How to Prepare for a Career in IT as a High School Student
So you’re a high school student and you’re already thinking carefully about your future. You’ve heard that IT is a growing field that pays well with many career opportunities and you’re wondering how you can prepare to take advantage of them.
It’s a great question to ask. The truth is, there is a lot you can be doing right now that can prepare you to launch quickly into a career in IT when you finish high school.
In this article, we’ll start with a brief overview of the kinds of opportunities available in IT and then explore the most powerful way to get ready: by finding a job. It isn’t just IT jobs for high school students that are useful, either. You’ll also find out why other kinds of work can be just as strategic.
We’ll conclude by briefly considering what your next steps into an IT career after high school might look like.
An Overview of IT: What Kinds of Careers Are Possible?
IT stands for “information technology.” The IT field includes everything that has to do with the generation, storage, processing, and transfer of information.
If that sounds pretty broad, that’s because it is. So what kinds of jobs does this include? It’s helpful to think of them as falling into six broad areas:
Hardware: IT operations rely upon computers, mobile devices, peripherals like printers, and networking devices like modems that connect them. Some people design hardware while others select, install, or maintain it.
Software: From operating systems to apps, software is the lifeblood of IT. As with hardware, some are primarily involved in actually creating programs while others focus on deploying them.
Networking: Communication between devices is a key component of IT. Jobs in this area can range from network design to hardware installation and maintenance.
Security: With greater connectivity comes more vulnerability to those who pose a threat to sensitive data and systems. Tech workers in security formulate best practices to minimize risk and actively monitor systems to identify and respond to threats.
Support: Most end users of information technology aren’t experts in the software or hardware they need to do their jobs. They rely upon IT support staff to deploy hardware and software, educate users, and help solve their tech-related problems.
Management: While some people will be involved in the details of writing code or configuring a hardware setup, many organizations employ managers who help to plan, coordinate, and oversee various areas of IT operations.
Even with this brief overview, you can see that there is a wide variety of possible career paths open to you in IT. Whether you are most comfortable behind a screen working with code or would rather engage with people and help solve their problems, there is a job for you in this field.
So what can you be doing right now to get ready?
Preparing for an IT Career in High School
It’s helpful to keep the end in mind. In other words, what will employers be looking for when you are ready to enter the job market in IT?
There are essentially three things a strong resume will be able to document: knowledge and skills, experience, and credentials. Think of these as answering three questions in the mind of your potential employer:
Does this person know how to do the job?
Do they have a track record of using their skills and knowledge in the real world?
Does some reputable organization vouch for their skills and knowledge?
If your resume can provide a solid “yes” to each of these questions, you’ll be in a strong position as a candidate. We’ll discuss credentials in the last section of this article. First, let’s talk about how to gain knowledge and experience.
IT Jobs for High School Students
A job can be one of the best ways to gain experience along with knowledge and skills that can lay the foundation for your career in IT. But you’re probably wondering: Can I actually get an IT job as a high school student?
Yes, but you’re going to need to be creative. If you look at a job site like Indeed for standard entry-level positions in IT — like a help desk technician — you’ll find that job postings tend to say you need at least a high school diploma.
So what can you do? One option is to look for jobs with companies that are small and local. They are much more likely to have an informal hiring process and may be willing to hire a high school student in an entry-level role, especially if you have a passion for tech and some hands-on experience. Look for businesses involved in IT like computer repair shops.
Another option is to work towards some kind of freelance role in tech. There is a lot of opportunity here and you don’t need to be 18 or have a high school diploma to get started. Fiverr, a popular site for freelancers, is open to users thirteen or older. You just need to have a skill.
You might, for instance, dive into web design and WordPress and look for opportunities to build websites for others. Or you could leverage what you already know about social media to manage social media accounts for businesses.
According to ZDNet, some of the freelance skills most in demand include web design, WordPress, HTML, CSS, and Web Programming. If you’re motivated and willing to work, these are all skills you can learn online for free. Freelance work in any of these areas will give you valuable knowledge and experience that you can continue to build on in the years ahead.
Other Types of Jobs That Can Help
If the previous section made it sound a bit overwhelming to find an IT job as a high schooler, don’t worry. There are lots of other jobs you can have that aren’t in IT but that can be just as useful for your career.
Employers in IT are obviously looking for knowledge and ability in areas directly related to the field — like familiarity with operating systems and the ability to configure a new laptop.
But they’re also interested in general skills needed for any job (often called “soft skills”), including things like problem-solving, communication, leadership, and teamwork. A PayScale survey found that managers complain that college graduates often lack these skills. You can set yourself apart by finding jobs that help you develop them now.
Jobs that will do this are easy to come by. A position in retail, for instance, includes teamwork, lots of communication with customers, and often the need to resolve customers’ problems. The same is true for positions in food service. If you stick with a job in high school long enough, you may also be given opportunities for leadership within a team.
Any position you can find in customer service would be especially useful. Many companies employ customer service representatives to help customers find information, place orders, and resolve problems or complaints. These are exactly the kinds of skills in demand for entry-level tech support positions in IT.
Internships in Tech
One other way to build experience is to pursue an IT-related internship. This can be very similar to a job, but is more focused on learning. Since education and career exploration are part of the purpose of internships, they are usually open to those who don’t yet have much (or even any) experience.
Read more about internships in IT for high school students
Thinking Ahead: Your Pathway in IT after High School
Earlier, we mentioned that employers for jobs in IT will want to see that you have experience, skills, and credentials. Being strategic about the jobs you have in high school can be a great way to build a foundation in the first two areas. What about credentials, though?
There are two basic types of credentials you might earn: college degrees or certifications. Both of these play a similar role. They give evidence to a potential employer that you have the skills and knowledge the company is looking for.
There are pros and cons to each option and which is best for you will depend on your circumstances, your personality, and your career goals. If you want to find out more, here’s what to read next:
IT Degree or Certification: What’s the Best Path for High School Students Interested in Information Technology?
What Do You Learn in an IT Degree? Will a Certification Help You Prepare?