Finding Work in Tough Times
The Skills Gap
Before the year 2000, thousands of IT jobs went begging. Market surveys reported that there was a gap between the high number of open jobs and a lower number of skilled men and women qualified to fill those positions. Many articles were written about the IT “skills gap.”
Three years after the start of the new millennium, there are still thousands of job vacancies. The difference today is that there are also now thousands of experienced, proven IT professionals unable to find work. What is causing this imbalance and mismatch? Why aren’t these openings filled by the wealth of available talent?
A Changing Hiring Environment Calls for Adaptation
From roughly 1975 through 2000, business and consumers adopted computing technology at an exponential rate. A huge demand for trained and qualified computer professionals followed in the wake of this massive implementation of technology. The rise of networked computing and e-commerce, as well as preparations for Y2K in the late 1990s, led to an even steeper curve of technology implementation. And right behind this tidal wave of technology buying was an increased demand for trained and qualified technical personnel.
Following the turn of the millennium, many businesses realized they had a glut of equipment. Buying slowed. Then there was a recession, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the dot-com bust and financial scandals that rattled investor confidence. Companies downsized to maintain profits, and thousands of IT workers suddenly found themselves unemployed. Additionally, companies began to outsource jobs overseas, and this further depressed IT employment in North America.
Businesses continue to be under intense pressure to lower costs and maximize profits. Head counts are kept to an absolute minimum, as are training budgets. When companies must bring someone new on board, the hiring manager wants to be certain that the person can come in and do the job from day one. Many hiring managers believe that learning on the job, similar to apprenticeship, is a viable option, but are reluctant to adopt this model due to a lack of standards or an approved program.
Rightly or wrongly, companies are basically looking for an exact fit of skills and experience. And because each new employee has to be fought for, hiring mangers would ideally like to find one person who may be qualified to do two or even three different jobs. The hiring environment has changed drastically over the past few years, and IT professionals are having to come to terms with that fact, adapting to the new conditions.
There Is Hope
There are strong indications that the economy will rebound, and with it, the technology buying that spurs a demand for trained workers to support new applications. This will help to ease head-count restrictions. Openings in local, state and federal government are also expected to increase, principally due to personnel retiring.
This spring, the National Skill Standards Board (NSSB) will issue its first-ever job-skills standards for IT workers, significantly helping employers to write job descriptions and to evaluate candidates. While it’s likely that employers will never be free of the desire to hire one person to do two jobs, the new standards should help to bring their expectations more in line with market realities.
So How Do I Get Hired in Tough Times?
Through CompTIA’s workforce development efforts, adaptation strategies for succeeding in this new environment are emerging. The successful IT worker of the future will strive to cultivate at least two technical specialties. Future IT workers will be much more business-oriented because hiring managers will be looking for employees who see the big picture of profit, loss, competitive advantage and customer retention—and understand that IT fits into this picture.
They will be looking for employees who can work easily with non-technical personnel. IT professionals who have the soft skills of good listening, problem-solving and effective written and verbal communication will be in demand. Also in demand will be those who can demonstrate expertise in IT project management. On-the-job experience, which demonstrates the application of many of the above skills, will be a plus for any resume.
Those progressing from mid- to high-level positions will have a mix of academic credentials and industry certifications, as well as increasing levels of responsibility. It’s clear that the academic and training worlds are becoming much more closely integrated because of the need to educate people in broad concepts as well as to train and certify them in technical specialties.
One of the first important steps in getting hired in hard times is to understand the employer’s point of view. If you see the employer’s perspective, you can tailor your skill assets and employment pitch. Here are some things employers want to do:
- Get the Best People: Companies that are hiring know there are great people on the street due to hard times—people they could not afford in good times. These people have excellent skills and education. They have valuable perspectives on vital parts of the market and competitors. The human resources department is assigned the responsibility of getting these people into the company. This is an opportunity for you. Package yourself, without ego, as a prime catch. Emphasize aspects of your career that play into these expectations, and make sure your application is customized to the posted opening.
- Shorten the Long-Term Expense: Companies feel uncertain about the permanent budget commitment they must make to a new employee. Instead, companies feel more confident about offering temporary or project-based jobs, one-time project hires or consulting work. These projects can translate into permanent jobs if the company sees good performance and is convinced that the tasks performed are critical ones. Many of these temporary positions are permanent jobs in disguise. Go out and deliberately seek them.
- Cut Costs: Companies tasked to cut expenses frequently turn to IT to automate more processes, reformulate procedures to reduce overhead and communicate with more data and less paper. Ironically, this is a source of new employment for many IT workers right now.
- Seek the Best Returns: At all times, businesses measure return on investment (ROI) for major spending. For example, company management may ask, “If we hire a new worker at $50,000 per year, will we get $100,000 value back?” IT security and database management offer potentially high ROI and are considered hot employment segments right now.
Awareness of the company perspectives that were described above can help you deliver the subtle clues hiring managers are looking for when seeking the ideal candidate. In written and verbal communications with a prospective employer, show them that you are in synch with these needs.
Also look for openings to communicate your understanding that in today’s IT work environment, the ideal employee must have exceptional technical skills as well as excellent soft skills. As appropriate to your background and the interview setting, try to work the following into the interview:
- Communication skills.
- Project management skills.
- Business management skills, i.e., defining and setting budgets or program administration.
- Team skills.
- Sensing and delivering faithful, loyal customer service to all customers, both internal and external, for the given job role.
- Sales ability.
- The wherewithal to thrive and deliver accomplishment and success with lean resources and smaller team sizes via constant innovation, self-motivation and an ability to mentor and share successes.
Give short, engaging examples of how you have used the above skills to solve business problems. Link t