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How To Successfully Navigate the IT Job Market

Is there a hiring boom brewing? Here’s how to have your skills and your presentation razor-sharp when that long-anticipated callback arrives from a prospective employer.

The search for technology jobs still requires a considerable amount of stamina, determination, and patience. Because unemployment remains high, companies are reluctant to alter their cautious approach to hiring. In fact, in a recent survey commissioned by Robert Half Technology, only nine percent of CIOs polled said they planned to expand their IT departments. Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad. Because most companies made their last big technology investment years ago, most likely to prepare for the Y2K bug, much of their computers and software is outdated. As the economy recovers, businesses are thinking about what systems to upgrade and replace, as well as starting projects previously on hold. They’ll need IT manpower to do all of that.
As you conduct your job search, you’ll want to focus on three key areas: developing in-demand skills; identifying the value you can bring to a potential employer; and using your professional network to find openings.

Skills in Demand
Hiring managers are very selective today, choosing only those professionals with the technical skills that precisely meet their companies’ needs. Frequently, only candidates who meet all specifications for a job are invited to interview.
You’ll increase your likelihood of being taken seriously if your approach is targeted. Instead of broadcasting your resume to every company, in turn, pursue only those businesses and positions that most closely match your interests, experience and abilities. Keep in mind the skills IT managers today are seeking. According to a Robert Half Technology survey, 82 percent of CIOs look for candidates with hands-on experience in Microsoft Windows administration (NT, 2000, XP). Cisco network administration is also a high-demand specialty.
With information security a major issue for companies, opportunities exist for professionals with experience in virtual private networks (VPNs), intrusion detection, firewall implementation, and WLAN management. Another growth area is applications development, driving demand for candidates with object-oriented language skills, knowledge of e-commerce applications, and experience with Microsoft’s .NET platform. Intranet and Internet development are also hot areas. There’s a brisk demand for professionals who can develop and maintain systems using active server page (ASP), JavaScript and extensible markup language (XML). And, as technology moves closer to the end user, demand is also increasing for IT professionals skilled in supporting internal and external customers.
Last, database management continues to be a growth area, so IT departments are looking for SQL server and Oracle database administrators. Regardless of the IT job category, developing your non-technical skills will help distinguish you from other candidates. Hiring managers look for individuals who possess strong interpersonal skills, excellent written and verbal communication and the ability to work under pressure.

Adding Value
Assuming you have the necessary skills, the hiring manager’s next question will likely be, "What you can do for this company?" In other words, what’s the return on investment
(ROI) if the company hires you? Businesses are results-oriented, so the manager will want proof that you consistently brought value to your previous employers. In your cover letters, resume and during interviews, be sure to describe in bottom-line terms what your contributions were at previous firms. Did a project you worked on solve a problem, expedite operations, or help increase sales?
Describe the role you played in these accomplishments. Then, take it a step further and translate these achievements in the context of the new environment. Show that you understand the business needs of your prospective company and can add value by maximizing technology to meet those needs.

Nurture Your Network
To find qualified candidates, hiring managers are relying less on classified ads and online job boards and more on leads from their personal and professional contacts. So it makes sense for you to cultivate as broad a professional network as possible.
Talk to people from a variety of different industries to find out where there might be a demand for your skills. For example, the finance, insurance and real estate sector has remained strong, even during the recession. It might make sense to develop contacts within this industry. Participate in professional IT organizations and online communities, but don’t overlook general-interest business associations as well. Other ways to expand your network include teaching at the community college level and volunteering at local non-profit organizations or schools. Many companies are using project professionals to meet their IT needs. You might consider signing up with a staffing firm that specializes in the IT market. By working on a contract basis at a company, you’ll build valuable contacts for the future that could lead to a full-time position. There are opportunities out there, but it takes persistence and resourcefulness to find them. Utilize your network, then demonstrate that you have exactly the skills and abilities hiring managers seek. With this strategy, you’ll be able to find work in any economic environment.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from Web development and multiplatform systems integration to network engineering and technical support.

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