According to industry experts, companies are looking for candidates with strong IT job skills who will not only keep their companies abreast of new technologies, but who will also save them money by spotting inefficiencies and using technology to streamline and eliminate problems.
"These companies want people who will see where their companies are wasting money and come up with ways to help them save millions," said Bob Moore, a hiring consultant and recruiter for technology companies in Southern California. "If you have that kind of experience on your resume, you'll be in great demand."
In short, companies are looking for a number of qualities. Here are the top five characteristics companies are looking for in IT candidates:
1. Good communication skillsAlthough many IT professionals work alone, they often collaborate on teams with workers from other departments, such as accounting. For this reason, hiring managers want candidates for IT jobs who can speak knowledgeably with technology experts and can also explain computer issues to non-technical employees.
"You have to be able to have a high-level conversation with other programmers and managers, but also be able to talk to the lay person who doesn't understand the technology, but needs to use the system," Moore said.
2. Problem-solving abilitiesTo Moore, this ability is key. Computer systems are becoming more complex every day, and IT professionals need to be able to expand a system and make adjustments as needed by the company. Most computer systems are under constant attack from spammers, viruses, and even the systems own users. Important IT job skills include the ability to quickly identify a problem and fix it -- a company's productivity and profits often depend on this.
IT jobs such as setting up and maintaining a computer system usually involve a complex array of hardware, such as routers and servers and software, and any IT professional needs to be a methodical, logic-oriented worker capable of zeroing on solutions and system improvements. Recruiters typically ask candidates how they've handled difficult problems in their previous jobs, and they listen carefully to hear how methodical the candidate is in explaining how the issue is solved, Moore said.
3. FlexibilityMoore notes that the companies he works with usually require that IT job candidates live within an hour of the home office. IT managers often are on call and need to be ready to help reboot or troubleshoot the computer system at night or on weekends.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many IT professional are called on to work more than 40 hours a week, although many can do at least some work from home.
4. EducationIt used to be that IT professionals could get their first jobs with just a two-year degree, but increasingly, candidates need a four-year bachelor's to break into the field. A bachelor's degree with work experience is often preferred, Moore said, and a master's degree really helps separate a candidate from the pack.
Along with a college degree, employers are also looking at such IT job skills as a candidate's professional certifications, which are offered through product vendors, computer associations, and other training institutions. Computer network architects and database administrators should have a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field, although some employers prefer applicants with an MBA with a concentration in information systems. IT job candidates with courses in finance, marketing, accounting, and management, as well as database management, electronic business, and systems management and design really shine.
5. PersonalityCompanies also are looking for a person whose personality and nature fits in with their company and existing employees, Moore says. They are looking for friendly, likeable, and helpful people, who not only have the IT job skills, but a history of stability and strong work relationships.
"They don't want someone who leaves his or her IT job every year," Moore said. "They want to see a good range of experience, but they also want to see some stability in your IT jobs history."
One of the most important interview tips for IT professionals: show a willingness to learn. Moore says that companies are more likely to hire a candidate with less experience if he or she demonstrates the ability to learn on the job.