How to Become a GIS Specialist

How to Become a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist: Career Guide

If you enjoy geography, cartography and analyzing information, then a career as a geographic information specialist is a great option for you.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to succeed in a career as a geographic information systems specialist. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more! 



Education Needed to Become a Geographic Information Systems Specialist

To become a geographic information systems specialist, you should either have a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Geography with an emphasis in GIS, or you should pursue a GIS certificate or diploma program.


If you pursue a bachelor’s degree, consider enrolling in mathematics, economics or business courses to complement your geography coursework, as these subjects put emphasis on data analysis, which is an invaluable skill to have as a GIS Specialist.


Note: Educational requirements typically vary by employer




Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist Job Description

A geographic information systems specialist is responsible for using specialized equipment and computer software to create geographic maps which contain political borders, transportation networks and environmental resources. They may also have the responsibility of rendering, analyzing, and manipulating a range of geospatial data. 



Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist Job Duties

• Develop and maintain regional geographic, political and environmental databases

• Use various mathematical techniques, such as coordinating geography, to design and update GIS databases

• Design new maps or update existing ones using information contained within GIS databases

• Create visually appealing maps which make complex data easier to understand

• Confer with other researchers, analysts, internal customers, company managers and advertising account executives

• Retrieve stored and archived maps

• Prepare metadata and other information



Important Skills for GIS Specialists

In order to be successful as a geographic information systems specialist, it is important to have a certain skill set, including:


Geographic knowledge: Knowledge of a variety of methods for describing the location and distribution of land, sea, and air masses. This also includes their physical locations, relationships, and characteristics.


Written, Oral and Cartographic communication skills:  The ability to communicate GIS/spatial information to people without technical skills in this area.


Analytical abilities: The ability to solve problems using the appropriate GIS tools.


Research abilities: Knowing how to find, identify and validate important information.


Information ordering: The ability to correctly follow a given rule or set of rules in order to arrange things or actions.


Systems evaluation: Ability to look at many indicators of system performance, while taking into account their accuracy.



Salary Range of Geographic Information Systems Specialists

According to the Government of Manitoba. GIS Specialists typically earn between $40,000 and $70,000 per annum when employed in the public sector, and between $40,000 and $90,000 per annum when employed in the private sector.


The salary range of GIS Specialists can vary widely based on many factors, such as their level of education/training, their level of experience, whom their employer is and many others.




Working Conditions for Geographic Information Systems Specialists

Typically, GIS Specialists work normal weekday business hours in an office or computer workstation setting. Because of the detailed and computer-oriented nature of the work of GIS Specialists, their eyes may get strained from time to time. GIS Specialists are not typically required to perform much lifting or engage in other laborious tasks.



Employment Advancement for GIS Specialists

With enough training and experience, GIS Specialists can move into supervisory or management positions, either within their current organization or an external organization. GIS Specialists may also choose to pursue self-employment as GIS Consultants.



Who Hires GIS Specialists?

The following types of organizations typically employ GIS Specialists:


• Colleges and universities

• Federal, provincial/state and municipal government

• GIS consulting organizations

• Oil, mining and gas companies

• Private mapping companies

• Self-employment (as a consultant)



GIS Specialist Jobs

Our job board below has "GIS Specialist" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Careers Similar to Geographic Information Systems Specialist

Listed below are jobs that are similar in nature to GIS Specialist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.



Census Geographer

Map Editor

Survey Technician



References: Geographic Information Systems Specialist Career

Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a GIS Specialist.


ECO Canada website: website:

Government of Manitoba - Careers in Mining website:



Scholarships for Becoming a Geographic Information Specialist

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist can be found on our Forestry Scholarships and Geography Scholarships pages.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a GIS Specialist: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a Geographic Information Systems Specialist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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