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Rap on career changing and value of certifications

While attending Win2k MCSE training, one of my instructors recently called me a "Career Changer". This set me back a bit. His intention (in his words ) was to "give me a dose of reality". While it's true I've taken an interest in networking, database design, and Cisco equipment, I have an 18 year technical career. I have worked in everything from the DNC machine tool industry to heavy involvement in design, implementation, and customer training of proprietary CCTV security. My most recent career challenge has been to develop a SQL 7.0 database solution for asset tracking in my division. In my mind I am growing, not starting over.

My question is this. What is the industry impression of someone who has decided to "change careers"? At forty years of age, my instructor friend seems to be telling me I will have to start over. Telling me I should not expect anyone to hire me to an IT position making the salary I currently earn, much less any significant increase.

Since September, 2000 I have earned a Net + certification, an MCP in SQL, a CCNA, and will soon finish MCSE, MCSD, and MCDBA training. I have invested a considerable amount of time and money in my "new career" and am wondering if this was a sound investment. We hear the promises of "big bucks" form the people selling training, is it just that, a sales pitch?

Certifications are certainly valuable -- in fact, in a recent survey conducted by our firm, 83% of IT consultants polled said that technical certification was a valuable tool for advancement. On-the-job experience, however, remains a priority for firms evaluating prospective hires, and such intangibles as communication abilities and business acumen cannot be overlooked.

As far as your future salary is concerned, you?ll need to highlight the aspects of your experience, certification and education that most directly apply to the position you?re applying for. Promote those issues most heavily. This will help lend more weight to your overall salary history when it comes time to negotiate. However, if you possess skills that an employer feels aren?t applicable to their job opening, those skills probably won?t be of interest to the firm.

A new hire?s compensation is derived from a ?formula? that includes previous salary history; the knowledge and experience you posses; the market?s demand for those skills; and, of course, the employer?s budget. You?ll need to do a little research to see what companies are paying for the skills they seek. There are a number of online salary resources that should be able to offer you input. We publish the annual IT Salary Guide which you can access free at www.rhic.com.

The key to remember here is, you?ll do best if you can position your previous experience, in some way, as applicable to the new job.

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There are different ways to change careers. For someone of that age I'd advise to look for opportunities within the organization or established network - so that people would take into account soft and interpersonal skills.