Finding an IT Job in a Bad Economy

May 24, 2012 2 Comments »
Finding an IT Job in a Bad Economy

Yes, IT is currently a strong market—especially in comparison to the competition. And although IT talent is in demand, job hunters need more than just a couple letters (such as B.S. or B.A.) to land a job. Here are a few things to consider if you’re looking for a job in IT or considering a career in the field. This is, of course, far from a complete guide to getting an IT job, but it focuses on a few areas of particular interest.

It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know

Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your perspective), getting a job in IT—or in any field—is often a matter of connections. This is particularly the case if you’re just starting out in IT or the data center space: you’re competing with potentially thousands of others who, on paper, may look a lot like you. But if you know someone at the company you’re applying to, and especially if that someone has some sway in hiring decisions, you automatically have a leg up on everyone else. This is just human nature—people tend to prefer what they’re familiar with. If you’re an extrovert, this may be good (albeit old) news; if you’re an introvert, it may make you groan. But if networking (which one might often view as nothing more than “kissing up”) isn’t your thing, that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless—you just might need to apply more effort in other areas.

Don’t Blend In with the Crowd

The better and more publicized the job, the more numerous your competition will be. So, if you just found a listing for your ideal job at Monster, Career Builder or a similar widely used site online, then you can bet that a lot of other people have done the exact same thing. And when you submit your resume and cover letter, rest assured that many others have as well. Unfortunately, there’s very little you can do to make a resume or cover letter stand out (in a good way, anyhow); everyone has access to tools to form a decent resume, and all the articles you read about how to make your resume stand out have been read by everyone else too. Every professional employment situation is different, of course, but almost all of them require more than just a vanilla resume and cover letter.

That being said, don’t let your resume or cover letter work to your disadvantage. They may not do all that much to get you a job, but they certainly can do a lot to lose you the opportunity. Spelling and grammar mistakes—however irrelevant it may be. Yes, rejecting an applicant over a minor grammatical mishap is stupid, considering the people who’ll be reading your resume probably don’t know much about grammar beyond what they hear from Microsoft Word. But it’s also a way for employers to narrow an often much too large pool of applicants.

And as for interviews, recognize a few simple facts. An employer is not going to waste time on an interview if you don’t appear qualified for the job, and most of the lame questions you’ll be asked could just as easily have been asked over the phone or through email. The employer is looking more at your personality. Yes, some interview questions may be designed to test how well you can think on your feet, but not all jobs are better suited to “fast thinkers” than to those who more deliberately and carefully review all the information and come to a more solid conclusion. The best thing you can do is be yourself (even though that sounds cliché)—at least you won’t sound like you’re just doing whatever the article (which everyone else read) told you to do. Your personality might clash with your interviewers and lose you the job, but hey—that’s probably a good thing.

Think Twice About College

The traditional university is quickly becoming unaffordable and is arguably not even worth the time, let alone the money—at least in terms of gaining expertise in a particular topic. Part of the problem is that so many people have degrees, the value of a degree has been essentially inflated to almost nothing. But you’ve probably noticed, if you’ve done much job hunting, that so many advertisements list a bachelor’s degree (or more) as a minimum requirement.

But those in IT should know acutely that listening to a professor blab at the front of a lecture hall is no substitute for opening up a computer and learning your way around, writing some mobile apps or gaining proficiency with widely used software. And all the resources you would ever need to become an expert in these areas is available for free (or nearly so) on the Internet. So, why start your career some $50,000 or more in debt?

A college degree may be a good option—particularly if you are able to get your schooling paid for by someone else—but it may not. The question to ask yourself is whether the degree (which is not always worth the two letters that you can place behind your name) is worth trading for four (or more) years of practical—and paid—employment experience. The skills you can learn in a fraction of that time may well outweigh the value of the degree, not to mention the concomitant debt. Yes, it may require starting a little lower on the scale and working your way up, but that’s not always a bad approach.

Again, this is not to say you should or shouldn’t go to college—just be sure you don’t blindly go to college. And if you do go, be sure to investigate the unemployment rate of new grads from the majors you’re evaluating.

IT’s All About Skills

What really matters to employers is your skills. Have you written (possibly in your spare time) a popular mobile app? Have you taught yourself proficiency in a certain software program that is important to a company? These sorts of things are what will really make you stand at hiring time. If you’re hunting for a job or plan in the future to do so, spend time now identifying areas where companies lack talent and teach yourself skills in those areas. It’s not as hard as it sounds (although it does take some time and effort)—everything you need is probably available on the Internet for free or for a small fee. If you’re good at sifting through information and teaching yourself on the fly, you can probably learn a particular skill for free. If you need a little more organization, you can find services that will help you for a (usually very small) fee.

What’s more, some skills enable you to work for yourself and bypass the rigmarole of job hunting entirely. You’ll still need to secure clients, but as company budgets are crimped by the slow economy, IT contractors become more and more appealing, since they provide “pay as you go” services without the hassle and expense of traditional employment. And, of course, income security goes out the window, but you’re trading it for some major benefits and even much greater earnings potential. It’s a risk, but it’s one that may be worth taking, particularly if you’re stuck trying to find a regular job. Whichever approach you take, however, gaining new skills (or updating your existing skills) is time well spent.

Conclusions

Much of your task in finding a job in IT—as in any other field—is standing out from the crowd. An article of this length certainly cannot provide fine details of how you can best enter a particular area, as different segments focus on different things. But don’t just count on your resume and cover letter getting you a job. IT is especially amenable to self-taught skills owing to the prevalence of computer technology. If you want a career in IT—whether working for a company or for yourself—take advantage of your ability to learn new skills even at home, and even as you continue your job hunt.

Photo courtesy of Dita Margarita

About Jeff Clark

Jeff Clark is editor for the Data Center Journal. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Richmond, as well as master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech. An author and aspiring renaissance man, his interests range from quantum mechanics and processor technology to drawing and philosophy.

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