The New Hiring Rules: Edge on the Competition

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Despite how challenging the IT hiring environment has been in recent years, the future is looking brighter. In fact, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), eight out of the 10 fastest-growing occupations over the next eight years will be computer-related. However, while the IT employment picture is changing, so are the rules that companies use for hiring IT professionals.

As businesses add to their technology staff, IT managers are taking a more thorough approach to evaluating candidates than they were just a few years ago. They’re reviewing new hiring profiles to ensure recent recruits can make immediate contributions to the company’s bottom line. To compete in this environment, you should take steps to determine the exact skills employers are looking for and polish your abilities to fit those needs so that you can stand out from the crowd.

Communication Skills
“Soft” skills are playing an increasingly important role in an IT candidate’s marketability. In fact, in a recent Robert Half Technology (RHT) survey, 97 percent of the CIOs interviewed said that, when hiring IT professionals today, they look for well-developed communication skills.

According to the survey, the most important soft skills for a job candidate to possess include: interpersonal skills (35 percent); ability to work under pressure (26 percent); written or verbal communication skills (20 percent); business acumen (12 percent); and professionalism (4 percent).

Why are hiring managers looking for solid communication skills? Individuals in IT departments are often asked to work on cross-divisional projects with colleagues possessing both technical and non-technical backgrounds. In addition, the ability to communicate effectively also comes into play as IT takes a larger role in guiding corporate strategy. Because of these issues, it’s essential for you to be able to translate technical jargon to your non-technical co-workers and managers.

Return on Investment
Due to current economic conditions, companies today are focusing their technology spending—and subsequently, their IT hiring priorities—on initiatives that provide an immediate return on investment. This means IT hiring managers want to see how you’ve contributed to your previous employers and how you will transfer these skills to your new work environment.

For example, because network security is a priority for businesses of all sizes, there is a strong demand for IT professionals who can manage everything from assessing potential network vulnerabilities to integrating virus protection, intrusion detection and other components into an enterprise-wide security strategy. If you can demonstrate to your prospective employer in an interview or resume your ability to unify all these applications into a corporate security strategy, for instance, you’ll improve your odds of being hired.

With tighter budgets and reduced head counts, you may also be required to do two or even three jobs. For instance, if you’re hired to work the help desk, you might also need to provide desktop support and technical training to non-IT co-workers. The more diverse your skill sets, the more attractive you will be to future employers.

Networking
While it’s still possible to find an IT job today without relying on personal connections, it’s becoming more difficult. According to Robert Half Technology research, between 70 and 80 percent of all IT positions are filled by people who heard about the job through word-of-mouth. In fact, when a group of CIOs were asked to list the most effective ways of finding qualified IT candidates, 31 percent noted employee referrals and 19 percent cited an IT staffing or recruiting firm, while only 17 percent mentioned classified print advertising. Job boards were one of the least effective ways of locating candidates—just 9 percent of CIOs noted this as a solid method.

So what is networking? As the term suggests, it involves building a web of contacts who can help you throughout your career. One of your first steps might be to create a list of people you can contact for assistance—to offer you a job right now, to introduce you to someone who is hiring or perhaps to inform you about a job opening. Another effective step to expanding your network is to join local trade and professional organizations and attend conferences where you can meet new people. A third method might be to spread the word that you’re looking for work by sending out a targeted mailing to your contact list and following up with phone calls to key contacts.

Building a Strong Resume
With so much competition for fewer IT jobs, you may be thinking, “How can I possibly stand out in a crowd?” Developing a strong resume is a good start. The most important point in resume writing today is to customize each one to the opportunity.

For example, if you’re applying for a position that requires XML and JavaScript knowledge, make sure that you highlight your experience with those applications by describing them in your resume. Emphasizing the measurable value you’ve contributed to a previous employer is another important aspect of the “new breed” of IT resume. For instance, point out a software project where you solved a specific problem, won an award or helped to increase sales. As mentioned earlier, today’s employers are interested in results—or return on investment—so highlight them on your resume whenever possible.

Informed Interviewing
It’s important to research the firm you’re meeting with beforehand. In a survey from our company, 44 percent of the executives interviewed stated that the most common interview mistake made by today’s candidates was having little or no knowledge of the firm.

Find out the company’s annual sales revenues, principal lines of business, important corporate events such as mergers or restructurings and most recent technological advances. You’ll want to highlight the value you brought to former employers. Be prepared to go into more detail on any projects or accomplishments you listed in your resume, whether it was saving a previous employer money or time.

In addition, try to anticipate some of the most likely questions you will be asked, such as your strengths, your weaknesses and how well you work as part of a team. When discussing your “strengths,” give specific examples of how you’ve provided value to a previous employer. Maybe you consistently beat deadlines or came in under budget on projects, for instance.

When explaining your “weaknesses,” think of one or two qualities you’re working to change. If organization has been a challenge for you in the past, you might say that you recently invested in a daily planner to help you track your projects and meetings, and that you now set aside time at the end of each week to document what you accomplished and prepare “to dos” for the following week.

Finally, when mentioning your communication skills, show how you successfully worked on a team project. Good examples could be highlighting the part you played in developing an innovative software idea or solving a sticky application problem.

Once you’ve completed the interview, there’s post-interview etiquette to follow: Regardless of how it went, you should always send a short thank-you note by e-mail or snail mail. To show gratitude, reiterate your interest in the job and restate how well you feel you are a “fit” with the company.

Consider Contract Work
Accepting project assignments in your field is a proven way to help you secure permanent IT employment. You’ll learn new skills, expand your professional network and get an insider’s perspective on a potential employer.

Another benefit of pursuing contract work is that it may give you access to a job that you might not otherwise hear about. For example, if a firm is upgrading to a new operating system, it ma

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