Six Things You Should be Doing to Enhance Your GIS Career

Caitlin Dempsey


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.

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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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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.