The Ultimate Guide to Navigating the Job Market as a GIS Professional
Building your professional network, maximizing your resume and researching market roles are important steps to take throughout your graduate education. Whether you’ve just begun researching online GIS programs or are approaching your final months at the USC Spatial Sciences Institute, understanding how to navigate the job market prepares you to find and acquire the job of your dreams upon graduation.
We’ve provided a comprehensive guide to support prospective students, current students and alumni of GIS programs as they take steps toward finding new careers.
- Your Professional Self Online
- Researching the Industry
- Your Resume
- Interview Practice
- Accepting the Job Offer
- Finding Help
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Network Like a Pro
A strong professional network builds a foundation that can connect you to multiple employers and career opportunities. Additionally, a network of people from diverse areas of the GIS field enables you to share insights, advance your industry knowledge and even improve your professional skill set.
One of the best ways to meet other GIS professionals and get vital industry resources is to join a professional organization. There are dozens of such organizations for GIS professionals, including:
- American Association of Geographers (AAG)
- American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS)
- Cartography and Geographic Information Society (CaGIS)
- International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS)
- United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF)
- University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS)
- Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA)
Many of these organizations also host events and conferences, allowing you to expand your network while learning about research and innovations in the field. Some of the top events in the industry include:
- URISA GIS Pro
- Esri Federal GIS Conference
- Esri User Conference
- AAG Annual Meeting
- USGIF Geoint Symposium
- Los Angeles Geospatial Summit
Another great way to boost your professional network is to reach out to USC Spatial Sciences Institute alumni. Our alumni ambassadors are available to connect, offer advice and share their experiences in the GIS field.
Build a Professional Presence Online
Having a professional presence online communicates your skills and experience while simultaneously making you easily accessible to employers looking for new talent. If you haven’t done so already, take time to build a profile on LinkedIn, arguably the top professional social networking site. You can also post your resume to job recruitment sites such as ZipRecruiter or Indeed, share unique and engaging professional insights on social media, or build a website that acts as a central access point to all of your relevant professional information such as interviews, published research or a PDF of your resume.
Here’s how to make the most of online networking:
Optimize your first impression
You want your online identity to be professional and verifiable. Use your real name (or the name associated with your professional experience), and make sure your contact information is easily accessible. You can put this information in a graphic header or set it aside in a dedicated link.
Use a professional photo in your profile, preferably a headshot, and avoid selfies or low-quality photos. Images that aren’t your face make it harder for connections to verify your identity.
Incorporating a brief headline can quickly show your value. If you opt not to use a header with your contact information, you can instead display an image related to GIS (perhaps one taken during a fieldwork excursion or related to your thesis) to represent your passion in the GIS field.
Display your experience and education
Amplify the experience and education sections of your online profile by highlighting your achievements alongside your responsibilities. Quantify the results of your efforts where applicable. Include links to projects you completed at work or while pursuing your graduate degree or certificate.
Make your elevator pitch
Use the About section of your LinkedIn or other profile to publish your elevator pitch. If you had 30 seconds to explain who you are and your value as a GIS professional, what would you say? Focus on your skills, unique accomplishments and goals.
Get endorsed for your skills
List your technical skills, like programming languages and various GIS tools, and your soft skills, like communication, collaboration and leadership. Your LinkedIn connections, including previous coworkers, classmates, instructors and clients, can rate your proficiency and leave recommendations that appear on your profile. These people may also be willing to provide quotes about their experience with you that you can add to non-LinkedIn profiles.
Research Industry Trends
Familiarize yourself with the various aspects of the GIS roles that catch your interest, including job responsibilities, salaries and work environments. All this information helps you find a role that suits your strengths and professional objectives.
The Occupational Information Network (O*NET), developed for the U.S. Department of Labor, provides detailed information on hundreds of jobs across every industry. As you can see on the entry for Geographic Information Systems Technologists and Technicians, O*NET provides vital information like:
- Alternative job titles to improve your job search.
- Required skills, such as SQL, ArcGIS and cloud-based management.
- Work activities and duties.
- Experience, training and education needed.
- Wage and employment data for specific geographic areas, drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Related occupations.
Create an Effective Resume
Start with the right resume structure to provide the most relevant information to prospective employers. There are three main types of resumes, and each is best suited for professionals at different stages of their careers:
- Functional resume: Also known as a skills-based resume, this format showcases skills rather than the depth of your work history. It includes a professional summary of your qualifications, experience and goals as well as work history entries that demonstrate translatable skills and value. Use a functional resume if you have employment gaps or are shifting from another career field to GIS.
- Chronological resume: This resume emphasizes experience and career growth by listing prior jobs in reverse chronological order. Use this resume if you have GIS experience, either from internships or previous professional roles, and are applying for lateral positions or career advancement.
- Combination resume: This resume includes a professional summary that lists your strengths, goals, skills and relevant experience, including internships, school projects, volunteer work or jobs in other industries. New grads with little or no GIS experience and those seeking entry-level GIS roles should use this resume format.
Once you have the right resume structure, optimize the content by:
- Starting every bullet or sentence in your job description with an action verb.
- Emphasizing your accomplishments rather than your responsibilities.
- Quantifying your achievements where possible to demonstrate the value you brought to each role.
- Including skills and other keywords from the job posting to help your resume get noticed by automated Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).
The Spatial Sciences Institute prepares and distributes a resume book of our graduate students to leading GIS industry leaders each year. For more insight on building your resume, visit the Career Center channel for resumes, cover letters and curriculum vitaes.
Current students can have their resumes reviewed through the USC Career Center or attend a resume workshop for help.
Improve Your Interviewing Skills
Prepare for interviews by researching common questions employers ask candidates for the positions you are pursuing. Glassdoor features interview questions for specific roles and organizations. You can also consult an alumni ambassador, your GIS instructors or the USC Career Center.
The best way to improve your interview skills is to practice. The Career Center has many interview preparation resources for GIS students and alumni, including Big Interview, an AI interview practice tool that asks questions based on your industry, role and experience level.
The STAR method
STAR is a mnemonic device to help you structure your responses to interview questions. As you practice interviewing, try to incorporate the following into your answers:
- A real-life or hypothetical Situation.
- The Task or challenge at hand.
- The Action you took (or would take).
- The Results of your efforts.
This method allows you to show your skills in action and illustrate how you solve problems in the workplace. You can also use the STAR method when completing the work history portion of your resume.
Know How to Accept a Job Offer
There are three key steps in the process of accepting an offer:
1. Evaluating the offer to ensure a good fit.
2. Negotiating salary.
3. Accepting or rejecting the offer in a professional manner.
Industry research should tell you whether the salary and benefits are competitive for the role and your qualifications. You can use your findings alongside your experience as leverage when negotiating the offer, which also demonstrates confidence in your expertise. Note that you can negotiate things other than salary and traditional benefits — you and your employer can come to a compromise on paid time off, flexible work options, professional development opportunities and more.
Be aware of the expected start date and anticipated hours as you consider an offer — particularly if you are a student. Apply your time management skills and check your schedule to make sure you can handle the role alongside your schoolwork.
Seek Help When You Need It
The USC Spatial Sciences Institute is dedicated to helping graduate GIS students and alumni get the resources they need to succeed during and after their time in the program. If you have any questions about careers, resume services, networking events or other information regarding your future in the field, reach out to student success advisor Jocelyn Ward by calling (213) 235-2129 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
About USC’s Online GIS Graduate Programs
The University of Southern California offers a comprehensive selection of online GIS programs, including GIS master’s degrees and GIS graduate certificates. This gives our students the ultimate flexibility in tailoring their education for their career goals. Click on the programs below to learn about our leading geographic information science education.
Online GIS Master’s Degree
Master of Science in Geographic Information Science and Technology
Master of Science in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence
Online GIS Graduate Certificates
Graduate Certificate in Geographic Information Science and Technology
Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Intelligence
Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Leadership
Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing for Earth Observation