an individual e-mail with your resume to all those companies and see who writes back. As any direct-marketer will tell you, getting a 5% response is good. Just wait a week or two and re-send your resume to all those who didn’t answer. One of three things will happen:

  1. They’ll never write back to you.

  2. They’ll send you a rejection letter.

  3. They just might invite you for an interview.

Let’s analyze what could happen behind door #3...

The Interview

Getting the interview is just the beginning. Once you’re up in front of that manager, it’s your time to shine. I’m not going to bore you with all the other details like dressing up in a tie and firm handshakes. Your goal is to get somehow convince a skeptical, time-pressured, hiring manager who has betters things to do than listen to speak about how you’re perfect for the job. Since this person has already read your resume, it’s safe to assume that he/she sees something in you. The trick is in the convincing.

Anyone who has read your resume has probably gotten the picture that you’re just a ‘babe-in-the-woods’ newbie. Since you’re now in the interview, your interviewer is gauging just how much or little you really know. If he wasn’t interested in your lack of knowledge, the interview would have been over five minutes ago and you’d be on your way back to working at Comp USA. So what’s important here is not to lie about yourself and recite buzzwords that you’ve learned in class. Show your interviewer an aura of confidence that while acknowledging that the job will be tough, you are up to the task and will be a productive asset to the organization. If you have that “I have no experience” look on your face, you’ll fulfill your own prophesy. Acting with confidence and marketing yourself in a good light is the key to convincing your future employer that you are the right person for the job.

Trial by Fire

So you’ve got the job. You’ve finished celebrating with your significant other and you start work. Just how do you hang onto that job just long enough for you to learn something of value so you can justify your time there? The first rule to remember is never say ‘No’. There is no problem that you can’t solve given the right resources and time. So when you get one of those “Why can’t I connect to the network?” questions, it’s your opportunity to shine. You have the tools necessary to solve almost any problem. If you didn’t throw away your MCSE books, you’ll be able to at least isolate the problem. Also, if you have a specific error number or message, Microsoft’s TechNet site on the Internet is ‘the authority’ to consult for solving problems. It’s also full of training material and videos to help you catch up no the information that you may have missed out on.

Making the best of your MCSE certification is key to jump-starting your career in the computer field. Remembering which tools to use and how to utilize them will bring you a long way in being just one of the crowd to the person in charge.

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Contributing Author: Jeff Mendelson

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