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Navigating Today’s IT Job Market: Five Tips

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Conditions remain challenging for IT professionals seeking work, but several signs suggest that hiring may heat up soon.

According to the latest , 82 percent of CIOs polled are confident about their firms’ prospects for growth in the third quarter of 2010. For the third straight quarter, they’re also expecting staff size to rise at an increasing rate. Meanwhile, most CIOs (63 percent) say IT understaffing is affecting their ability to implement innovative or emerging technologies.

Many employers, however, are still taking extra time to identify and secure the best candidates. They know the job market now includes many accomplished workers who would be unavailable in more prosperous times.

In such a competitive environment, standing out takes more effort than in the past. Even highly skilled IT workers must take steps to ensure that their skills and experience — and how they present those assets — match employers’ needs.

IT Skills in Demand

As businesses emerge from a period of restricted spending, they are focusing primarily on professionals who can support fundamental IT functions such as networking and support. Asked to name the technical skill they need the most, more CIOs (58 percent) chose network administration than any other ability.

As user demands on networks continue to grow, companies are relying on skilled administrators to keep them running smoothly and to incorporate new technologies as appropriate.

Desktop support was the next most in-demand skill set, at 55 percent. Providing support to customers and end users is indispensable under any conditions, but particularly as business growth accelerates. Other skill sets in high demand include Windows administration (51 percent) and database management (48 percent).

IT leaders were also asked to name their greatest functional need. CIOs again chose networking above all other areas, at 19 percent, up from 14 percent in the previous quarter’s survey. Applications development and security were the next most common choices, at 12 percent each. Other areas of need include software development, data/database management, and help desk/technical support, at 9 percent each.

Marketing Yourself

Swamped with resumes from underqualified applicants, employers continue to leverage networking, referrals and social media tools to identify and interact with the best job candidates. As a result, candidates need a diversified approach to succeed in the job search.

Here are five tips to market yourself effectively:

1) Focus on ROI. In your resume, online profiles and any discussions with hiring managers, explain how you’ve contributed to your previous employers’ bottom line. How have you helped firms save money or increase profits?

2) Invigorate your network. It’s more important than ever to build and maintain an active professional network. Don’t rely solely on online efforts; the most lasting connections are still made in person. Attend industry conferences and other events. Even if your networking efforts haven’t yet resulted in tangible benefits, don’t despair. The position you seek may be only one connection away.

3) Step up your online campaign. Social media tools aren’t likely to help you stand out if you merely update your online profiles every few months. Make sure your LinkedIn profile include language that’s common among the job listings that interest you, for instance, and solicit recommendations from past colleagues and managers. Follow the Facebook or Twitter feeds of employers you’re targeting to learn more about them and how your skills could prove beneficial to these organizations.

4) Keep learning. Identify gaps in your skill set and ways you can fill them. In addition to professional education courses, consider exploring project or temporary work. You can build new skills though these types of opportunities, and many staffing firms also offer free training and certification preparation tools.

5) Find ways to help others. At a time when so many in the job market are seeking help, one way to stand out is to lend a hand. Offering advice, sharing your experiences and assisting others in making new professional connections are all easy ways to make a difference. Doing so demonstrates that you’re an engaged professional who isn’t focused solely on your own needs. Your efforts also increase the likelihood that someone will come to your aid when you need help.

The job market may change quickly as business conditions fluctuate. Whether hiring picks up gradually or suddenly, the best-positioned IT professionals will be those who continuously sharpen their skills, build their networks and keep themselves visible to employers.

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