A Foot in the Door: IT Job-Search Strategies

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Six years after the IT bust, the U.S. tech economy has started to regain strength, and now for the second year in a row, the number of job opportunities for information technology professionals has continued to climb as well. Dice CEO Scot Melland said that the number of jobs posted on the company’s technology-based online job board have increased about 40 percent year over year.

“The job market for IT professionals—especially experienced IT professionals—is very attractive right now, and there are a number of reasons behind this. Essentially, employers are increasing their technology spending, upgrading their IT infrastructures—across the government and private industry sectors—and that is creating a lot of full-time job opportunities as well as contractor and consulting opportunities,” Melland said.

Job seekers should use all available resources and strategies to find their next break. A good job-search begins with awareness of the technologies available today and those arriving tomorrow, as well as the skills that are in demand. Obviously, an IT pro can quickly become obsolete in today’s competitive marketplace.

Strategies: Job Boards and Networking
Job boards such as Dice, Monster, Hot Jobs, Career Builder, etc., not only allow job seekers to search for permanent, consultant and contract job postings, but they also enable users to post their resumes so recruiters can find potential candidates. Most of these online job boards also offer great tips for writing an appealing resume, preparing for an interview and loads of other career resources.

“A lot of people don’t realize that a lot of the best job opportunities are never posted or advertised and that there are many employers out there that hire people purely based on their skills,” Melland said. “For that reason, make sure that you use all of the capabilities of the job board. You should be searching for jobs that are actually posted on the site, but you should also be posting your resume so that recruiters and hiring companies can find you directly by looking at your background and your resume.”

Most online job boards also enable users to set up their own personal search agent, which delivers weekly job posting updates right to their e-mail inbox. This feature is an easy way to stay up-to-date on the job market and the skills that are in demand.

According to Robert Half Technology Executive Director Katherine Spencer Lee, a recent survey conducted by the organization found that CIOs often use employee referrals as a leading source for finding skilled IT candidates. “This illustrates how much IT hiring managers rely on their personal and professional networks to find quality candidates, and it also emphasizes how critical it is for IT professionals to build and leverage networks of their own,” Lee said. “Furthermore, while it’s possible to find a job today without having to rely on personal connections, it’s estimated that between 70 percent and 80 percent of all jobs are filled by people who first heard about the position through word of mouth.”

This statistic proves that networking with other IT professionals is critical whether you are an avid job seeker or passive one. “Because employers rely so heavily on referrals to find quality candidates, it’s extremely powerful when job seekers turn to their well-developed networks to make a connection with a hiring manager,” Lee said. “Someone who has a trusted colleague able to pass along a resume directly to a hiring manager with a strong personal recommendation is a definite advantage as well.”

In addition, Melland said it is beneficial to join IT user groups and IT organizations to connect with some of the best and brightest IT professionals. He also suggests speaking with local employers, managers, clients and colleagues to find out about hidden job opportunities. A great way for both budding and established IT pros to start networking is through IT-related online forums, listservs and blogs.

“The process can start as early as college, where students can begin building a professional network by getting to know professors, advisers and even friends’ parents. These individuals also should consider joining the student chapters of technology associations and participating in industry conferences and trade shows,” Lee said.

Employers Demand Experience
Regardless of how devoted you are to finding a job or how many industry contacts you make, experience is the end all, be all—even if you are new to the field. “For budding IT professionals, it is critical that they have some kind of real-life experience, applied experience that they can demonstrate to a future employer. The value of hands-on experience is golden for a future employer, and without that, they are handicapped—regardless of how many certifications or how many classes they have taken,” said Gretchen Koch, director of the skills development program at the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA).

Internships are an excellent way for students or recent graduates to gain practical experience, prepare for prospective employment and get an idea of how workplaces operate. Perhaps most importantly, an internship can get your foot in the door at your dream employers, or result in more job offers and a higher starting salary. “They have to work with their school and work with their local employers to see what internship opportunities exist,” Koch explained. “Let’s say you have your eye on a particular organization. Let’s say your goal is to be a Geeks on Call associate at Best Buy. Go to Best Buy, talk to them and ask if they have an internship program. Tell them the certifications that you have earned, the classes that you have taken—even if they are not offering a paid internship—because not only could this be absolutely beneficial for you, it could also very well lead you to a very good job.”

Another great option for budding IT professionals is to work with a staffing company. Because contract, project-based work is common in the IT industry, many employers look for short-term employees to fill their project needs. “I often recommend that to a lot of budding pros early on in their careers to work with contracting, consulting or staffing companies,” Melland said. “I think especially for new tech professionals, the consulting firms and staffing firms provide an excellent opportunity for them to work on projects with a variety of companies, give them the opportunity to be introduced to people and build those personal networks. Plus, often those jobs lead to permanent full-time employment down the road.”

In addition, staffing companies are a great way for established IT professionals to gain experience in different industries such as financial services, insurance, accounting, health care, etc. According to Lee, more IT workers are choosing a self-directed career. “Contracting, in many cases, pays better than the same job for a full-time employee,” she said. “Individuals interested in consulting should consider developing a relationship with a business specializing in IT staffing, such as Robert Half Technology.”

Nevertheless, the most important thing for established IT pro job-seekers to do is stay current. “For established IT pros, future employers are looking at how current you are with the skill sets that are in demand. So these professionals have to be as knowledgeable as they can—whether it is through personal research or from the latest IT newsletter—of the IT skills that are in demand,” Koch said. “And if they are not current in terms of knowledge and skill sets they need to take another course or get another certification.”

Melland said that certifications are often used as “filters” for recruiters. “What is interesting about certification is that being certified—depending on what the certification is because some are considered more valuable to recruiters than others—will typically

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