Positioning Yourself for Advancement

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You’ve worked in the same IT position for several years and feel ready to take your career to the next level. But you’re unsure how to get there. In some cases, you might be lucky: Your manager will recognize your talents and offer you a promotion, or a recruiter might contact you with just the right opportunity. For the most part, however, it takes proactive effort to stand out as a promising candidate for a more senior role.

Internal opportunities
If you’re hoping to move up within your current organization, the timing is good. A recent survey commissioned by Robert Half International found that 60 percent of executives believe companies are more likely to promote from within than they were in 2001.

Make sure you’re doing all you can to enhance your value to the firm and highlight your contributions. Getting involved in professional associations and keeping any certifications up to date are great starting points. Also, demonstrate initiative by volunteering for new projects. This shows you’re a team player and also may allow you to assume new responsibilities or bring attention to existing talents.

Make an active effort to speak up in meetings. The higher you move up within the IT department, the more critical it will be to have a strategic vision and an ability to contribute to larger business issues, so you want to show you can bring creative ideas to initiatives.

Additionally, strive to build name recognition in the organization. If you’re hiding out in the server room all day, chances are most people — including key decision-makers — don’t know who you are or what contributions you’ve made to the firm. Start by volunteering for cross-departmental projects, through which you can gain visibility, meet others throughout the firm and play a larger role in the organization’s success. Simply attending company functions, such as holiday parties and the annual picnic, and socializing with others also can make a big difference.

Keep in mind, too, that lateral job moves are sometimes equally or more fulfilling than assuming the next rung on the career ladder. The change of pace and new assignments associated with a completely different position at the same level can put you on the path to success. Your heightened enthusiasm in a new role might help you stand out for future recognition.

External opportunities
Positioning yourself for advancement with another company requires many of the same steps outlined for internal opportunities. The more valuable you are to your current company, the greater your perceived value to a prospective employer.

In a recent survey by our firm, chief information officers polled said applicants with industry-specific experience have an advantage when it comes to proving that they’re ideally suited for an open position. Executives seek IT professionals who possess a strong understanding of the unique challenges, issues and products related to their industry sectors. So, when looking for a more senior role outside your organization, target other firms in your current industry and customize your cover letter and resume emphasizing this familiarity. For instance, you might explain your involvement in selecting manufacturing-execution software that improved data collection at an employer in the food industry. Noting relevant certifications can help to reinforce your expertise.

Also highlight the qualities you possess that are necessary to take the next step, such as management skills and an understanding of how IT supports business goals. Hiring managers seek individuals with a clear pattern of success, so show how your work has had increasing value to your employers.

When seeking a higher-level position with another company, you’re likely to be asked why you weren’t promoted at your current firm, so be prepared to answer this question. Avoid criticizing your employer and maintain a professional and diplomatic tone. Also, remember to be discreet when making inquiries about open positions. It’s a small world in some industries, and word might get back to your current employer that you’re looking for a new job.

Even with a well-executed approach, advancement might not happen immediately. You might find that you have to prove yourself a little longer before an employer is ready to give you a chance at more senior responsibilities. But don’t get discouraged. Continue taking the necessary steps to build your skills and stand out as a candidate. When the time is right, you’ll be ready to make the move.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. She can be reached at klee@certmag.com.

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