Dear Mentor:

How do I get more Internet experience?

I am at [a consulting firm] and getting ready to finish my stint here in a month or so. My work has been in the area of Human Resources (HR). I am currently trying to get into e-commerce. I have interviewed with a couple of e-commerce consulting firms in San Francisco like [names withheld] and a couple startups in this area. Unfortunately, although in each of my interviews I have made it to the third round, I haven't gotten the offer. I keep getting the same feedback - "We think you would be a great culture fit, but we are looking for someone with a little more Internet experience." As you can see from my resume [withheld by iMahal], I took an Internet course at the University of California at Los Angeles on e-Commerce: Building the E-Empire. I hold an undergrad [Bachelor's degree] from the University of Southern California.
Can you think of some options that would help me get the Internet experience? I would appreciate any feedback.

Ryan, Los Angeles, California, USA

Dear Ryan:

It would seem that you have run into the classic chicken and egg problem. If you don't have the Internet experience, you can't get the job and if you don't get the job, you can't get the experience. However, the situation isn't as bad as it may seem.

One needs to realize that the path of life is not always a straight line. In order to get where you want to, you may at times have to take a detour. If you are determined and motivated, you will make it, though maybe by a longer route.

Generally speaking, startups and specialized consulting firms (both of which tend to be smaller in size) have limited budgets and often can not afford to hire people who need more training in the trade before becoming a productive member of the group. Instead they prefer to hire individuals with relevant and needed experience who can begin contributing from the get go. This is not surprising given that a vast majority of startups tend to go under in less than one year. In such an environment, the pressure and need to produce results is tremendous. This leaves very little room for training incoming employees, both in terms of time and resources.

We recognize that the allure of joining a startup, getting stock options, and having them turn into millions of dollars is rather powerful. We all hear about these stories when even the lowest level employees strike it big. Just keep in mind that the vast majority of options never make it to being "in the money." Employees at most dotcoms will never make a dime from their options.

You do have several options that, over time, would allow you to work in the Internet arena. You may consider larger companies that have larger budgets and more flexibility in training employees. For example, you may consider larger consulting firms that are heavily involved in the Internet and e-commerce arena, among other things. These consulting firms include industry leaders such as Andersen Consulting, Deloitte & Touche, McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Mercer, EDS and IBM. You can also consider medium to large size companies such as Oracle, Cisco, HP, SUN, etc. The idea is that you get into a place that has the potential to offer you the opportunity you want over a period of time, if not right away. They are more likely to offer you what you want after they are more closely exposed to your talent, commitment, motivation, and potential.

You can certainly consider doing an MBA which would allow you to get into pretty much any industry or area of technology upon graduation. It is a serious commitment, for which you have to decide if that is the right path for you.

Another thing to consider is to start having fun with the Internet on your own -- learn HTML; build a website; do some programming in JavaScript and Perl. This is one of the fastest roads to getting the knowledge that allows you to "talk the talk" of Internet professionals when applying for new jobs. And it can be fun, too.

We wish you every success Ryan, and do let us know how it works out so that all of us can learn from your experience.

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