Imagine signing up for an IT job fair promising four stable and financially sound job prospects. Your previous employment experience includes slogging through a number of jobs that, while they covered the bills, weren’t considered careers by a long shot. These tech jobs look positively wonderful, and you’re prepared with resumes, rehearsed answers and a bright smile, ready to start your career in IT.
Then, you walk into the fair and see that 600 other more skilled and highly qualified people had the same idea.
It may sound like a nightmare, but that situation was very real for Justin Davison. Spoiler alert: He didn’t get any of the jobs, but he did learn a valuable lesson.
“I went to that job fair with a very good friend. He had more experience, was more qualified and was the better hire, but he had no certifications,” Davison said. Davison had earned his CompTIA A+ certification not too long before applying to the job fair. “One of us got the interview, and it wasn’t him,” he said with a laugh.
While disappointed he didn’t get that job, Davison wasn’t deterred. He’s used to tough odds on the job market, at one point only getting one or two interviews per eighty to one hundred applications sent out. But his experience at the job fair was a light-bulb moment in which he realized just how important being certified was. “Out of the 600 people who showed up, they were only looking for people who had A+ and Network+ certifications,” he said.
Before earning his own certification and deciding on a career in IT, Davison was attending college for journalism and broadcasting. But like many pursuing liberal arts degrees, he came to a crisis over his future finances. “I realized that my chosen career field was going to be very, very difficult to support,” he said. He switched to IT and spent much of his time working at the college help desk. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into an automatic job post-graduation, and an IT job remained out of his grasp.
That is until Davison went on a veritable certification spree.
After he’s studied and studied for his CompTIA A+ certification exam, Justin’s mother told him to go take the test — and that she’d pay for it. As usual, mom knows best. Justin earned his A+ certification on the first pass and rapidly went on to earn his CompTIA Network+ certification. And then CompTIA Server+. And then CompTIA Project+. And then CompTIA CDIA+. And then a bunch more after that. Davison currently holds seventeen IT certifications. Yes, that’s right — he now has seventeen certifications from CompTIA, the HelpDesk Institute and Microsoft combined.
With all these certifications in hand, things started to turn around for Davison. Instead of one or two interviews per eighty to one hundred applications, now he was getting one or two callbacks for every eight to ten applications he submitted. “I was suddenly back on the job market,” Davison said. “My goal was to get one in ten and I met that.”
Shortly after, he began networking with recruiters to increase his odds of getting a job, and with their help it wasn’t long before he had a three-month contract position with the RJ Lee Group at a company help desk. The company hiring representatives were so impressed with Davison’s certifications that he didn’t even have to interview for the position. They simply told him he was hired and to show up at work the next day.
Fast-forward eight years and Davison is still working at the same company – only now he is the full-time manager of IT operations. “I can’t complain; it’s been a nice success story,” Davison said. “I didn’t expect in an eight-and-a-half year period to go from the lowest position in the department to the highest, but it’s [been] a fast ride.”
Davison keeps busy as manager for the entire IT department, having added numerous duties on top of the ones he started out with years ago. The biggest difference? He’s in charge of project management and hiring; tasks he truly enjoys. “I do budgeting, project design and I’m involved in a lot of tech operations. You’re likely to find me implementing a project I talk about, not just standing in a room full of people telling them to do this and that,” Davison said. “It’s a lot of team building, coaching and mentoring.
He attributes much of his success to his IT certifications. “They helped me get my foot in [the] door, and if you don’t get your foot through the door, how do you get anywhere? I have a lot of confidence from selling insurance to sell myself in an interview, but if I don’t make it past the guys screening the resumes, none of that matters,” he said.
Davison encouraged anyone thinking about starting, or furthering, his or her IT career to consider certifications as step one. He said one of the best things you can do with your certifications is to stay up-to-date by renewing certifications and periodically retaking the exams; as the technology and processes change quickly and often.
“Don’t just cram,” he said. “Learn the material and stay current! Once you put that cert on your resume, you’re gonna get asked questions. So it’s not just a thing of do it and be done — it’s an important part of a process to demonstrate what you know.”
Ashlyn Keefe is a freelance writer based in Chicago. This post originally appeared on CompTIA.org.