10 GIS Career Tips to Help Find a GIS Job

GIS Career Tips
Learn these 10 career tips to get your foot in the door for a career in Geographic Information Systems

GIS career tips anyone can benefit from

You’ve always loved geography.

And you’ve always loved computers.

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

But if you’re having troubles getting your foot in the door for a GIS job, we have a list of 10 GIS career tips that anyone can learn to do.

Let’s do this:

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

Nowadays, almost every industry is finding new ways to use GIS. Literally, there are thousands of GIS applications in use today.

GIS is highly dispersed across sectors within the work force. For example, government, environment and natural resources industries rely on GIS for decision-making on a daily basis.

But there are also the less obvious industries like healthcare, archaeology and GIS on the farm. THESE are the industries that are screaming for GIS. Make the business case for GIS at your organization

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

Not only do you need GIS experience, but it requires experience in homeland security and emergency management. 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 and software development are big ones. But be careful about listing Python experience on your resume if you don’t want a programming job.

Webmap development and computer-aided design are other in-demand skills. You can think of GIS as more of a tool to compliment forestry, web development, geology, etc.

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.

2 Rewrite Your CV/Resume

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

  • First, they write their experience and skills in their resume.
  • Second, they find a GIS job posting.
  • Finally, they send that same resume to the employer and pray for a call back.

But this strategy will only get you screened out because you’re missing the key qualifications.

In order to get an interview, you have to tailor your resume (CV) to job postings. For GIS analysts, programmers/developers, cartographer jobs and any career, this is how to stand out from the crowd.

Here’s what you can do:

  • After thoroughly reading a GIS job posting, highlight the required and desired qualifications.
  • Next, list your relevant education, volunteer and work experience and skills YOU bring to the company.
  • Finally, rewrite your CV using the job description as a template and by matching your skills.

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

20% of job applicants get an interview. This means that 80% are left empty-handed for a GIS job interview.

If you rewrite your resume using the job posting as a template, you significantly stack the deck in your favor.

gis work

3 Explore Every Opportunity

You will most likely start your GIS career in an entry-level position. To be clear, GIS entry-level jobs are part-time often targeted at recent graduates and do not include employee benefits. On the other hand, 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… also, they usually don’t pay the bills… 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 test out different opportunities without commitment.

When you’re first starting out, apply for everything because 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 get something valuable in return. Of course, this is experience on the job.

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. For example, this could be anything from community development to improving health and education for underprivileged communities worldwide.

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

In terms GIS job trends, GIS developers and managers account for the highest percentage of job postings (Indeed, 2018).

gis technology jobs trends

But in terms of job duties, GIS technicians, specialists and analysts are similar. If you summed up their number of job postings, it would be close to the level of managers and developers.

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

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 for our future GIS job interview. Nothing makes a candidate stand out more than having a portfolio of work.

Pad your resume with these skills. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should lie. But it shows you can learn on your own because employers want to see that.

While you’re at it, create a portfolio of maps. 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.

gis poster competition

5 Practice makes perfect before the interview

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

Interviewers will hammer you with technical questions on projections, tools and databases. Don’t get caught off guard and prepare yourself 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 it’s 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.

6 Be honest about your expected salary

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

1. You answer too high and cut 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 analysts, developers and technicians. GIS jobs pay anywhere from $40,000 (GIS technicians) to over $100,000 (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 $74,260 annually with a 6% outlook. On the other hand, Cartographers and Photogrammetrists earn an average $62,750 per year with a job outlook to grow 19% from 2016-2026. This is much faster than the average rate of growth.

GIS Salary Pyramid - Infographic

7 Join your local GIS user group

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 such as on GIS day 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.

gis poster

8 Relocate to where GIS jobs are

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 had a job offer 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 6 percent or more by 2020. This is around average rate of growth. So all you might have to do is hang on tight to be hired in a GIS job.

9 Consider GIS certification

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 they filter out hundreds of candidates, that GIS certification might be the tie-breaker you need.

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 proficient in ArcGIS with an Esri certificate guarantees they are hiring someone with an advanced skill set.

And let’s not forget all the free Esri training available to help you become proficient in your field of study.

READ MORE: GIS Certification: Is It Worth It?

gis presentation

10 Know the GIS job boards: Find your GIS career

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. There are so many career paths you can take. For example, you can work in cartography, programming, remote sensing and even statistics. Now, these are the keywords you need to notifications for your GIS job search. Typically, all these skill sets go hand-in-hand with jobs.

This is why you have to start thinking outside the box in your search GIS jobs. Here’s a list of alternative GIS job search terms you can use that you may not have thought of.

What are the boards with GIS job listings?

11 Thinking outside the box

Because GIS is an emerging field, some companies don’t know where or how to use it. Here are some of the outside-the-box GIS jobs where GIS has room to grow:

FIELD WORK: Heavy construction, forestry, environment, archaeology and mining are industries begging for GIS. For example, you can setup GPS mobile apps in QGIS Field or ArcGIS Collector for any type of work (invasive species/endangered species surveys, site excavation, etc.). Best of all, you get a mix of desk work and site visits.

SURVEYING: Not really too outside-the-box. Surveyors go to construction to update legal boundary lines. No two days are the same for surveyors. Precise locations are taken for site exploration, land subdivision and civil engineering projects.

HIGH LEVEL RESEARCH: As part of a masters or PHD program, get funded for high level research. Write a research grant for a GIS-related hypothesis. Your university could point you in the right direction. Test your hypothesis and publish a paper.

DRONE PILOT: When Amazon conceptualized their mail-delivery drone, the GIS industry eyes lit up. Drones gather valuable Earth information in fields such as agriculture, search & rescue and the environment. Even realtors use drones to advertise open houses.

MILITARY OPERATIONS: The military is one of the biggest users of remote sensing and location intelligence. Ever since the Corona spy satellite, there’s been a growing demand for reconnaissance in our globalized world. But overseas deployment may not be in the cards for your life chapter.

And really, there are 1000s of GIS applications in use today.

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, you need the right GIS career information. Hopefully, 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?


  1. Hi Diana

    These are all great questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.

    1. Is Python necessary? No. There’s a lot of GIS professionals who can’t write a line of code in Python. With that said, it would certainly help get a job in GIS. Python is at the top of the list for coding languages so it sounds like you’re on the right track for programming language priorities.

    2. Does CAD supplement GIS? I don’t think it would supplement GIS. From my experience, most of the work I’ve done with biologists involve your basic field collection. Perhaps with ArcGIS Collector or Survey123. The observations biologists collect often are QC’d and then published in a Geographic Information System. So I haven’t seen too much CAD coupled with biology. But perhaps someone else might chime in the comments section.

    3. Drones and GIS are an up-and-coming field. And it really depends on the company you work at if they will utilize them. For example, agriculture may use a drone to collect near-infrared and calculate NDVI. Farmers can use this data to better understand crop productivity.

    Overall, I think all of these skills will help you out. Best of luck!

  2. Hi. I’m 53 yo and changing careers–I’ve been a pilot/flight instructor, but am (slowly) working towards a degree in Marine Biology. I’m interested in adding a GIS certificate, specifically to use the mapping features for the Biology field. Currently, I’m taking “R” online, but am wondering if Python is something necessary for GIS work? And would taking some CAD courses supplement GIS work in general? Lastly, would having a drone certification blend with GIS work? Thanks!

  3. I am a System Admin, but realized GIS is a crosscutting tool. Having helped set up few GIS systems, I now want to switch career into Data Visualization, focusing on GIS and Remote Sensing. What career path will you advice?

  4. I read the comments, and I am like “wow!” I have worked with GIS for several years, and yeah some days it can be stressful. Some days can be laid back. All in how you do your work. Are there career opportunities out there? You bet! As time goes on there are more and more people getting into GIS, so the market will change. That’s the way it is with every career out there. I compare it to a reversed version of consumer economics- You have a demand, so you create a supply. You get over stocked, prices go down and merchandise goes to the clearance shelves.

    I suggest to everyone, get a GIS certification before anything else, and get a degree. Name a degree and I betcha there is a need for GIS in that industry. Who are you gonna hire? A wildlife biologist fresh out of college or a geologist fresh out of college that has a GIS certification and a few years of GIS experience? Now you just changed the playing field. Right now, out of 100 applicants to an entry level position, your GIS cert is gonna kick 70-85 of them right out of the game. Now it’s you versus 14 other applicants. Ok, maybe my numbers are off some, but it’s still true.

    I feel sorry for JP, he didn’t use common sense. Cameron, a nurse with a GIS cert? WHO, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, just a few potential employers. You’re a nurse, so you know how to take care of yourself.

    Just remember- GIS is a tool. Use it accordingly.

  5. I am a Gulf War veteran and worked as a cartographer/terrain analyst while serving in the Marine Corps from 1986-1992. I also have about 46 credit hours and a cert in ACAD. I am very interested in getting back into the field of cartography or GIS. Any advice on how to get there?

  6. Thank you so much! I appreciate all your help. I will definitely come here for GIS questions, if you don’t mind 🙂

  7. Hi Nishad – Not too sure as every situation is different. If you’re willing to relocate, I couldn’t imagine not seeing a GIS job in geology. Especially, your programming background will help you a lot.

  8. Hi Cori, this is a great idea. It would be interesting to find demand in the various GIS related fields. I’ll see if I can get this information and make a post of it. It probably would take some time, but appreciate the great suggestion

  9. I have graduate coursework in archaeology and lots of experience in field work in cultural resource management. I’ve had introductory course work in ArcGIS, and have used it a little bit in the field.

    I’d really like to do more imagery, mapping (I’ve done a lot of field mapping and am really good at it), and analysis. I know the archaeological field can be tight, but could I also get a job in related fields or even unrelated jobs?

    I love GIS and am very project oriented and need to know if it’s worth spending money on courses or certificates. I wouldn’t mind just going for a degree in Geology/Geography, I love being in school, but I have degrees already and I really would like to have a career now.

    Thanks for any help you can give me

  10. I am currently doing diploma course in programming and GIS and have a bachelors degree in geology. Will I be able to get an entry level GIS job in India?

  11. I think GIS and anthropology are dissimilar. It’ll take a bit of effort to familiarize but it’s possible. Although you don’t necessarily need a programming background, it certainly helps.

  12. I am fresh graduate majoring in anthropology, but realized there is no jobs available, and now switching careeer in GIS. Would it be an easy change as I have no background in programming?

  13. Thanks for this piece of information. But how can I have full access to penn state open course ware? Asking Username and Password for their Canvas, which contained detailed materials needed

  14. GIS with urban planning, could this be a good combo for the future? I have a bachelor (5 years work experience) in urban planning and I expect to gain my master in GIS at the end of this year (I am 32 years old).

  15. When you click on the BLS link in the article, the website says there will be a -2% decline in jobs from 2014-2024. Can you explain where the 29% increase stated in the article came from?

  16. 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

  17. 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?

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

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