Obtaining your CCNA certification isn’t just an end unto itself—the bigger goal, of course, is finding a job that leverages all the effort you’ve put into passing the CCNA exam! Even in these uncertain economic times, there are literally thousands of jobs available that either require or at least can use a CCNA. These jobs are available in a wide variety of industries because computer networks are used in almost every facet of global business.
However, there are also literally thousands of job candidates—many of them also possessing a CCNA certification—competing for these jobs. Using an online job listing search with the keyword “CCNA” is a good place to start looking for a job. You can also scan the job ads in newspapers and computer journals, network with other members of professional associations, and attend networking events and job fairs.
Preparing your resume and list of references is the first major step to obtaining employment as a CCNA. You want your resume to make you seem like the best and most logical choice for the job; your references should be able to talk intelligently about your computer-networking skills. If you land a job interview, you’ll need to be able to present your professional experience, knowledge, and soft skills such as leadership and communication in the best light possible.
Choosing the right references and preparing those people before they are contacted is a very important aspect of your job search. Employers will use your references to discover whether your experience and knowledge, as well as your work habits, personality, and ethics are right for the position they are hoping to fill.
Family members are not a good choice for professional references, although they can serve as character references. Because you will be trying to leverage your CCNA certifications, it would be ideal if at least some of your references are also CCNAs, or had an even more advanced Cisco certification such as CCIE. Every professional reference you choose should be able to talk knowledgeably about computer network components, protocols, and troubleshooting.
If possible, include previous managers on your list of references—they’ll be able to share the most relevant information. But if you have not yet found your first job, you can use professors and career counselors as references. Your references should be positive about your qualities, but should not sound like you bribed them to gush out lavish praise. Objective, to-the-point information about what you know about computer networking and how you work with others is the best information they can share.
How many references should you list? Almost all companies will request at least three references. You can include more, but avoid listing so many it seems overwhelming to the hiring manager—few managers will contact more than three. Include each reference’s name, title, affiliation, address, phone number, and e-mail address.
Always ask references for their permission to list their names on your reference sheet. And talk to them after you apply for a job so they know that they might be contacted by a hiring manager or recruiter. If you haven’t chatted with or worked for a particular reference for a while, you should bring him or her up to date on your new skills and experience—don’t forget to mention you passed your CCNA exam! Sending each reference a recent copy of your resume is a good way to summarize your current skill set.
When they look at your list of references, hiring managers need to be able to tell whose references they are reading. Therefore, include your name and contact information at the top of the page, just like on your resume. Also, format your list of references so that it complements your resume and forms a consistent package—for example, use a similar font.
During your job search, contact your references every so often to verify their contact information and determine if they are still willing to be a reference. Finally, don’t forget to thank your references occasionally for their willingness to help—even if you are still looking for a job. Everyone likes to feel appreciated!
Out of the literally hundreds of jobs advertised that are potential positions for IT professionals with a CCNA certification, you’ve managed to land a job interview. The question is how do you prepare for and participate in the interview properly? Answering some of the following questions can help you not only survive the interview process, but thrive—and get the job you’ve always wanted.
- What do you know about the company? Companies want to know you are interested not just in “getting a job” but in the company and its goals and successes. Before any interview—either by phone or in person—research the CEO name, the company history, products, and services, and scan headlines for relevant news stories. These can be about the company itself or about the industry as a whole.
- What technical knowledge are they likely to ask about? You’ll want to brush up on relevant vocabulary and technical concepts. For example, if the job is managing a wireless network, remind yourself of the various wireless protocols, access point equipment, and so on.
- What other questions might they ask? Whatever the question, your answer should always be phrased to reference experience and knowledge that are relevant to the job. Listen carefully to the question, take time to think before answering, and ask for clarification if you need it. Interviewers love to try to trip you up by asking seemingly non-job-related questions, such as “Tell me about a time when you made a mistake and learned something from it,” or “what do you consider your greatest achievement?” Do some research about these types of questions and prepare answers for them.
- What are the interview logistics? Will it be by phone or in person? What time? If in person, do you know how to get there? If by phone, make sure your phone is charged up, you’ve prepared a quiet place to conduct the interview, and your notes are in order and easily accessible.
- Are you prepared for that “first impression?” If you’re interviewing by phone, remember that it is primarily your voice that will give the interviewer a picture of you.Speak with a smile, sound enthusiastic but not hyperactive, and focus on what the interviewer is saying.
- If you’re interviewing in person, look professional. This includes your clothes, hair, and general attitude. Be on time, turn off your cell phone, and bring a pen and paper to take notes. Look pleasant and relaxed, but not complacent.
- Do you have your own questions prepared? Inevitably, interviewers give you a chance to ask questions toward the end of the interview. It is bad form to not have questions—this can make you seem disinterested or unprepared. Instead, prepare two to three questions that focus on helping you decide if the job is a good fit for your skills. They should also demonstrate that you have spent some time thinking about the job and the company. For example, you could ask if the company assigns mentors to new employees, or if the company encourages employees to make suggestions about how things can be done more efficiently.
- Did you remember to say thank you? It is very important to send a thank-you note right away, either written or by e-mail, to the interviewer(s). Nothing fancy is required—simply thank them for their interest in you and repeat that you are excited about the opportunity to work on XYZ’s computer networks. Don’t forget to proofread before you hit “send” or seal the envelope.
Your resume is a two-dimensional snapshot of YOU—what you know, what you’ve done, what you’re good at. You want your resume to make you stand out from the crowd and be relevant for the specific job for which you are applying (you may have to prepare several versions of your resume if you are applying for several jobs).
Here are some tips as you prepare your resume:
- Use keywords from the job description. Many resumes are scanned digitally, not by humans, and it’s important for the scanning software to find the right keywords and phrases.
- Include your CCNA certification very near the top, at the beginning of your education section. If you have any other certifications and degrees, list them in reverse chronological order. If you graduated with honors, include that. Otherwise, leave out your GPA.
- Create a skills section with subheadings that highlight your specific strong points. For example, your subheadings might be for wired, wireless, and virtual private networks, equipment and cable types, and/or data transfer protocols with which you are familiar. You can also list soft skills, such as communication, leadership, work ethic, etc.
- In the work experience section, also use reverse chronological order. Include the company and its location, your job title, dates you worked, and responsibilities. When describing what you did, be specific and use active language. For example, don’t write “worked on networks.” Instead, say “Managed a 75-node LAN. Recommended information-security enhancements and prepared a network component roadmap for future company growth.”
- At the end, include awards, accomplishments, and memberships in professional organizations.
- Use parallel construction in lists. That is, start all items in a list with verbs or nouns; don’t mix and match.
- Save the resume in one or more commonly used formats. Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx), Adobe Acrobat (.pdf), and Rich Text Format (.rtf) are the most commonly accepted formats. You may also want to save a text-only version (.txt). If so, go through it and make sure line breaks, spacing, and other formatting attributes are attractive and easily readable.
- Read lots of resume samples to see what works and what doesn’t.
- Consider having your resume reviewed by a resume preparation service (this can cost up to $100).
- Be truthful and don’t exaggerate, but be sure your CCNA certification and related skills are highlighted in the best possible manner.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread! Have a friend proofread it as well!
Just like you can’t learn to drive a car by reading a manual or learn to cook well by simply perusing recipes, you can’t learn computer networking satisfactorily by simply reading a book or two. You need real-world, hands-on experience. You need to physically connect routers and switches, plug in cables, use monitoring software to troubleshoot problems, and experiment with different connection types.
One way of gaining this type of practical experience is through an internship. Computer-networking internships can help you prepare for your CCNA certification, or can be a stepping stone to a “real job” after passing the CCNA exam.
Internships offer an opportunity to work with more-experienced IT professionals who can “teach you the ropes.” Listing one or more completed internships on your resume can also let hiring managers know that you’re serious about a computer-networking career, and they might be more likely to grant you a job interview.
Finding a computer-networking internship is often an exercise in a different kind of networking— personal networking. Asking already-employed friends and family members, professors and career counselors at schools, browsing the Web, attending job fairs, and seeing what is available through professional organizations such as IEEE, ACM, and AITP are all good ways to find available internships. In your search, consider non-profit organizations as well as corporations. Non-profits use computers as much as or more than anyone else, and they may be more open to giving you a “hand up” by letting you help with their computer networks. Government agencies, too, are an excellent place to look for internships. If you are attending a school, check with the school’s IT department—they may be looking for a student to help them!
Sometimes, internships are a formal part of completing a computer networking degree. For example, Champlain College (Burlington, Vermont) offers a course (Net 490) that earns a student three college credits and provides valuable field experience.
Internships are a learning experience, not a way to become rich. Many internships pay little or no money; certainly few will come with perks such as vacation and health insurance. However, there’s no substitute for on-the-job training, and internships are a very good way to get it.
When you go for a job interview, be prepared to summarize what you did during your internship (at a high level) and what you learned