• Troll the job boards.
• Work with an IT placement service or headhunter.
• Pick up the telephone and use your personal network.
All three are useful, but the best option, say industry experts, is to work the phone while casting a deep net through your personal connections.
“Networking on the phone – absolutely,” says John Estes, a VP with Robert Half Technology, an IT placement service. “The best way to find a job, whether you’re out of a job or just looking for a better one, is just good old-fashioned networking.”
The options are numerous: local professional groups (like, say, your city’s .NET developers group), old college friends, co-workers, managers, and tech schools. Heck, pester your old kindergarten teacher to see if she knows any hiring managers.
“Attack it from multiple avenues,” Estes says.
Picking up the phone and doing personal networking is far better than relying on job boards or even a top-flight headhunter, agrees Nick Corcodilos, himself a longtime IT headhunter and owner of AskTheHeadhunter.com.
“People think, ‘Man, if I get a headhunter to help me, I’ll be golden,’” he says. But it’s not that simple. Placement services are usually under contract with large employers who are seeking specific niche skills; they might pay a service a whopping $30-60k to find a specific pro. It’s not likely they’re looking for your mainstream area of expertise.
“The odds that the job hunter who calls me up is going to qualify for one of 3 or 4 assignments I’m working on is just about nil,” Corcodilos says.
The tech job boards, too, are a limited resource, in his view. He cites a recent study that indicated a mere .8 to 2.5 percent of the posted jobs are actually filled through job boards. “It sucks,” he opines. While other industry observers likely dispute those figures – they may be much higher – it’s seems clear that job boards shouldn’t be a jobseeker’s sole tool.
Most IT jobs are filled through personal contact. “Somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts,” Corcodilos says. “The best people are referred by other employees.”
Given the importance of social networking (which may be tough for those tech pros who aren’t chatty socializers) Corcodilos reiterates the best method: “Get your ass out of your chair, away from your PC, and meet and talk with people.”
He explains one of his old tricks that he recommends to IT staffers who are willing to work the phone:
“Ask yourself, what company would you love to work for? And what’s the division you want to work in? Pick up the phone, call the manager and introduce yourself.” Give your credentials and try to establish a rapport. “Then say, ‘I’m calling you because I really respect your company and I wanted to ask you: What headhunter do you use?’ It’s a very out-of-left-field question, and many managers will ask you why you want to know.” When you tell them you’ll soon be job hunting (or are currently) they might put you on their list of possible hires – especially since they can hire you directly instead of paying a headhunter’s fee.
Even if you don’t get a nibble, you’ll (hopefully) find out the name of the headhunter or placement service they use, which will open doors to an agency that otherwise might not have returned your call. “As a headhunter, I will always return the call from someone who drops my client’s name,” Corcodilos says.
Job Boards and the IT Resume
Though the IT job boards aren’t instant hiring nirvana, they’re still worth scanning and posting your resume on. It’s important to distribute your resume as widely as possible. (Robert Half’s Estes even recommends keeping one with you at all times – even in your car.)
But before you send out your resume, shine and polish it to present yourself in the best possible way.
“We see so many variations on the resume and a lot of people get really bad advice out there,” Estes says. “Some people tell jobseekers to list anything they’ve ever done in their life. Even someone with 10 years of experience shows up with a 7-page resume. And you get people who put the personal information on there and all kinds of stuff.” Bad idea, he explains.
He provides 3 key points for improving IT resumes:
• Keep it short and to the point, certainly no more than 2 pages. “People don’t have the patience to flip through more than that.”
• “Make it less about where you’ve been and your job responsibilities, and more about your job accomplishments. Nowadays in IT, it’s all about return on investments.” Companies want to know what you’ll bring to the bottom line, not merely your old job title. Describe what you’ve actually achieved, which indicates what you’ll be able to achieve in your new post.
• Those first few sentences at the top of your resume, in which you describe yourself and your goals in a nutshell, must be hyper-specific. Estes explains: “I want to be able to know two things within about five seconds: Who are you and what do you want to do? This business about ‘join a dynamic company and find opportunities,’ blah, blah, blah – that means nothing. Get rid of that fluff. People want to know [for example] ‘I’m a network engineer with 10 years experience looking for network architect role.’”
Some professionals purposely leave this top-of-resume summary vague, because their skills open doors to various jobs. Yet there’s a better solution to this rather than vagueness: “For the people who have multiple skill sets and might want to go down a couple different roads, create a couple different resumes with different objectives – target your resume toward a specific company.”
As you contemplate job hunting – and your career in general – realize that it’s probably best to play to your own strengths, rather than attempting to following this year’s hot trends.
Corcodilos mentions a recent article about how analog design engineers are suddenly in high demand. But several years ago you never would have guessed that in 2008 this would be the case. For decades the emphasis has been on digital technology.
“Now, step back and think about all the articles you read about ‘What jobs are hot?’ Analog engineering is not hot. It’s a rarefied area,” Corcodilos says. “But you know what? If you’re a hot analog design engineer, you can make a mint and have a great career – and call your own shots.”
The point: “It’s not about what’s hot, it’s about: Are you hot at what you do? And getting hotter and hotter as you go along in your career.” Long term, this is far better than leapfrogging from one trendy area to another.
On the other hand, when I ask Estes about what skills IT employers are currently seeking, he has a definite list: network administrators are in high demand; also needed are application developers, particularly those who focus on Web app development; infrastructure support and database support are also in demand.
A Well-Rounded Pro
Whatever your area of expertise, Estes advises IT job hunters to spotlight two qualities as they approach employers: 1) that you’re a well-rounded person with a full complement of skills; 2) That you understand the business aspects of technology.
“Once you’re in that interview, don’t just focus on technology,” he says. “Employers nowadays want more of a well-rounded person, they want someone with strong interpersonal skills, written and verbal as well. They want someone who can work well as a team member. The days of sitting at a computer and banging out code between 8 and 5 and not talking to anyone else – those days are long gone.”
Make it clear you know your job contributes to the bottom line. “Less focus on just the technology and more focus on the business,” he says.
“Also, the whole idea of project management: We’re not saying everyone has to be a project manager, but people who have a big picture view of the overall scope of this project, and what the ROI is on it,” tend to get hired more often.
You Are Wanted (And Needed)
Clearly, the mood of the business world is dark; headlines about recession, leaping gas prices and inflation are omnipresent. Few people would describe the job market as healthy – unless you’re in the home foreclosure business.
Yet IT has, so far, avoided the worst of this downturn. The good news (unless you’re a tech employer) is that there’s a shortage of IT talent. And reports like this one suggest that the short supply of tech workers will continue in the years ahead.
“Granted, you read the paper and it looks like it’s gloom and doom,” Estes says. “But we are not seeing that in the IT labor market. Companies are willing to pay for talent who they feel will help them increase revenue, decrease expenses, and improve customer service.”
“With the speed of innovation, they just can’t keep pace, so they’re always looking for talent,” he says. “Who know what will happens in 6 months or a year, but right now, clients are telling us, it’s full steam ahead.”