3 Career Paths for Network Professionals

Want to upgrade your networking career? Check out these tips for getting a promotion, making a lateral move, or finding a better job with a different company.

By Elizabeth Harrin | Posted Dec 2, 2013
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If you think the poor economy will stop you from finding your next networking role, think again. The demand for technical jobs is up 3.4% from last year, according to research by CW Jobs, so it’s time to dust off that résumé and get job hunting. But where should you be looking? Here are 3 choices for building your career path around your networking interests.

1. Move up

What promotions are available in your company? As a network administrator with day-to-day responsibilities for managing the LAN, could you take a technician’s role and get more involved with troubleshooting, repairs and setup? Could you move into an engineering role and carry out security testing or upgrades?

It could take some time for a suitable job to come up in your own department, so be prepared to wait for a vacancy. Alternatively, you may find that you have to get the skills first and then put together your case for a promotion. Keep notes of where you’ve demonstrated your abilities in wireless, security, WAN management and other areas so that you can prepare a convincing argument for why you are the best candidate for the job. When a job comes up, if you have 80 percent of the requirements, go ahead and apply. Don’t worry about not being able to do everything on the job spec. You can learn as you go.

If there aren’t any vacancies, make your manager aware that you are looking for your next challenge, and be clear and honest about your career goals. Your manager may be able to help you secure another position or at least keep an eye out for opportunities in the rest of the company.

Top skills for getting a promotion: Vendor analysis and procurement, security, team management. Look at what your boss does and work on acquiring those skills as that’s a good indication of what’s required for a step up. Also work on identifying ways to bring business value to your organization.

2. Move sideways

Another option is to take a sideways move. Think broadly about other areas that are related to what you do now but would give you greater breadth of experience. Security or database management could be good choices if you don't already  wear those hats. If you focus more on hardware, c branching out into network programming or analysis and try preparing scripts for monitoring tools or diagnostics. If you are office-based, what about a field service role which will take you to a number of different customer sites and help you see the business from a different perspective? If you are an expert in Novell, why not learn about Microsoft or Cisco?

A sideways move will give you a range of experience, which can be very helpful if you plan on moving into senior management or even a CIO position one day. Secondments or interim roles outside of your current team, such as service assurance or IT project management, will also help you gain business or operational experience, again useful for long-term career planning and promotion prospects.

Top skills for a lateral move: Security, database management, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and hardware (especially SAP and related infrastructure), network analysis. Or a completely different operational IT role – you can always come back to networking later.

3. Move out

When prospects are limited at your current firm, it’s time to look farther afield. Leaving a company can be scary, but taking a job in another organization might open the doors to broader or more senior roles. It’s also far more likely that you’ll get a salary increase by jumping ship than by staying where you are, so if boosting your salary is a priority, this could be your best choice.

The possibilities available are endless, and what you’ll choose to apply for will depend on your interests and skills, as well as on practical considerations like the change to your commute and the salary.

Top skills for moving out: Team management, network management, WAN, SAN, Ethernet, mobile. Scan job adverts for what is currently hot in your sector.

Regardless of what route you plan on taking for your career, you can’t go wrong by spending time learning more about IP, TCP/IP and the OSI model. You’ll also find it useful to study different technologies. These days, companies blend technologies, so you’ll benefit from understanding Unix as well as Cisco (and the others). Gaining a certificate like MCSE or CCNA in one of the many networking technologies will also help build your credentials and make you more valuable to employers.

No one else will take responsibility for planning your career, so it’s up to you to work out where you want to go next and find your next opportunity. In the meantime, work on building your skills so that when your perfect job comes up, you are the best candidate for the role. Good luck!

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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