By Aja Davidson, GIS Analyst I, Texas Department of Transportation, Austin, Texas
David Parr, a friend from Texas State University, recently asked me to be a guest speaker for his undergraduate GIS classes. 

He thought I could help shed light on the seemingly mysterious process of getting a job out of school, as I had landed my first GIS position at a state agency the prior year.  

Here’s what I wish someone had told me...
No one ever told me that the GIS skills I learned in the classroom would not fully prepare me for the professional world.  Don’t get me wrong, it was valuable to learn the difference between ‘Intersect’ and ‘Union’ and how to Geocode; but after earning my degree, I still lacked the applied knowledge to propel me out of academia and into a career. 

Luckily, I was able to fumble through internship, job search, application, and interview processes with minimal emotional damage. However, I would have saved some sleepless nights if someone had given me a few pointers
  • Acquire some applied GIS experience: get an internship, volunteer your skills at a non-profit, map your dad’s ranch. Do something, anything. You may be applying for an entry level position, but there are plenty of applicants in the pool that are far above entry level.
  • Learn skills complimentary to GIS beyond Geography. Some possibilities include graphic design, database design and management, statistics, and scripting/coding. You will stand out if you can do more than simply navigate GIS software.
  • Create a thoughtful application - spend several hours or even a day completing it. Proofread it, and then proofread it again.
  • Don’t limit yourself to one field. Even if you are only interested in transportation, apply for environmental or health jobs as well. GIS is flexible and you can easily transition into transportation after gaining some experience in another field.
  • During the interview process, chances are you will be required to complete a job simulation. Don’t stress and don’t give up! Show your future boss that you can solve any problem he/she throws your way.

Certainly, this is not an exhaustive list. Every position requires different qualifying skills and each employer will have specific criteria they desire in an employee. However, following these general guidelines will undoubtedly help you become a more competitive job candidate in this rewarding and dynamic field.


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