Inside the IT Job Search

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April showers bring May flowers. Of course it’s nearly July now, but the metaphor still holds up if you’re looking for a job this summer. There are definitely seeds that take precedence when you’re watering to make your job search yield fruit. An IT professional’s job search is different from, say, an editor or an administrative assistant’s. All should consider the industry or company they’re applying to with care, researching the company’s mission and values to ensure a happy and productive fit. All should customize their resumes and cover letters to appeal specifically to specific employers, and all job-seekers should present a neat and professional appearance when granted that all-important first interview.

But IT job seekers have another very important item to consider: certification. Because of the cost and the continuous investment of time and effort required to gain certification and stay on top of quickly advancing product technology and industry changes, an IT professional’s job search should specifically target certain criteria, such as industry growth, networking and resume building.

Examine Growth Industries
It depends on who you ask and what industry they work in, but there are some clear indications that jobs in convergence, help desk, telephony, Linux, storage and project management are plentiful. So if you’re tired of baby-sitting your mother’s toy poodle for extra cash, you might want to explore one or more of these fields for job leads.

“If you’re in the IT industry, storage is becoming more and more critical today in terms of IT operations, and IT professionals basically have to have a starting point,” said Peter Manijak, education director of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA). “SNIA is vendor-neutral and represents the key players in storage. We’re talking about EMC, IBM, Microsoft, HP and Sun. These are all major companies who are part of SNIA to advance the causes of storage networking. One of their key initiatives is education and certification, and the core for education and certification is SNIA certifications. It gives you your grounding from a vendor-neutral perspective. With that knowledge in hand, you can start looking at different vendor education and vendor certification programs.”

From the mid-’90s to roughly 2001, the storage industry was booming, and there was a noticeable increase in the size and number of companies working on storage-related projects. “Around 9/11 you saw the tech downturn, and maybe for two or three years past we weren’t the Teflon don of industries,” said Robin Glasgow, executive director of SNIA. “But in the last couple of years, we’ve started to turn that around and make steady growth. Some of the impetus for this is not just the quantity of data that needs to be stored—it’s the size of each transaction. Even at home, if you have children or download pictures or music to your home computer, the size of each piece of information is getting bigger and bigger, hence driving some of the need for storage and storage companies. The other thing that I think has had an impact is some of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation—a direct response to some of the Enron’s and a couple other very high-profile corporate miscues. It’s not only the full employment fact for attorneys and accountants, it affected storage too: the length of time to be stored, accessibility, once you store something how quickly can you get it back.”

Research Necessary Qualifications
It’s important to know the requirements for available positions that capture your interest. If you’re not qualified, you don’t want to waste time pursuing a job you can’t do. In the event you slipped through and actually got the job you aren’t qualified to do, you don’t want to waste time waffling around, looking confused, possibly screwing things up or alienating people in the industry who might be able to help you find a job you can do or would like to do once you’re able. That said, if the job you really want requires qualifications you don’t currently have, you need to know how long it will take to get them and how much it will cost to obtain the necessary credentials so you can allocate your time and resources accordingly. Every certification’s requirements are different, but most have associated Web sites, and that’s always an excellent place to start gathering information.

Once you’ve collected the basics and some particulars from the certification home page, google the certification or the general topic to look for forums or study groups with people who have already taken or are preparing to sit the exam. They can give you clues, hints, tips—whatever you want to call those little informational nuggets that make passing easier and studying less arduous (as long as it’s not actual questions and answers—nearly every certification requires test-takers to sign an agreement stating that they will not reveal what’s really on the test). The certification’s main Web site may offer a forum, so keep your eyes peeled while you’re scrolling and clicking for facts.

Make a List of Networking Contacts
This list should not include your grandmother or your uncle who works on an oil rig in Alaska. They might have sympathy for you in your current job search situation, but they aren’t likely to offer much to improve it. You want to reach out to people who have the authority to hire you. This could include supervisors you worked with on consulting assignments, friends who’ve climbed the ladder of success and don’t mind sticking their necks out for you, and anyone else you know who is in touch with decision-makers at companies you’d like to work for.

Most networking is best done face-to-face, though your initial contacts will most likely come over the phone or via e-mail. If the thought of calling up strangers and explaining that you’re jobless and searching makes you queasy, drink some ginger ale or chew a Tums and get over it. Networking is a contact sport, and the more people you reach out to, the higher your chances of success. Not only that, you must continue to network until you have what you want. And I hate to say it, but if phone calls make you uneasy, you may have a tougher time with the meeting and greeting and glad-handing you should be doing at association meetings and other social gatherings where IT people who have jobs hang out.

You’re not alone. Very few people outside the PR industry actually like networking, but it serves a specific purpose: to let those in a position to help you know that you are in the job market. Networking is basically talking to people and getting to know them. Yes, it’s actually about them and what they need. Only after you discover those important facts can you effectively present yourself as the solution to their problem. What can you offer that they need and want? How will your credentials, education and experience make their lives and projects easier?

After you’ve made the first contact, follow up within a few days with a thank-you note or e-mail. Hand-written notes are best. If a full-time position isn’t forthcoming, part-time work or a consulting gig may materialize. At the very least, you’ve made yourself known to a key player in the industry who may remember your name when an opportunity crosses his desk or computer screen. That’s why the follow-up to networking is so important. It helps to cement your professionally executed image and name in an influential person’s mind.

Update the Old Resume
That one piece of paper can be your key to the door or help close the lock to keep you out. Updating your resume doesn’t simply mean adding the latest bits at the end and changing your contact info to reflect the new cell number. Give your resume a complete overhaul. Streamline and customize its content to appeal to each prospective employer. There are always resume-writing services to give you a hand if you need one, b

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