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3 tips for translating your sysadmin experience to hiring managers

Not everyone takes the same journey to a sysadmin job. Here's how to communicate your technical skills and experience from unique backgrounds when you're job hunting.
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So you need to convince a company that you know your field? I am uniquely qualified to help you out here, as this is something I have some hands-on experience with. As you may have read in my article, A sysadmin's tale, my first real industry experience came from Uncle Sam. I was always technically inclined but had never worked with technology professionally. I didn't get a college degree, and I hadn't yet attended a technical school. DD214 in hand, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. How do I show potential employers that I know technology?

At the very least, I need them to understand that I can learn and apply myself. I was unemployed for eleven months and had a lot of time to figure this out. I'll walk you through my experience in hopes that you can better express yourself while chasing that new technical position.

Provide objective vs. subjective proof

Anyone can say that they have experience in a given field, but can they prove it? Much like in legal proceedings, it's not what you know; it's what you can prove. So how do we prove it? We need objective proof. What are the options we have for objectively stating, "I know what I am doing in X field?"

You only really have two choices here. You can either get a degree in an applicable field (for example, computer science or engineering) or you can go and get certified in specific technologies. I had only been to college for two years prior to joining the Navy and didn't feel that I had the time to go back to school. We were in a new city with no real connections, and I needed to get working, and fast.

So I decided to use my GI Bill to attend a technical program for four months. I would take coursework with real instructors from multiple vendors in the industry. I ingested CompTIA, Microsoft, and Cisco coursework, and, after my time there, I walked away with three industry certifications under my belt. Mission accomplished, right? Wrong. I was just getting started.

Narrow down what you want to do

Now that I had official paperwork stating that I had a technical degree and three industry certs, I was sure I would easily slip into a technical job. I had enough professional experience in the Navy to feel entitled to skip the help-desk and move directly into a higher role. Though, there's nothing wrong with the help desk, by the way. It's a great place to get that initial enterprise experience.

It also translates a bit easier than "SME for TTWCS system." If that reads like High Valyrian to you, it's because it's a military designation for a missile system you've never heard of; and this leads me to my point. If you have the experience, like working at a help desk, you can explain the things you did in a way that employers can understand. If you have some other niche experience, you may need to break out the thesaurus and find a new way to explain what you were doing.

Back to my job search—I passed on countless offers for low-paying contract positions doing Windows installations. While it may seem stupid to pass on a job when you need a job, I knew what I wanted and what I was worth and held out until that option presented itself. I changed my resume from sounding like a military tech manual and started looking for the similarities between the technologies that I knew and what businesses were using.

As it turns out, several of the systems that we used were Unix/Linux builds! This allowed me to pivot my resume to talk about having five years of Linux administration experience. That is something that people can understand. This allowed me to target a specific area of the industry that I wanted to explore.

[ Need to learn more about Linux system administration? Consider taking a Red Hat system administration course. ]

The language is really important

Once you have your "objective proof," the hardest thing that you will do is figure out how to talk about your experience. People want to know what you, specifically, have done. They are not hiring your team to work for them. This is something that I struggled with initially. I had worked in a very accomplished team in the Navy and wanted to talk about what we had done as a team. We were the highest-graded missile strike team on the east coast and had always performed well above standards.

I was proud of this but was surprised to learn that most people didn't care. They wanted to know what I had personally contributed. So I had to change the language from "we" to "I." I stopped talking about achievements at the divisional level and instead talked about my maintenance expertise or the fact that I was a subject matter expert (SME) for our Red Hat Enterprise Linux based comms systems. This was instrumental in my success moving forward in the marketplace and was a huge improvement to my resume as well.

So what can you take away from my experiences? First, obtain some type of concrete proof that you can show to a hiring manager or put on your resume that clearly communicates that you have knowledge and skill in your chosen discipline. Next, narrow down the type of positions that you want to look for and tailor your resume or talking points to highlight intersections between your knowledge and the skills the employer is looking for.

Don't settle for the first thing that presents itself; know what you want and know your worth. Finally, be sure to talk about yourself. If there is ever a time to pat yourself on the back, it's on your resume or in an interview. If you combine these tips with what we talked about in my previous article, How to ace your sysadmin interview, you will exponentially improve your chances of landing that position.

[ Want to test your sysadmin skills? Take a skills assessment today. ]

Topics:   Career  
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Tyler Carrigan

Tyler is a community manager at Enable Sysadmin, a submarine veteran, and an all-round tech enthusiast! He was first introduced to Red Hat in 2012 by way of a Red Hat Enterprise Linux-based combat system inside the USS Georgia Missile Control Center. More about me

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