On Your Mark, Get Set for Job-Hunting Season

By Deborah Rothberg  |  Posted 2006-11-09

On Your Mark, Get Set for Job-Hunting Season

Thirty-eight percent of IT professionals surveyed said they were likely to look for a new job in the third quarter of 2006, and the number is expected to grow in the fourth quarter, according to a survey released Oct. 23 by Spherion, a recruiting and staffing firm.

"Job-hunting times peak here in the fourth quarter and the beginning of the first quarter of the year. This is the time that budgets are approved and new initiatives are commencing and there is a flurry of activity, as seen in the number of jobs we fill for our customers as well as the activity base.

"A lot of people are saying to themselves: I will be in a new job next year," Jim Lanzalotto, vice president of strategy and marketing at Yoh Services, a provider of talent and outsourcing services based in Philadelphia, told eWEEK.

If youre among those thousands of techies who want to change jobs in the new year, however, hiring professionals will tell you that Jan. 1 isnt the time to kick off your preparations—its now.

"You need to start preparing about six months before looking for another job. Its almost like you are building a strategic plan for yourself," Lanzalotto said.

Starting to gather resources, credentials and goals in advance puts workers in the best position when opportunities come around.

"If you are reactive in the job hunt, you risk not being as smooth as youd like, taking knee-jerk steps or jobs you dont end up wanting. The more planned out you are, the better place you are in to make the right decisions," Lanzalotto said.

eWEEK picked the brains of five technology workplace experts, asking them what IT workers should be doing to best align themselves and their career goals for the job-hunting season ahead. A surprising number of these tasks could be completed between Thanksgiving and Christmas, typically the slowest time of the year for hiring.

Furthermore, for workers who are not planning to embark on a job hunt at present, these IT career-enhancing tips could help to lay out the welcome mat for that dream job in the future.

Grab your compass, get your map

You cant drive somewhere without a map, experts said, and you cant get your dream job without first planning an ideal route to arrive there.

"Begin with the end in mind. Know where you want to be when you retire and build a plan backwards from there," Lanzalotto said.

Lanzalotto told the story of an IT professional who had taken pains to pinpoint every step that could lead him to a CIO position.

"The best career plan I have ever seen was from someone who wanted to be a CIO in his forties and asked, how am I going to get there? What paths can I take? You identify the types of jobs you will need to have and the amount of time you need to be in each. Youll probably want to be at the director level at 35. This type of plan enables job-seekers to be flexible when [they need] to be," he said.

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A clear career map can help workers in less obvious ways, too.

"When the interviewer asks where you want to be in five years and you walk them through that plan, theyre going to be impressed. Its the best answer to the question," Lanzalotto said.

Make sure youre jumping ship for the right reason

Understanding the reasons you want to leave a job can have a great deal to do with where you go next.

Often, people will say they are looking for a new job because they want to make more money, but David Foote, CEO and chief research officer of Foote Partners, an IT work force research company based in New Canaan, Conn., argues that when workers complain about money, there are a lot of other issues involved.

"IT professionals that are very happy with their jobs list money third or fourth on the list of things they like about their work. If they feel like they are involved with interesting projects, theyre not going to leave for a few thousand dollars more a year," Foote said.

Carly Drum, president of Drum Associates, a New York-based recruitment firm, also urges IT workers to think carefully in the months before looking for a new job about the reasons behind the desire for change.

"Maybe you say its a money issue, but youre really looking for more management opportunities. Take a look at where you want to be and when you know where that is, you have a much stronger, concentrated path to where you want to be," Drum said.

Build your personal brand

Recruiters noted many things workers can do to become the type of IT job candidate no employers worth their salt would pass up. The first was to figure out what sets you apart from anyone else that applies for the same job.

"What do you want to be known for in your field? Do you want to be an innovator? If so, continually point back to places where you have innovated, and what your managers thought of it. Competency in change management helps here," Lanzalotto said.

When the interview comes around, if employees have spent time detailing differentiating factors, the interviewer will see this.

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Make yourself known

"Give yourself the opportunity to become known, through a number of different channels. You could speak at industry events, you could hook up with your own internal media or PR folks and let them know you want to get your knowledge out there, and a third thing is if you have the ability to write, become a letter-to-the-editor or op-ed writer in trade magazines, letting people know what you think," Lanzalotto said.

Lanzalotto gave some other ways outside the traditional work cycle IT professionals can get their names known.

"This is my irreverent advice: Go find an opportunity to do pro bono work. You could do this a number of ways in IT, through a nonprofit that needs IT expertise, as nonprofits almost always need technology help. If you are less experienced, many Chambers of Congress have business and arts development programs that can connect you with philanthropic organizations that can help get you trained on doing lower-level pro bono work," he said.

Aside from the satisfaction of helping groups that need it, such experience broadens a workers skill base, making him or her a more appealing candidate.

"All of this will make you a better technologist, as it puts you in a different environment than you are used to day to day. Plus, you get to show that you are a little more diversified than the average candidate," Lanzalotto said.

Refresh your personal connections

If you know someone at a company where you would like to work, this is the time to give them a call.

"The holidays are a great time to position yourself for the next opportunity. Go out there and make sure that youre extending your network through systematic and periodic communication. Talk to the people that have been important in your career and when you connect with them, find out what the market is like and where the opportunities are," said Sean Ebner, vice president of professional services with a specialization in technology, for Spherion, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Ebner noted that the right references can carry a lot of weight when a worker is lined up against equally worthy candidates.

"Its increasingly important to have excellent references. Nowadays, interviewers ask to speak to not just people you have worked for, but people who have worked for you, so keep in touch with these people."

Focus your search

Most recruiters and hiring agents agree that sending resumes in blindly to companies gets applicants the least amount of attention, if any. Using a personal connection to get introduced to the right people, on the other hand, makes a lasting impression.

"Just sending in a cold resume doesnt help that much these days. When resumes come in, they usually end up in a drawer somewhere, but if someone makes an introduction, if someone can make a third-party referral for you, first, the monkey is off their back and second, it also shows that you have a focused interest in that company," Andy Zaleta, a partner at Boston-based Battalia Winston, told eWEEK.

A second way to focus a job hunt it to find out who is looking.

"Reading all of the trade magazines [and] newspapers will help find out whats going on in the industry. Too often people go into the job search game and they dont know whats going on because theyve been out of the hunt for five to seven years. If so-and-so company is implementing SAP, odds are, theyre going to need help," Drum said.

Finally, even something as simple as getting to know some recruiters who work with key companies can help IT professionals get in the door, and even get a job hunter the first call when something opens up.

"I know this sounds biased, but candidates should know who the people in the industry are that hire for these companies, and which recruiters they work with," Drum said. "We try to create opportunities for strong candidates. If we know a client is trying to build global SAP and they may not need [an applicant] yet, but they will in the future, we ask them to keep this person in mind," Drum said.

Your resume should always be ready

When that call comes in about an opening for a perfect job, the worst response is, "Sure … er, can I get you my resume, er, tomorrow?" If the job hunters resume had been frequently updated, the response would have sounded like this: "Ill have it in your inbox in 5 minutes." Which candidate sounds ready for the next big thing?

"Dont just dust it off," Zaleta said. "Resumes should be updated once a year, whether you are looking or not. You should look back and say, What have I accomplished this year thats out of the ordinary? What sets me apart? When did I go above and beyond? and incorporate it into the resume or cover letter. People tend to overlook this regular updating, and just grab the old dusty one and send it off," he said.

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Its even better to look beyond resumes, and be able to quickly reel off your skills, selling yourself in an interview, experts said.

"Put together a skills inventory, everything you know how to do and every program you have a proficiency in. In the end, resumes are just pieces of paper, but if youre proactive, youll know just what to say when called into interviews," Drum said.

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