Stand out from the IT crowd by refining these career skills

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This feature first appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Certification Magazine.

People often talk about how quickly things change. Look back even just a few years, and you’ll see how different things were then than they are now. Ask anyone under the age of 15 to make the sound of a phone’s busy signal. Most won’t have a clue what you mean, and will be very confused as to why a phone would make that funny “tone” instead of simply sending the call to voicemail.

The right mix of IT skills can get you to the head of the hiring line.Similarly, most kids have probably have never seen a floppy disk, touched a Walkman, played a cassette tape, or would understand that a camera once needed film to take pictures — or even know what film is. (In a few years from now, how many people will know that a camera is anything other than an app on your phone?) Most kids’ parents certainly never had to drive them to a Blockbuster store to rent a movie or video game.

Each of these once-dominant products or brands has been replaced by newer technologies and products that have made them obsolete. New technology in all walks of life brings new job opportunities. It is no surprise that the number of jobs available to skilled IT workers continues to rise. When demand for skilled workers outpaces supply, the opportunity to earn high salaries in jobs with great growth potential increases.

When an industry has high demand for skilled workers, academic institutions take notice and respond. From high schools to colleges and universities, instructors are going the extra mile to prepare students with the knowledge, career skills and certifications needed to succeed in today’s IT workplace.

As the IT job market continues to grow, it is critical for instructors and students to understand what employers require, and raise the vision of what their students can achieve, while at the same time raising the bar for getting them there. As with obsolete technology, gone are the days when students needed to accept a low-paying position with the idea of eventually working their way up the ladder of success.

With the skills gap that exists, it is easy for instructors to get students excited about the potential of jobs once they complete their training. Students cannot forget, however, that they need to be ready for the competitive world of applying for jobs at the best companies. There will always be competition for jobs if employers are willing to pay top dollar for a position. Knowing this ahead of time gives students and job candidates time to learn the career skills — and earn the credentials — that will make them stand out in the IT crowd.

So what can job seekers do to gain a competitive advantage today and meet the expectations of the best employers? To achieve full job potential, a person must realize that it takes desire, time and effort to succeed. If a job candidate wants to take control of his or her future, and have as many doors of opportunity open to them as possible, then they will need to do a number of things to prepare themselves.

Soft Skills

Job seekers cannot underestimate the importance of soft skills in today’s IT workplace. Several years ago, this may not have been a requirement by employers, but that is not true today. Today, more than ever before, IT workers have daily interactions with various organizations and groups. Their value in the workplace goes far beyond simply ensuring that computer users are able to print their documents. IT professionals are responsible for business critical systems and security. Accordingly, soft skills can be just as important as certifications. More and more, without these soft skills, employers will not consider candidates. According to industry sources, examples of what employers are looking for along these lines include:

— Strong Work Ethic
— Positive Attitude
— Good communication skills
— Time Management
— Problem solving
— Acting as a team player
— Self-confidence
— Ability to accept and learn from criticism
— Flexibility/adaptability
— Working under pressure

Job seekers can get ahead of the competition if they properly display these career skills during the interview process and in their social media activities, and get a good report from personal references. It is not always easy, but job candidates must be prepared to show off their intangible qualities to prospective future employers.

Social Media

With the boom in social media, employers have new tools at their disposal in selecting the best candidate. Job seekers need to treat any social media activity with the same degree of thought as they would when preparing a resume. Online activity can give potential employers clues, for better or worse, into the type of person they will (or will not) be hiring.

To better understand how employers use this new approach, CareerBuilder asked hiring managers why they use social networks to research candidates. A significant number (65 percent) said they do it to see if the job seeker presents himself or herself professionally. About half (51 percent) want to know if the candidate is a good fit for the company culture, while another 45 percent want to learn more about his or her qualifications.

A senior vice-president quoted in a recent article in Forbes magazine said, “Job seekers should work on building strong social networks and creating online profiles that do a really good job of representing their skills and experience in the workplace … It’s not enough to only post a profile and check your news feed. You need to participate in group discussions, share expertise, and point someone to an article. … You have to work it. While it can feel uncomfortable putting yourself out there, if you’re looking for a job, it’s not the time to be timid.”


With demand for IT workers high and supply low, some students can bypass internships on their way to their first job. Some students may think, “Why work for next to nothing, or even for free, when paying jobs are available?” And while getting a job in IT without an internship does happen, it’s best if students fight the temptation of thinking they can jump right into the job market. Internships still give very valuable experience and can lead to a job. In fact, very often an internship leads to job at the company that offered it. If not, and you do a good job, it can still provide an extremely valuable reference.


IT certifications are preferred by many employers and are often a basic requirement to even apply for a given job. On the other hand, certification is often viewed the same way that a high school or college degree is, meaning all the time and effort put into obtaining certifications merely allows a candidate to get a foot in the door. Employers are not likely to ask for an exam score, for example, or wonder how long your certification training took. They only want to know whether it has been completed. So how does a candidate stand out for the best jobs if other candidates also have certifications? Here are two suggestions:

Earn more certifications. Invest in your future and earn additional certifications. It goes without saying that this will take additional time, effort and money, but it can pay off handsomely. For more advanced jobs, having additional certifications can set candidates apart. Earning more certifications suggests you are serious, and that you are a serious student of the industry. Employers want to know candidates are both current and comprehensive in their mastery of today’s technologies.

Earn performance-based certifications. One concern some employers have about certifications is that they often rely on multiple choice questions, and don’t verify a candidate’s skills and hands-on knowledge of hardware and software. First-time job seekers can stand out by earning true performance-based certifications from companies like TestOut. TestOut’s six Pro certifications are 100 percent performance based and show not only what a student has learned, but what he or she can do. More and more, both educators and employers are realizing the benefit of performance-based certifications. They’re gaining recognition both on resumes and in the workplace.

Even if employers may have not yet have heard about TestOut certifications, they will value the experience gained in using the most realistic IT simulations in the industry, and your proven career skills from performance-based exams.

While employers may not require performance-based certifications, job seekers who have them can set themselves apart from the crowd. The goal is to stand out and provide the greatest opportunity of landing the best job possible. Each certification had humble beginnings before growing in importance and popularity due to job candidates looking for a competitive edge, and employers needing a way to validate knowledge.

Serious IT job seekers can make a big difference for themselves with a little effort. Work on soft skills, be mindful of your online activities and social media profile, find great internships, and focus on earning certifications that show your knowledge and skills. With a little energy and forethought, you can put yourself in an excellent position to pursue an exciting career in IT.

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Jeff Randall


Jeff Randall is a product manager at TestOut and has worked in the certification industry for several years.

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