Six Things You Should be Doing to Enhance Your GIS Career

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GIS is not a static field and neither should your ongoing professional development be. With more and more academic institutions offering GIS certificate and degree-based programs, the competition in the field for GIS jobs is growing.

1. Continue a Habit of Lifelong Education

Take advantage of the range of training and learning opportunities available.  

As your budget allows, take advantage of online and in-person training sessions.  If your budget is nonexistent, there are some free training sessions available.  

For Esri products, the company’s online training catalog currently lists 86 free seminars, web courses, and live instructor led online training sessions covering various ArcGIS and subject based topics.

Sid Feygin wrote a resourceful article about learning GIS for free.  

Many of the GIS vendors offer free webinars.  These webinars can be useful for acquainting yourself with new developments in existing GIS software applications and technology and see first hand new geospatial developments.

Read!  Understanding what the geospatial chatter is will help you learn about up and coming GIS trends. You can follow GIS trends and advances in the geospatial field on a variety of social media platforms.

Learn what your peers have to say about the geospatial field. There are quite a few geospatial podcasts to choose from.

2. Consider Certification

While not for everyone, certification (not to be confused with certificate programs) can provide some GIS professionals with a competitive boost seeking jobs. 

With a crowded field, adding a certification to your resume may help tip it to your advantage.  

A look at the occurrence of GISP within job listings on (an aggregate site that crawls thousands of job listing sites and collates them into a database of millions of jobs) since 2006 shows a very erratic but steadily upward growth.  

Do you work in a field where Esri products are in high demand?  Then it may be a plus to your resume to demonstrate competency with specific Esri software by obtaining an Esri technical certification.

Growth of the term GISP in job listings since 2006.  Source:
Growth of the term GISP in job listings since 2006. Source:

3. Interact with your peers

Networking is important.  Interact with other GIS professionals as much as possible.  

Some of the best jobs and the best advice are found through word of mouth.  

As mentioned previously, sifting through the geospatial chatter also lets you learn about new techniques, software, and trends.  

In person events such as GIS conferences and trainings and GIS user groups are great opportunities to connect with your peers.  

Social media also offers a great platform for remotely connecting and interacting with others in your field.

4. Share

Share your knowledge.

 Take your interaction with your GIS peers to the next level by participating on knowledge sharing sites such as

User of Esri products?  The company has long fostered a peer support environment on its own discussion forums.  

Several GIS groups on LinkedIn have active discussion groups.  Developed geospatial code that may benefit others?  Share it via

Lastly, share your knowledge while building name recognition for yourself by submitting guest articles and tutorials for publication on geospatial sites that accept guest contributors.

5. Play in the Sandbox

Learn alternative geospatial tools even if you’re not currently using them in your job.  Even if you’re currently employed in an Esri-centric shop, you should still be familiar with what other geospatial tools like QGIS, PostGIS, FME, and MapBox (to name a few) have to offer.

6. Pay it Forward

Volunteer your GIS skills to help out a local organization or profit in your area.  

Pro-bono work not only benefits the recipient but provides you with some resume building experience. Volunteering provides you with the opportunity to use and strengthen your GIS skills while at the same time explore new areas.

To offer your GIS skills, check with your local non-profits, schools, or law enforcement to see if they have any mapping and spatial analysis needs.  

For more formal volunteering there are a few organizations that provide both remote and on-site GIS volunteering opportunities. URISA has a volunteer initiative called GISCorps which matches GIS volunteers with shot-term GIS opportunities around the world.  

To get an idea of what kind of projects volunteers work on, URISA has a list of ongoing projects and completed projects.

Crisis Mappers is a volunteer coalition of technical experts, researchers, journalists, and others that come together during crises to:

leverage mobile & web-based applications, participatory maps & crowdsourced event data, aerial & satellite imagery, geospatial platforms, advanced visualization, live simulation, and computational & statistical models to power effective early warning for rapid response to complex humanitarian emergencies. As information scientists we also attempt to extract meaning from mass volumes of real-time data exhaust.

MapAction is another volunteer crisis response organization that transports trained GIS professionals to the scene of international crises.  The organization’s field mapping mission started with the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Prefer teaching?  Esri and National Geographic co-sponsor the geomentoring program:

A GeoMentor “adopts” a school, class, or club and supports the educator/s in working with youth. Using tools of geography (such as maps and globes, atlases, charts, imagery, and field work), the GeoMentor helps the educator and youth develop skills in geographic thinking.

This article was originally written on August 31, 2012 and has since been updated.

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8 thoughts on “Six Things You Should be Doing to Enhance Your GIS Career”

  1. Thanks Caitlin. I give GIS career presentations all the time and this is a good set of skills and things to think about. In fact I just gave one to the Denver Petroleum User Group last Thursday which included my 5 top skills list – it meshes nicely with yours.


  2. Great article
    After my career in the military and first using GIS in my last three year there, I went back to school and took GIS Tech course and Planning Land information Technologist,
    Worked in Lidar for a little while
    Then got on with the federal government at NRCan left after 3 years and came out west where I went into the oil field as mapper for seismic company.
    That is where I left the GIS field and Went into the law enforcement field.
    I have my own programs at home and dabble once in a while,
    I still keep in touch with a few people in the GIS world and would gladly come back to it if the right job came along. Hint hint
    So it is important to keep you’re fingers in the pie do to say.

  3. This article is good timing for me. I’m a regular ESRI user and consider myself to be competent. However, its always at the back of my mind that no matter how good I get, all it takes is a software change/ new development and suddenly my years of experience don’t mean anything anymore. Kind of like becoming fluent in English and then suddenly the world speaks chinese. I’m envious of those who have a ‘stable career path’ where the more experience you have, the more valuable you become in the workplace.

    • I have to disagree with this. Software is only a tool to apply your knowledge. If you understand the concept and you have extensive background, switching the software will take you no longer then few weeks. There haven’t been any drastic changes in the major GIS software for the past 10-15 years – they are only changing interface and adding some additional tools. What you are saying, I agree, is true for the programming software – when I started university it was all VB, but before I graduated I was already not competitive because everyone were migrating to Java :). The same with ArcObjects and Python. That’s why I don’t like ESRI. But anyway, if you are user and not developer your experience definitely counts :)

      • I agree that its not only software that counts to a GIS career but the GI concepts that can be tailored through any piece of software no matter open-source or proprietary. Yet you should stick to one platform and practice all your geoprocessing or mapping tasks. Anyways which software are you using ???

  4. I think you’ve hit some pretty good points, but I’d also like to throw a curveball. There has been a long running debate about GIS and getting some other skill set. Maybe getting Land Use and Planning skills in your repetoire? Or, getting some Systems Admin skill sets (ie MS Server/.Net). This will greatly leverage your marketability for other jobs that are out there.

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