Allan Hoffman: If You Prepare, The Jobs Are There
What isn’t scary, has no fangs (outside of its logo, at least) and offers hundreds of job leads in dozens of industries? A Monster! As in Monster.com, of course. With approximately 4,500 employees in 26 countries, and 25 local language and content sites in 23 countries worldwide, the company is indeed a beast in terms of its reach and impact. Monster Tech Jobs Expert Allan Hoffman has an eye and ear on the IT industry and advice for new and established job-seekers.
If you’re new to the IT job market, Hoffman said now is the time to learn, explore your options and understand the ins and outs of the industry before you make investments in time and resources for education and certifications. “I think it helps to go to a number of resources and try to figure out what it really means to work in IT and what some of the job roles are. Some of the things that they might try to do would be to join an IT-related organization like the IEEE computer society (Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers) or ACM (Association for Computing Machinery). Even if you don’t join, attend a meeting. If you’re in college, go to a college chapter.”
Getting industry insight and gaining a sense of the various IT job roles available could be as simple as browsing the computer magazines and books at your local bookstore. (Also, check the communities and tools at CertMag.com.) For those who’ve just made the decision to pursue IT as a career, Hoffman draws an important distinction between a desire to use technology and a desire to build technology solutions or solve technical issues as a career. “Experiment with actually building technology rather than using technology. That could mean learning HTML and cranking out a Web site, and then maybe taking another step and learning something like Perl or PHP to get a sense of what it means to work as a programmer, rather than someone who is just using certain programs,” Hoffman said. “You might also take a course at a community college or an online course. The idea is before you invest tens of thousands of dollars in a certification program or a bachelor’s degree or whatever you’re thinking of pursuing, it helps to get an idea of what it means to actually be someone maintaining technology, updating technology, creating technology rather than simply being a computer user.”
If you already are an IT professional and are considering leaving the industry because of the economy, pursuing a different IT-related career direction or both, Hoffman said you’re not alone. Many who survived the dot-com boom got stuck in positions they’ve since outgrown or feel stuck working at a company where the IT department has shrunk and the job challenges are growing with no help in sight. But there is hope to advance, get a raise and even take on new challenges. The answer lies in a diversity of skills. Specifically, what have you got to set you apart from the thousands of other IT résumés in your space?
“Right now, a lot of companies are beyond looking for candidates with a specific skill set and educational credentials,” Hoffman said. “They want something more. Companies have a surplus of candidates who essentially meet their qualifications for a job. You can’t just have a résumé and a cover letter and think that because you have certain qualifications, that’s going to get you the position. You need to take a bunch of extra steps and show that you are someone who is really enthusiastic about this field, and that you are willing to go the extra mile in your job. Show that you are a great communicator and can make great presentations if you have to go out on sales calls. Show that you can write a report that someone in marketing is going to understand and be able to use. Show that you understand the industry that you’re in, rather than just the technology that you’re working with.”
Hoffman said that it’s not an easy step for hard-core technologists to gain those skills, but if you pursue learning opportunities with the same fervor you use in your job search, you should come out OK. “One way to acquire those skills on the job is simply to take on those challenges when they’re offered. If you’re not stepping up to the plate when the team has to make a presentation, if you’re not spending the time crafting e-mails more carefully than you used to, you need to start doing those things. If you feel like you need help, there are courses offered by organizations like ACM and IEEE on communication skills for techies. Another way to gain those skills is through organizations. It could mean a local community organization that is looking for some leadership. If you can test your leadership and communication skills in that forum, that can be safe because you don’t have the same pressures that you do on the job.”
But just showing up at meetings isn’t enough. To gain the soft skills or leadership skills that will make you a more marketable prospect than your peers, you have to step up and do more. “Agree to work on a newsletter or an e-mail list where you’re going to develop some leadership skills and maybe some written communication skills,” Hoffman said. “Maybe in a position of leadership you’re going to have to make some presentations, and again it’s in a more low-key setting, where people know that one of the reasons people go to those organizations is to gain those sort of soft skills, and you may be able to find some mentors.”
Determining which certifications to earn is a concern when you’re just starting out. It also may be one of your first considerations when you’re looking to switch gears and move in a slightly different IT-related direction, and rightly so. “One of the first things someone needs to consider in evaluating whether a certification is right for them is whether it’s in demand for that particular job role. If you’re a programmer working with PHP, it may be that a certification is not going to help you, and there’s not much reason to get it,” Hoffman said. “If you’re a network engineer working with Microsoft technology, you’re going to have to get an MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) or an MCSA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator), or else you’re not going to get interviews.”
However, Hoffman said certification alone is not enough to find success on the job hunt. “There are still quite a few people out there who may think of certification as simply the first thing to do in getting IT training because five or six years ago, a certification might be enough to enter the field. Now, that’s rarely the case. You need more than certification,” Hoffman said. “Employers are looking for a whole spectrum of qualifications. They want the education, and that often means a bachelor’s degree, even for entry-level positions. They want a certification or to see that you’re moving toward that, and they want some experience, even for an internship. Employers are really looking for well-rounded candidates.”
Job-seekers can use Monster to assess the demands of the IT market by going to the site and searching for a particular position. Hoffman recommends looking at 10 or more listings to see which certifications are highly desired. “There are quite a few positions where employers feel that unless you have that certification, you haven’t really demonstrated that you’re committed to the field and that you have certain expertise,” Hoffman said, adding that many employers cite certification needs first in their Monster job ads. “Some of these even appear in the job title. You will see job ads where the job title will say ‘Security Engineer with CISSP’ or ‘Network Engineer with MCSE.’ For some positions, it’s a given that you need a specific certification or you’re not going to be considered for that job. I know from speaking to hiring managers and CIOs that many of them use certification as a way t