Start Serving Yourself: How to Change Careers from Food Service to IT
If you currently work in a restaurant and need a career change, have you considered IT? Hostesses, waiters, waitresses, cooks and even busboys have a variety of skills that transfer nicely to working in IT. The bonus? You won’t ever have to fold silverware again.
- You’re a pro at teamwork. You help out your coworkers when they’re slammed and divide opening and closing tasks to get the job done more quickly.
- You have to be punctual. Show up late or miss a shift, and you make less money.
- You’re used to working under pressure. When a large crowd comes in at once, you have to focus to make sure all customers are receiving the same level of service.
- You can multitask in your sleep. Take orders, run food, clean tables, pour refills and repeat.
- You’re great at communicating with different audiences. In order to keep things running smoothly, you have to communicate effectively with your customers, your manager, your coworkers and other staff.
- You have learned to be patient and problem solve. Things don’t always go as expected. Food may come out wrong, or not how the guest was expecting, and you’re put in a position to ensure the best experience for your customer.
It doesn’t matter if you work front of the house or back of the house, your skills in the food service industry will transfer well into an information technology career.
What’s It Like to Work in IT?
Let’s compare two entry-level IT jobs for you to see what sort of work and life you can expect with a change to information technology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a job as a help desk technician is expected to grow by 12 percent between 2014 and 2024, while a position as a computer support analyst is to grow by 10 percent.
|Help Desk Technician||Computer Support Analyst|
|Salary||$52,160 average||$52,160 average|
|Availability||“Normal” work hours||Generally requires some nights and weekends|
|Work-Life Balance||Can leave work at the office||Can leave work at the office|
|Possible Career Path||Help Desk Technician > End User Support Specialist > Network Administrator*||Computer Support Analyst > Coder > Software Developer*|
|Training||College degree not necessary, but certification is beneficial||Associates degree or post-secondary classes often required|
|Job Outlook||12% growth expected||10% growth expected|
|Estimated Time to Career Change||3 to 6 months||6 to 9 months|
The Skills Food Service Workers Need to Get Into IT
In the restaurant industry every table is a different customer with different needs, and you must quickly adapt to learn how to best serve them. The same is true for IT. Every customer has a different want or need, and you’re tasked with providing the right solution in a timely manner.
Most people don’t think of information technology as a people-oriented career, but customer service is an essential skill for IT pros. Think about it. You may be working behind a computer, but in order to meet your customer’s needs you need to speak with them, listen to what they are trying to accomplish and be able to communicate your suggestions to get them there. Sound familiar? Your skills are valuable to our industry.
According to Chron.com, not everyone can handle the high-pressure, customer service position that comes with working in food service. Therefore, servers, hostesses and everyone else who works in a restaurant possess a number of traits that transfer well outside of the industry.
If you’re considering a change, think about the skills you have and how you can apply them to another career, like IT. You can probably claim all of the following skills and traits:
- Ability to Multitask
These are characteristics that most employers would look for in an employee – IT included! We need people with a solid work ethic, great people skills and the desire to succeed. Does that sound like you?
How to Get Experience
As with any career change, sometimes getting the experience you need seems like a catch 22. Employers want people with experience, but you have to work your current job to pay the bills. Fortunately, there’s a variety of ways to gain the necessary experience that will help set you apart from other candidates.
Start by tinkering around on your own. Get your hands on some old computer parts and see if you can take them apart and put them back together. As you gain confidence, offer your troubleshooting help to your friends and family. Experience doesn’t always equate to formal job training. Don’t sell yourself short – your experience counts.
How Long Will It Take to Change Careers?
Once you decide you want to make the change, it can be tempting to uproot your entire life and jump in full force. While that kind of initiative is admirable, it’s important to remember that any career change takes some time.
Recent survey data from Zety of more than 1,000 working Americans found that 80% of respondents estimate that a job search should take no more than three months. In reality, a career change is a time-consuming process. It could take six to 12 months to make the change.
That said, getting into IT can be done relatively quickly, especially with self-study and IT certifications. Unlike many occupations, you don’t actually need a college degree to work in IT. If you have been displaced or are on leave from your restaurant job, now is a great time to make a plan and start studying. If you already have some IT knowledge, you could get an IT certification in as few as 8 weeks.
Robin Reshwan of U.S. News and World Report outlines a few steps to make the most out of your time, and it all begins with a plan.
“Why do most employees seek out a new role? One significant factor is more money, but there are many other reasons that drive transition. Surveys show top responses to be the desire to be happy, find greater or better professional development, have more flexibility or to shorten a commute,” she writes. “The perception of happiness is relative to each person – are you seeking growth in your responsibilities or growth in your career path? Do you want less stress or greater balance? The questions are endless.”
Next, it’s time to connect the dots. Specifically connecting the skills you’ve learned in the food service industry to the job you’re after in the IT industry is mutually beneficial.
“A hirable candidate should be both interested and qualified,” Reshwan writes. “You can start this part of the process by looking at job descriptions to correlate your experience to the requested competencies and skills.” This is the part of your journey where it would be valuable to check out how IT certifications can further help you stand out in a crowd.
When you’re ready to put yourself out there, Reshwan suggests reaching out to people in your network that may have insight or connections related to your targets. “Additionally, look for conferences, panel presentations, professional associations and online groups to expand your knowledge,” she writes.
For some, it may be a few months, but for others it may be longer. Regardless of how long it takes, remember to go into the process with patience and a list of SMART goals that will keep you steadily on the path to a career in IT.
From a Restaurant to the Office
Making the decision to transition from the food service industry to IT is a journey that’s worth the wait. Taking our free career quiz can help you narrow down which IT job would be the best fit for you.
When you think you may know what you want to pursue, look into what training is necessary and talk to people in your network that work in a similar field. And don’t forget to practice! Outside of any formal training you may engage in, remember to get some of that all-important hands-on experience in any way you can.
Let’s face it, working in restaurants isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes some serious time management and customer service skills – along with a thick skin. The unique set of skills you’ve developed during your time behind the bar or in the kitchen can help you move onwards and upwards to the next chapter of your life – and it just may be in IT!