10 GIS Career Tips to Help Find a GIS Job

GIS Career Tips
Learn these 10 tips to score yourself a career in Geographic Information Systems

How To Get Hired and Find the GIS Job You Deserve

You’ve always loved geography.

…And you’ve always loved computing.

This is why you’ve pursued a GIS career path.

But you’re having troubles getting your foot in the door. You need help finding “the one” – the one GIS career you deserve.

If you’re in search for a GIS job, we have listed 10 GIS career tips to instantly help you start mapping like a rockstar… and get paid to do it.

Let’s do this:

1 Rewrite Your CV/Resume

Resume Example
Example Resume (CV)

Most GIS applicants follow 3 steps when applying for a GIS job:

Step 1: Write their experience and skills in their résumé.
Step 2: Find a GIS job posting.
Step 3: Send that same résumé to the employer and pray for a call back.

This is a good way to get screened out because a key qualification will be missing.

Tailor your resume (CV) and stand out from the crowd. Stack the deck in your favor with these 3 simple steps:

Step 1: Read the job posting required and desired qualifications thoroughly.

What are the key points this GIS job is looking for? Highlight the desired and required qualifications.

Here is a example Cartographic Developer joib posting offered by Apple:

Apple logoCartographic Developer
Santa Clara Valley, California, United States

  • Minimum  three years experience  designing and implementing  small and large-scale digital maps 
  • Deep geographic knowledge, including familiarity with  cartographic conventions  and expectations  outside of the United States 
  • Familiarity with programming languages and software development life cycles.

Step 2: Think about what skills YOU bring to the company.

List your relevant education, volunteer and work experience. Here are examples in bullet-point form:

GIS Skills

  • Determine map content and layout, as well as production specifications such as scale, size, projection, and colors to ensure professional cartographic representation of maps and graphics.
  • Utilize a wide variety of geoprocessing and extract tools for the purpose of creating multi-step procedures to automate workflow using Python and model builder.

Step 3: Match your skills to the job description

How do your skills match these key GIS job qualifications?

Rewrite your resume to match the qualifications. Use the job description as a template.

If something is important enough to be listed as a desired qualification, it is important enough to include in your resume.

Apple Cartographic Developer Resume

  •  3 years experience  designing and implementing  digital map content , layout, scale, size, projection, colors and  cartographic convention  of  small and large-scale maps  and graphics including  outside the United States .

20% of job applicants get an interview.

This means that 80% are left empty-handed.

Rewrite your resume and become part of the 20% to be rewarded with a GIS job interview.

2 You’re more than just a “GIS Technician”

Every industry is finding ways to use GIS these days.




GIS is highly dispersed across sectors within the work force. There are the obvious ones – government, environment, oil & gas, natural resources and engineering.

…And there are the less obvious ones – healthcare, waste management and archaeology.

Because you really are more than a “GIS technician”.

You tilt the odds in your favor by having expertise in a field to compliment your GIS technical skills.

If you master soil sciences with GIS, you’d be next to unstoppable.

For example, take this Esri Job – Solution Engineer Emergency Management:

Esri Job - Solution Engineer Emergency Management

It requires experience in homeland security and emergency management at the federal, state, or local government level. It also needs familiarity with the National Response Plan (NRP), National Incident Management System (NIMS), and Emergency Support Functions (ESFs).

When you have this knowledge to compliment your GIS expertise, you can climb higher than any other candidate.

No questions asked.

What are some of the other popular trending GIS jobs?

GIS programming is a big one. But be careful about listing Python experience on your resume if you don’t want a programming job.

Webmap development, geostatistics, remote sensing, computer-aided design are other in-demand skills.

Think of GIS as more of a tool than a field in itself:

GIS + programming = job
GIS + forestry = job
GIS + web development = job
GIS + statistics = job
GIS + geology = job

A varied skill set serves you well. Adapt to technology and software change. Don’t ever stop training and don’t ever stop looking for a challenge.

3 Explore Every Opportunity

Volunteering in GIS

You will most likely start your GIS career in an entry level position. GIS entry-level jobs are part-time and/or temporary usually targeted at recent graduates and do not include employee benefits. GIS internships are opportunities offered to potential employees to work for fixed or limited period of time.

These GIS jobs give you mind-numbingly boring tasks… but when it’s all said and done, you really just need the opportunity to get your foot in the door. Regardless of your experience, you can taste-test different GIS opportunities without commitment.

When you’re first starting out: Apply for everything. Getting a GIS job is not easy.




What should you do if there aren’t any GIS entry-level jobs or GIS internships available?

There is a tremendous amount of GIS volunteer opportunities available. Although GIS volunteers freely offer their services, they gain something valuable in return – months and years of potential GIS experience.

GIS Corps is one way how to tap into GIS volunteering. This Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) initiative coordinates short-term, volunteer GIS services to humanitarian relief, community development, local capacity building, health and education for underprivileged communities worldwide.

Not only are you doing something good for the community, you are beefing up your GIS resume, It’s a win-win situation for you.

4 Plan your career in GIS when you’re in school

Education Wheel

It’s never too early to plan for your future GIS career.

If you’re keen on becoming a GIS analyst. And you think, live and breathe GIS… Try integrating GIS into every class project you can. This is how to build experience that you can boast on your resume and in the GIS job interview. Nothing makes a candidate stand out more than having a portfolio of work.

Pad your resume with these skills. This doesn’t mean you should lie. But it shows you can learn on your own because a big plus is showing to employers that you are able to learn new skills.

While you’re at it, create your portfolio. Highlight the best-looking maps and projects for interviews. Be prepared to talk about them. Not only does this show you’re mapping capability, it shows that you’re eager, organized and are able to work independently.

Do you have a working website of your mapping portfolio? Even better. According to Workfolio, 56% of all hiring managers are more impressed by a candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool — however, only 7% of job seekers actually have a personal website.. This is why GIS job seekers should have their own personal portfolio to be distinct and ultimately stand out.

5 Relocate to where GIS jobs are located

Family Relocation job

Sometimes jobs simply don’t come your way.

For some of us, there’s never been a better time where you can trail blaze your way to your next GIS job opportunity. Because we all know there aren’t a lot of GIS jobs where you can work from home. And there are few people willing to relocate.

The GIS job market is imbalanced with gaps that needs filling. Some states and provinces are in surplus while others are at a loss.

The question is, if you were offered a job in another city, would you take it?

Although relocating will increase your odds of finding a job, it’s not for everyone. It may be a good decision for someone early in their GIS career. On the flip side, someone with 10-20 years of GIS experience may have more ties their city.

By sheer number, California and Texas are most widespread with GIS career opportunities. As a whole, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects Geography positions to grow 30 percent or more by 2020. This is much faster than the average rate of growth. So all you might have to do is hang on tight to be hired in a GIS job.

6 Polish your GIS knowledge before the interview

Notebook

If you’re rusty in GIS, study up before the interview… and even if you’re not rusty, expect the unexpected for technical questions.

The interviewers will hammer you with technical questions: Projections, spatial tools and relational databases. Don’t get caught off guard and be prepared for an onslaught of GIS questions.

When you land your dream GIS job, things don’t get much easier. You have to understand GIS inside-out because GIS is about thinking critically and solving problems. At your GIS job, you constantly deconstruct problems and solve them. There’s more than a single way to solve a problem… and more than likely there’s others who have solved the problem already..

In your GIS job, Google is your friend. If you hit a roadblock, see how other people have approached and solved the problem. Showing you have personal initiative and drive to problem-solve speaks miles.

Another bit of advice: keep up with the Python and programming. This will get you a GIS job much faster.

7 Be honest about your expected salary

Chart

There are two unwanted things that can happen when you give your GIS job salary expectation:

1. You answer too high and eliminate yourself from the competition or
2. You answer too low and undervalue your work potential for the GIS job.

Be honest about your expected salary. So how do you answer the GIS salary question during interviews?

We’ve scoped out the GIS job salary ranges for you. GIS analysts, GIS specialists, GIS developers and GIS engineers… GIS jobs pay anywhere from $40,000 (GIS technicians) to over $100,000 (Senior Geomatics Software Engineers). Climb the GIS career ladder and move up the pay scale.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Geographers earn an average of $72,900 annually with a job outlook to grow 29% from 2012-2020. Cartographers and Photogrammetrists earn an average $57,440 per year with a job outlook to grow 20% from 2012-2020. Surveying and Mapping Technicians earn an average $39,670 per year with a job outlook to grow 14% from 2012-2020.

GIS Salary Pyramid - Infographic

8 Join your local GIS user group

Networking in GIS

User groups are the lifeblood of any GIS community. They’re YOUR community and YOUR chance to really build a relationship with your peers.

According to Federal Reserve Bank of New York, personal referrals from friends who work for employers with job openings are the #1 way to get hired today.

This means that as bad as it sounds: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

So the question is, how can you rub shoulders with GIS influencers near you?

One tip is to join your state, provincial or local GIS user group. Even though some communities are tight-knit, they sometimes offer student opportunities at conferences such as scholarships or volunteer presentations. Involvement in a GIS community goes a long way.

Network at your local URISA chapter. It’s a good start. Volunteer your time and join a GIS user group. Learn what GIS projects the GIS community is involved with. This is a good starting point to getting to know GIS influencers near you.

9 Consider GIS certification

GIS Certificate

What four letter acronym demonstrates your education, professional experience and contributions to the profession of Geographical Information Systems? _ _ _ _

The big four-letter acronym is GISP (Geographic Information Systems Professional). And there are companies out there that look for those four letters after your name.

You better believe it. GIS certification might just give you the edge over other candidates. After hundreds of candidates are filtered out and you’re down to the final four, the tie-breaker might be just be your GIS certification.

But remember that GISP isn’t the only GIS certification game in town.

Esri certification is new and breaking ground. By miles, Esri is the most used software in the workplace, in universities and colleges and by GIS professionals around the world. Showing employers you’re proficiency ArcGIS with an Esri certificate guarantees they are hiring someone with an advanced skill set.

READ MORE: GIS Certification: Is It Worth It?

10 Know the GIS job boards: Find your GIS career

GIS Job Board

Scan the job boards and try to apply as soon as possible when new GIS jobs open.

What is your GIS position search term?

Geographic Information Systems is a diverse field. Cartography jobs, programming jobs, remote sensing jobs, geostatistician jobs, GIS analysis jobs, geomatics jobs, computer aided design jobs… these are the keywords you need to be searching for each GIS job search. These skill sets go hand-in-hand with typical GIS jobs.

What are the boards with GIS job listings?

Let’s Break It Down for You

Geographical Information Systems might just be the most “booming” career in terms of geography degrees.

If you’re studying geography, having the right GIS career information. These time-saving ideas help you pave the way to a bright future career in GIS.

Follow these 10 steps in this GIS career guide and instantly boost your chances of success.

Now, it’s your turn. What are some ways to help your chances of getting a GIS career?

6 Comments on 10 GIS Career Tips to Help Find a GIS Job

  1. The problem is that GIS is only 1 tool that anyone who is already a professional with a job can learn. Your better off going to school for something else. GIS is not easy and very stressful. It is 9 out of 10 for the most stress. You will be stuck at a computer which is very unhealthy and are the first to be cut at a company. Get a job that is something that you really want to do and is available. Don’t bother going to college or spending all of this money on certifications. It is not worth it. I know as I have been in it for 18 years now. It gave me the worst life for myself and my family. No opportunities or very rare ones. The colleges should stop teaching it as there are way too many people that have been promised a great career and are now living on welfare or are retrained in another area. Trust me on this because I would hate to see another person screw up their life by going into this field.

  2. Payscale and CNN give the following ratings to GIS specialists as a job:

    Quality of life ratings:
    Personal satisfaction: C
    Benefit to society: B
    Flexibility: B
    Low stress: A

    So every situation is different.

  3. I’m currently looking at a career change into geography/GIS at 47. Any tips for an old nurse with a crappy back with absolutely no experience in geography?

    Why GIS/geography? I need a career that will be 1. kind to my back 2. interesting 3. my daughter does it. 4. eh, why not?

  4. Hi Cameron

    To answer your four questions:

    1. GIS practitioners often have desk jobs, but some of them are lucky to go out in the field as well. For those that are at their desk all day often can get back strain. However, standing-desks and short micro-walks can alleviate the pain. GIS practitioners rarely or don’t do any heavy-lifting so I’d say it will be kinder to your back.

    2. Depending on your position, GIS can be an interesting one. Some professionals complain if they have redundant tasks such as digitizing all day. But you can even make that fun by trying to automate it with remote sensing and even out-of-the box tools like Esri’s mean segment shift. GIS is really growing with new tools and technology every day. I find GIS very interesting and that’s why I chose it as my career.

    3. I personally think that geography is something that kids gravitate to. It’s good to know the world and your surroundings. I’ve been meaning to take my kids out with a telescope or some of the cool smart phone apps to see some of the orbiting satellites which monitor our Earth. Even geocaching with a GPS is fun, and kids get to learn directions and their environment.

    4. Why not?

    I think this may be a bit of tougher transition going from nurse to a GIS professional. It’s definitely a big time-commitment for studying and not an easy one when taking care of a child.

    Despite reports saying use of drones, photogrammetry, LiDAR, computer programming (which all relates to GIS), depending on where you live jobs can be hard to come by. There also may be a lot of applicants for that position. All in all, some say that GIS is a hard field to get experience in for entry positions.

    I believe that nursing is a high-demand career. Nurses are positions that children look up to, and that they can also learn from. If your back is a concern, there are ways to strengthen your back muscles and I’d take that as a first step. I often do this myself sitting at a desk all day.

    …Overall, if money is a concern, I think that you should stay in your current employment. If you have extra time, test out a class or two for part-time. Perhaps, try the following to test the waters.

    Esri’s Massive Online Open Courses: http://www.esri.com/mooc

    Penn University Open Courseware: http://open.ems.psu.edu/courseware

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