Posted on June 4th, 2013

G-FAQ – How Do I Get My First Geospatial Job?

While this might not be a topic all of our readers are interested in now, each of us had to face the challenge of finding our first job in the industry at some point. And at this time, would it have been useful to have a ‘how-to’ job hunting document written by someone that already overcame the challenge? With this in mind, let’s dive right into the topic at hand. In this Geospatial Frequently Asked Question (G-FAQ), I address these core questions:

What can I do while I am training and/or in school to prepare me for my first geospatial job? What can I do to stand out during the application process? What do we look for when we hire at Apollo Mapping?

GIS_jobs_countsOn April 26th, I completed a search on the web’s top 5 job sites with the keyword, ‘GIS,’ and the geography of Colorado. You can see that the number of hits varied greatly on each of these sites but more results does not always mean better. That said, it is encouraging to see an average of 216.4 jobs per site for GIS in Colorado alone!

Before I answer these questions, let me set the stage a bit for our readers. As you can imagine in an article such as this, you have to pull tips from your personal experiences. I found my first geospatial job at DigitalGlobe within weeks of graduating with my Master’s Degree in Geography from the University of Colorado. While DigitalGlobe focuses mainly on remote sensing and the sales of satellite imagery, I do feel that the tips offered below are broad enough to apply to any part of the geospatial industry such as location-based technologies and GIS services. In the Free for All I wrote this month, there are links to several places you can start your job search. And to those of our readers who already found their first geospatial job, if you have any tips for those trying to get their foot in the door, it would be excellent if you could post your ideas below on our Blog.

Standing Out Before You Apply For Your First Job

Before you even start looking for your first geospatial job, here are some tips I can offer that should help when you do apply.

(1) Complete a relevant degree and/or certification – the first tip I can offer to anyone looking for a job in the geospatial world is complete a relevant degree and/or certification that is focused in Geography or directly on geospatial technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing. Many local colleges and major universities will offer degrees/certifications with these focuses. GIS is differentiated from remote sensing with its focus on vectors versus a focus on raster datasets in the later.

(2) Take classes that matter – even if you are just considering a job in the geospatial world, you can still take college-level coursework that will help you stand out if/when you apply for a job. Perhaps the most widely offered series of classes you will find are in GIS – the University of Colorado (CU) for example has at least 3 classes they offer focused on Esri’s ArcGIS. Many larger universities will also offer classes in remote sensing and/or satellite imagery processing – if these classes are offered, they will be invaluable to you, even if you plan on a career in sales only. You might also look for classes in general cartography (or map making), location services such as the use of GPS technologies and even vertical-specific courses (such as mining and energy extraction) with a mapping element. As a final suggestion, if you have the opportunity to take mixed undergraduate and graduate-level courses in any of these topics, definitely take advantage of it.

(3)  Absorb something in the classes you do take – look, I was in college too and we all had the classes where it was more enjoyable texting with friends or simply missing lectures all together, but when it comes to classes in a topic where you plan to work in the future, pay attention. Take notes. Get engaged in labs as much as possible. Visit your professor during their office hours. Study more than you think you need to – seriously! There is not a single day that goes by when I do not rely upon lessons learned during my graduate studies at CU. And having a big knowledge base to pull from will also be invaluable when you interview for jobs.

(4)  Learn how to write proficiently – in every field, written communication is crucial and the geospatial world is no different. From emails to internal reports to bids for large projects, effective written communication is crucial to your success. Admittedly, while there are career paths in the geospatial industry that rely upon writing more than others such as sales, even satellite optical engineers will need to communicate ideas over emails and in reports with both coworkers and clients. In each of your courses, you should be expected to complete written exams, lab reports and/or final papers, use these as a learning experience for both writing and geospatial skills.

(5)  Intern early and often – the single most important thing you can do to prepare for your first geospatial job is work as intern. Not only does it provide you with invaluable on-the-job learning experiences, you very well might be interning for your next boss! My first job at DigitalGlobe was 100% correlated with the three months I spent working as an unpaid intern for the sales team. To find an internship, I suggest starting with your local university or training center resources, they might have opportunities on campus or know of commercial/government entities with opportunities. If that does not work, check out the websites of local engineering firms as many offer summer internships. Even if you cannot find an internship working directly with geospatial technologies, simply having an internship on your resume will put you ahead of many applying for the same job. As a final note, if the company you are applying for requires references, former internship bosses are excellent candidates as they can speak about your skill sets outside the academic environment.

In next month’s edition of G-FAQ I will complete the discussion of this topic, providing a list of job-hunting tips for the application process. This list will also include the skill sets we look for when hiring at Apollo Mapping. Take care till next month’s edition of the G-FAQ.

Do you have an idea for a future G-FAQ? If so, let me know by email at brock@apollomapping.com.

Brock Adam McCarty
Map Wizard
(720) 470-7988
brock@apollomapping.com

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