Hints and Suggestions for Finding Your First Geospatial Job

By Jim Lacy, Wisconsin State Cartographer’s Office
November 10, 2009

Sooner or later, every student will enter the job market. Sorry, this reality will happen sooner than you want to admit. So, where should you start the process, and when?

Second question first: start now! In today's competitive job market, every skill you gain now will benefit you in the future in ways you may not expect. Technical skills are very important, but most employers will tell you they also look for good communicators, writers, project managers, and organizers. Don't overlook the "soft" skills that are often secondary in the minds of many students.

Where should you start? First, don't expect the jobs to come to you... finding work is, well, work. There are lots of geospatial career sites on the Web, but just monitoring these sites when your graduation is looming next semester doesn't cut it... lots of other people are doing exactly the same thing. Start monitoring these sites early in your academic career even if you aren't in the job market yet. You can learn a lot about the type of jobs out there, and the skills they require.

So how do you get a leg up on the competition? Network! Get involved in a professional association. Create a profile in LinkedIn. Volunteer with a non-profit organization, and help them use and understand geospatial technology. Go to campus lectures and meet new people. Go to public meetings and connect with people that already work in the field. Build a positive reputation on the web by participating in forums, blogs, and social media. (But always think twice about what you are posting in Facebook, it really could come back to haunt you!) If you want to live in a certain part of the U.S., find out who the main geospatial "players" are in that area, and find ways to interact with them.

Bottom line, your goal should be to develop a strong network of people who can help you find a job when the time comes. While many of the people in your network may not be hiring, they certainly can speak positively on your behalf, and pass along opportunities from their network. The more people you have on your side, the better.

What about grades, are they important? Sure they are, but so is hands-on experience. Employers are far more impressed with a volunteer project that demonstrates your initiative and ability to solve problems, compared to a class project that you were required to do by your professor.

Lastly, think carefully about your passions. What do you want to do with your geospatial experience when you graduate? Are you an "ologist" (biologist, ecologist, geologist, etc.) who wants to apply the technology to a certain domain, or do you have more "generic" interests in geospatial technologies? If it's the latter, think hard about the specific type of job you want in the future. Analysis? Programming? Cartography? Data Management? Interactive web mapping? When a potential employer asks what you want to do after graduation, don't give them the politically correct "I want to work in a team environment" answer, they are sincerely interested in WHAT you want to do.

In summary, start your job search now, build your network, and find a niche that sets you apart from the rest of the herd. Yes finding that first job out of school is a challenge, but it's also a very exciting time in your life!