This article also appears on Windows IT Pro
The IT industry really rewards hands-on experience. Classes and certifications are great, but if you’ve never practically applied concepts you’ve learned, an employer might be wary of hiring you. Their concerns aren’t unfounded because it takes time to bring inexperienced employees up to speed on things they’ve read about but never done. That’s not to say their investment of time and energy in won’t pay off, but there are ways to show them that you’re always learning and not afraid to get your hands dirty and one of the best is to build a home network that puts your skills on display.
Should you include your home network on a résumé?
There’s some debate as to whether or not the work you put into a home network is professional. A recent thread on Spiceworks traced a question a job-seeker had about whether to include his home network as experience on his résumé. The recruiting agent this person hired said not to include it, noting that it could be seen as unprofessional. One user, a hiring manager with the handle Mike400 had this to say:
First, fire your recruiter. As a hiring manager I look for initiative and building and operating a home test environment shows this. Second, write it up under education, or if you use it for volunteer work, put it there. Make sure the write up reflects the type of positions you’re applying for, however. Basically, a home lab running Hyper-V when the position is for a programmer doesn’t apply, but believe it or not, it does apply for VMware ESX as you are learning the fundamentals of virtualization.
Other forum members chimed in, echoing Mike400’s sentiments that if you’ve developed skills in your own lab, they will show that you continually learn new things you can apply in the professional world.
Of course, for these skills to be worthwhile, they need to apply to the positon you’re hoping to get. Be careful to ensure any skills you list on a resume are tailored for the position you’re after.
Now that we know a home network can be a good addition to a résumé, how do you make sure what you’ve built is worth adding?
What goes in your home network?
Author and IT consultant Scott Alan Miller had some excellent suggestions for what might go into a great home network. His suggestions go beyond simply learning things like Active Directory to check skills off a list. For Scott, the idea is to create a home network that would make a business jealous. If nothing else, his article illustrates how advanced you can really get with a home network. You don’t want to come off as a tinkerer. Employers may not be impressed if you networked two laptops together to share movies, but they may be impressed if you take things a step further by doing things that few businesses even do. Here are some areas to think about.
Setting up Active Directory is huge. Since it’s such a crucial piece of many business networks, implementing it on your home network will let you learn the basics and have a small network you’re effectively managing yourself—this can be immensely helpful as résumé booster.
Have you used Hyper-V or VMWare? VirtualBox, perhaps? Understanding virtualization can get you far in an IT position when it’s as critical a function as it is in modern IT. Create a VM lab and test things out. Understand the difference between hypervisors if you don’t already, and try out the ones you can.
Ever thought about running extra cables to rooms in your home? Do you have experience running and cutting wires to length? What about cable management? It might seem like a small thing, but it can still an important part of an IT pro’s job path and one a hiring manager will be happy to hear about.
Network security and AV
Of course, all of this networked equipment needs to be secure. Do you know how to ensure everything is secure from outside attacks? Is it feasible to perform a penetration test? Do you have anti-virus across all pieces of equipment?
Backup and monitoring
Backup and disaster recovery are huge in the IT space. Understanding and applying good backup management principles to any network is critical, and your home network is no different. Make sure all systems are being backed up. If you’re a super nerd, think about your recovery time and recovery point objectives. It may seem like overkill for a home network, but it may just impress a future employer.
The unfortunate thing about a home network is that budget is a limiting factor. Costs may put certain things off the table. Not everyone can spend a bunch of money to build a home network a business would be jealous of, though it’s certainly wise to have continued learning as a part of your résumé in one form or another. Batting practice may not count as major league playing time, but the professionals do it for a reason. The skills you develop on a home network are absolutely transferrable to a business environment and they’ll give you a leg up on candidates competing for the same IT role.
For more thought on how to use your home lab as part of your résumé, this thread has excellent advice. Or, if you want real world examples of what a good home network might look like, have a gander at this thread.