The IT Hiring Forecast for 2006

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The 2006 job market for IT professionals looks brighter than it has for several years, according to the 2006 Robert Half Technology Salary Guide. Companies are hiring once again as they reinitiate projects, upgrade systems and develop new products.

 

However, managers are taking a more cautious approach to hiring than they did in the dot-com era. They are assessing their long-term staffing needs to ensure they have ongoing requirements before filling positions with full-time IT personnel. To gain flexibility, many are relying on project professionals to address short-term projects and workload peaks.

 

A number of factors are contributing to the growing demand for IT professionals:

 

 

  • Network security: Companies are recruiting individuals who can oversee and implement measures to safeguard their internal systems.
  • Capital expenditures: Businesses are finding they can no longer afford to delay the replacement of outdated desktop systems and software.
  • Development of Web applications: Firms need IT staff who can help them maximize the benefits of their Web technology, particularly in areas such as customer service, customization, streamlining and management.
  • Business intelligence: More firms are recognizing that the way they collect, store, analyze and provide access to critical business data can give them a competitive advantage.
  • Wireless communication: IT professionals are needed to support users of tablet computers, portable e-mail devices, smart phones and other tools.
  • Regulatory requirements: Both publicly traded and private firms are implementing new technology measures in response to government regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. They are turning to their IT departments to assess their information systems for vulnerabilities and maintain sound internal control over financial reporting.

 

Research shows that networking professionals are the most in demand. Nineteen percent of 1,400 chief information officers polled cited networking as the top specialty, followed by technical support (15 percent), applications development (12 percent), data and database management (11 percent) and information security (9 percent).

 

When asked about the most valued technical skills, Microsoft Windows (2000, 2003 and XP) administration expertise was by far the leading choice, cited by 81 percent of executives. Wireless network management came in second, followed by SQL Server management.

 

It takes more than solid technical knowledge to impress employers, though. Soft skills have become increasingly important. When screening candidates, managers evaluate verbal communication, persuasive, interpersonal and writing abilities, as well as other areas. An understanding of broader business and industry trends also is valuable as IT professionals assume more visible and vocal roles in shaping the strategic decisions of their organizations.

 

Firms also seek individuals with a history of successful projects. A verifiable track record of accomplishments is seen as a good indicator of future performance. Managers want people on their teams who will deliver IT initiatives on time and on budget.

 

While companies are selective when hiring, the job market is slowly shifting in the candidate’s favor. It’s not uncommon for individuals with the most highly sought-after skill sets to receive multiple offers. As a result, many organizations are speeding up their hiring processes to avoid losing top applicants to other firms. For example, instead of interviewing with three managers over the course of several weeks, IT professionals might meet with a number of people on the same day.

 

Businesses also are enhancing their compensation packages to attract and retain the best technology talent. Starting salaries are forecast to increase an average of 3 percent in 2006, up from 0.5 percent in 2005. Positions expected to see the strongest gains in base compensation in the coming year include IT auditor (up 11.2 percent), lead applications developer (up 5.3 percent) and business systems analyst (up 5.1 percent).

 

Certifications are an important consideration for many managers when making hiring decisions and job offers. Individuals who possess in-demand professional accreditations teamed with extensive hands-on experience can expect starting salaries as much as 15 percent higher than their counterparts without them.

 

As business confidence grows and firms make additional investments in technology, there will be a corresponding need for more IT staff. Individuals who stay on top of industry and hiring trends and keep their skills sharp will be in the strongest position for career growth in this changing environment.

 

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. For a complete copy of the Robert Half Technology 2006 Salary Guide, visit www.rht.com. She can be reached at klee@certmag.com.

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