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Career Advice

(OP)
Hello,

I recently obtained a master's degree in Occupational Safety and Health with a focus in Safety Management. My bachelor's degree was in Occupational Safety and Health.

I have been searching for a position for several months and have not found one just yet. I have had several interviews, but nothing has panned out. I have recently decided to expand my field a little just to see if there may be anything else out there. I have a second interview for an IT position tomorrow. The IT field interests me and I could potentially see a career in it.

The interviewer told me that degrees are great, but what really sells you are certifications. If I decide to go into the field, I will of course begin work on certifications right away. I am concerned of promotion in the IT field due to my degrees being in another area, even if I obtained several certifications. My wife and I are wanting to start a family within the next few years, buy a house, etc. and for this I will require greater compensation of course. I was wondering if these certifications would be enough to obtain higher positions or if I'm sunk without a degree in the field. Any thoughts on the matter would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

Confused26

RE: Career Advice

Some excellent questions!

First, on the topic of your degree not being in IT. It will matter to some, it won't matter to others. When I was just starting my career, some companies wouldn't even talk to me if I didn't have a degree specifically in the field they were looking for. Some companies didn't care about my degree, but seemed to just care whether they could tolerate my personality. Your degree will matter more when you're starting out, and will matter less and less as you build experience. Some of the most talented people in IT I've known have had degrees in History and English Literature. My educational background is Math, but I've never had to use anything more than addition & subtraction, and multiplication & division. Actually, my first paying job in IT, the hiring manager seemed pretty unimpressed with me or my resume, until he got to the bottom and "Other Interests". I had listed that I played guitar and trumpet. His eyes lit up and he said, "Oh! You're a musician?!?" I said yes. He had once read an article somewhere that musicians, since they deal with things like notes and timing and volume, are used to being very precise with details, and make excellent programmers. I was offered a job on the spot. His actual words were, "Can you start tomorrow?"

You may walk into a situation like that, but that would be very rare. Times have changed a lot. In most cases you'll need to prove you have the skills they are looking for. For a lot of programming positions, this often means an actual programming test. They'll give you a problem and you'll have to actually write a program, or program snippet to solve the problem. This tests both your problem solving skills, as well as your coding chops.

But a coding test doesn't meet the needs for filling non-coding positions. This is where certifications come in. Having a well known and respected cert can actually be better than a degree for some places. Yes, a degree is a great foundation for your career, but having certs confirms to a hiring manager that you have at least a basic knowledge of a more narrow domain of knowledge. It's a shorthand for them to check off the box that you know that area. At least good enough to offer you the job.

And once you do land a job, to be honest, your degree doesn't matter a bit, unless you got a job in a related field. Once you do land a job, you'll be judged more on your performance in that job than what you studied in college. That's where getting and keeping certifications does benefit. They should be in the field you're working in. That shows your employer you're dedicated to being a better employee in that field. You'll get more respect from management and peers, and it can definitely help with career growth.

So, the short version of that is, don't worry about what your degree is, the fact that you have one is great. Do start getting certifications immediately (if you can). Make sure they're applicable to the field you're trying to get into. You are presenting yourself as a package to the interviewer. From your smile and handshake, to your resume/CV, to your personal interests, to your degrees and certs, they all make up the package that is "you". The certifications just add to that package and make you a more appealing hire.

RE: Career Advice

I am Confused-2. You have your degrees in Occupational Safety and Health and you're looking for a job in IT? But then I have an English Literature degree, so...

Have you given the thought of applying for a job as a Safety Director working for a General Contractor or Electrical Contractor? Something to pay the bills and an opportunity to get your foot in the door.

Another option is to check out Occupational Outlook Handbook and see what specialized fields are hiring in your area. It might point you to an area you never considered.

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