IT Job Market: Things Can Only Get Better

While news about tech jobs has been doom and gloom, many believe better times are on the horizon, and statistics are emerging that appear to support this newfound enthusiasm.
Posted December 1, 2003

Drew Bird

As recently as three years ago, if you were looking for an IT job and had Web development listed on your resume, you were almost guaranteed a well-paying position with some emerging dotcom. At the peak of the skills shortage, it almost seemed that if it were mentioned that you once sat next to a C++ developer, you were immediately snapped up by the nearest IPO-enabled organization, given a three-figure salary, and a personal trainer. Those days are gone.

In today's IT job market, you are more likely to be competing with 10 other people for a two-figure salary, and the only thing coming close to a personal trainer is a corporate calendar showing at-your-desk stretching exercises. It is hard to find anyone (and we tried) that will claim today's IT job market is in good health. However, whereas even six months ago it all seemed to be doom and gloom, many believe that better times are on the horizon, and statistics are emerging that appear to support this newfound enthusiasm.

The challenges currently facing the once-buoyant IT job market are many. Some say that the high number of H1-B visas, the classification used by IT pros to work in the country on a temporary basis, is to blame. Many point to overseas outsourcing, and still others finger the lack of control over L-1 intra-company transfer visas as the villain of the piece. But while all these factors have likely had some impact on the IT job market, there can be no denying that the underlying economic issues that have plagued the U.S. economy over the past two years are the real reason why a good IT job is hard to find.

But on the back of statistics such as a 7.2% quarterly increase in gross domestic product, and jobless claims hitting their lowest level in almost three years, many people in and outside the IT industry believe that the economy is turning a corner that will pave the way to recovery.

Even better, to maintain the momentum of that recovery, companies will need to start investing in business expansion and the development of new products and services. This expansion and development process invariably involves IT, along with the accompanying personnel.

Although updates from the government tell us that the economic outlook is brightening, at what point does that translate into a recovery of the IT job market? Online IT job board is in a unique position to track trends in the IT job market, with exclusive access to information about who is looking for what skills and where. Recent survey findings by Dice Inc. should come as a breath of fresh air to anyone who is looking for work, or considering a switch after riding out the albeit short recession.

In a survey conducted by Dice of approximately 300 corporations, recruiters and staffing firms, it was concluded that 72% of respondents plan to increase their hiring efforts over the next six months. Almost half of all respondents are hiring more than they were a year ago. A massive 88% are looking to hire experienced, hands-on technology professionals. In terms of sectors, the traditionally hard-to-find skill areas of C++ and Java continue to top employers most-wanted lists. Database developers and those with embedded software development experience also continue to be in demand.

"While the past two years have been very difficult for technology workers, the survey results point toward a turnaround in the new year," says Scot Melland, president and CEO of Dice Inc. "With a majority of our customers planning to increase their recruiting over the next six months, and with job postings on increasing by more than 40% since the beginning of the year, we believe technology hiring has turned a corner."

Melland's comments are borne out by others involved in IT recruitment, including Jamie Maitlin, president of, an online job board specializing in data storage and security-related positions.

"The market has most certainly found more stability when compared to a year ago," he says. "Although the floodgates have not yet opened with lots of new positions on the market, the job-loss statistics have seemed to moved off of the front page news."

From a historical perspective, other statistics from Dice show encouraging signs that the improvement in the job market is well on its way. For example, figures for vacancies on Dice from a year ago put the number of available positions at 27,591. Figures for October of this year were 29,195. That adds up to an additional 1,604 posted vacancies, or a 6 percent increase over last year.

"The IT job market will get back to the levels it was at two or three years ago, but it will take time," says Deidre Kashou, vice president of IT recruitment agency Remington International. "Technology is what gives a company its competitive edge, and employers know that without the right personnel that edge is lost. As the economy recovers, this need for the right people to create the edge will translate into more jobs."

So with all signs pointing to a recovery in the IT job market, if you have been waiting for the right time to look for a new job, it might just be time to dust off the resume. But what are employers looking for?

In a highly competitive market, just having the right technical skills may no longer be enough. With many experienced and highly motivated IT pros looking for work, competition for desirable positions will likely be fierce for some time to come. Where before you may have been able to rely on your technical savvy and network of contacts, the challenge of being seen by recruiters in such a competitive market requires job seekers to alter the way in which they look for work.

According to Candy Dellinger, director of human resources for Growth Markets & Global Services at Colorado-based Storage equipment manufacturer StorageTek, recruiting the right people has become more of a challenge because there is so much interest in a single position.

"We have seen an increase in the flow of resumes coming in unsolicited. For example, a job we have posted on our site would generally draw 40 responses. Now it potentially has over several hundred. What we are also seeing is a high number of very experienced applicants applying for multiple positions."

Having so many potential applicants for a single position makes it that much harder to set yourself apart from the crowd, though employers are quick to hone in on candidates that offer more that just an acronym-laden skills summary and an impressive project list.

"In addition to a solid skills set, a lot of organizations are also looking for signs of stability," says Kashou. "Employers are looking for people that will make a commitment. If a candidate has been in a number of short-term jobs or contracts, it doesn't send the right signals to the recruiter that this candidate will be in for the long haul."

As far as the tools of the job seekers' trade go, the resume is still the most powerful tool in the arsenal, though as many recruiters and hiring managers will tell you, it is not used anywhere near as effectively as it could be by experienced techs who prefer to let their skills summary do the talking.

"Prepare a professionally written resume," says Maitlin, "as statistically they tend to provide better results."

Many recruiters cite the quality of resumes as a major hurdle in finding the right people. Hard-to-read resumes make it difficult to see what skills a candidate has, and with so many resumes to read for a single position, recruiters will move on to the next resume on the pile rather than battle through pages of meaningless and jumbled information.

In truth, it might not matter how good a resume or the corresponding candidate is, and many qualified and eminently capable IT professionals may miss the initial wave of vacancies due simply to the depth of the available talent pool.

"Good people get passed up all the time because of the volume of resumes that a hiring manager receives," says Kashou. "To be considered a prime candidate you will need to have at least five years of experience in your chosen field, and a solid understanding of the business applications of IT. We are seeing candidates who meet these requirements start to get multiple offers, and they have no problem getting employed."

While things start to look good for experienced techs, the outlook for those with less than two years experience is not as bright. If you are newly minted tech, or are even relatively new to the industry, you should be prepared for the opportunities to be scarce, and the competition stiff, for some time yet.

Recruitment experts believe that if there is one sector of the job market that will continue to suffer for at least another year, it will be the market for IT staff with less than two years experience. It seems that before any significant amount of entry-level jobs start opening up, the surplus of talent with experience will need to be mopped up. Given the apparently high number of skilled IT pros either unemployed or wanting to make a move, that could take some time.

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