IT Career Advice: Questions for a Technology Career Expert, Part 1

Q&A: eWEEK interviewed technology career expert and author Janice Weinberg, asking for job-seeking advice for IT workers in 2010. In Part 1 of this two-part article, questions to Weinberg cover resume trends in 2010, job-seeking approaches for laid-off technology professionals and advice on becoming a contractor. Part 2 of the article addresses issues for older technology workers and the three best ways to increase the likelihood of getting a job.

Janice Weinberg is a former IBM system programmer and a General Electric faculty member at the Management Development Institute, and currently runs the career-services company Career Solutions, of Westport, Conn. Weinberg has written the books "Debugging Your Information Technology Career: A Compass to New and Rewarding Fields That Value Computer Knowledge" and "How to Win the Job You Really Want." The following is Part 1 of a question and answer session between eWEEK and Weinberg on a spectrum of career advice for technology workers in 2010 and beyond. Her latest book is, "Debugging Your Information Technology Job Search: A Compass to Winning the Management Position You Really Want."
What are the resume trends that technology job seekers need to consider in 2010?
Greater emphasis on showing a connection between initiatives they led or contributed to and improvements in their employers' performance. Job seekers should communicate this connection by quantifying the results of these initiatives, but many technology professionals find this to be a challenge, in contrast to, say, sales professionals, who can cite the number of new customer contracts they negotiated or an increase in revenues in their territories. Naturally, before the tech job seeker can even analyze each accomplishment to determine how it can be linked to a cost savings or a quantifiable productivity or quality improvement, he should feel confident that he's identified as many accomplishments as he can claim. To help readers of 'Debugging Your Information Technology Job Search' do this, I included a list of 20 IT-specific questions for mining one's experience for accomplishments. I also walk the reader through the process of transforming the kind of project statements typically found on IT professionals' resumes, such as 'Developed a field engineering dispatch application' and 'Reorganized the IT department for greater productivity,' into strong accomplishments that better convey the value the job seeker can add.
Expect to create multiple resumes, each tailored to a specific position. Even though much of the material in each job seeker's multiple resume versions will overlap, it's important to critically analyze an ad, study the employer's Website and conduct a more extensive search to obtain information that can be used to customize each resume. For example, while a large company might be interested in an application development manager's experience in implementing an SOA [service-oriented architecture] initiative, if that job seeker is also applying for CIO jobs at much smaller companies, he might want to allocate more space to the agile software development methodology he implemented that improved the ability to deliver applications that incorporated users' desired functionality.
Management candidates should focus on conveying their nontechnical competencies. An IT manager isn't usually expected to know the nuts and bolts of the products used by her staff. Rather, she should emphasize such skills as developing budgets, controlling costs, enhancing service quality and restructuring the function she oversees to support her employer's growth while minimizing staffing increases. Yet the resumes of IT managers who've consulted me after conducting a fruitless job search typically include a technical skills section listing the platforms, products and processes in which they are proficient. When I tell them I will omit that section if they hire me to rewrite their resumes, they always have a negative reaction because they feel it's important for employers to know about their expertise in, for example, COBIT, ITIL or BPMN. But eliminating the technical skills section doesn't mean that I won't mention these; rather, I present them in a different way. Once my clients see this new approach, they agree that it conveys a higher-level impression of their capabilities.

What do technology workers who have been laid off need to do to increase visibility and desire from hiring managers?

They need to counteract the perception that they were laid off because of poor performance. If their employers publicly announced a large layoff stemming from a shift in strategy or a restructuring program, that would tend to offset such a perception. That said, I routinely advise any client who is unemployed to include one or two recommendation letters with their resumes to counteract any concern a prospective employer might have. In some cases, I've suggested that the job seeker attach a recent glowing performance appraisal from the employer that laid them off.
They should spend most of their search time directly contacting employers, rather than using IT job boards, IT recruiters or networking. Job seekers should proactively research and initiate contact with employers that meet their geographical, industry, size and other criteria. And, even if they find no suitable position posted on a desirable employer's Website, they should contact the hiring executive. This may seem like a waste of time, but if they can connect with an executive when he has no openings, they'll have a better chance of getting their qualifications reviewed for possible future openings. On the other hand, if they waited until that employer advertised a position, they'd be competing with hundreds-even thousands-of others, placing them at a great disadvantage.
Use the telephone to initiate contact with an executive. The most persuasive letter is not a negotiating tool-but a real-time conversation can be. Most people are uncomfortable using the telephone to negotiate an interview. And those who do will usually begin the conversation by saying something like, 'I'm seeking a job as a project manager'-the wrong approach. Moreover, as soon as the executive says, 'I'm fully staffed with project managers,' or 'I have no budget to hire now,' job seekers typically do not attempt to get beyond that objection. Unfortunately, they may have missed out an opportunity because a project manager might resign the next day, or the executive's budget might be increased next month. To help readers of 'Debugging Your Information Technology Job Search' reap maximum benefit from using the telephone, I included a script that demonstrates how an IT manager should deal with these and other objections he can expect to hear.
I should note that I advise all my clients-not only those who are unemployed-to follow the two previous recommendations.
If a laid-off tech worker is moving from former full-time worker into consulting or contracting, what specific things should he or she consider for resume, networking, interviewing and contract assignments?
Resume: Someone who wants to launch a consulting practice may feel at a disadvantage because he can't present a list of past satisfied clients to prospective clients. But if he worked in an IT department, the business departments he supported should be considered his clients. Thus, where possible, the job seeker should cite quantitative improvements in internal client satisfaction, as measured by surveys, that can be attributed to initiatives he led. He should bolster any claims of increases in client satisfaction by arranging for the managers overseeing the departments he supported to act as references.
Networking: Naturally, aspiring consultants should use their membership in LinkedIn to try to connect with people who can refer them to potential clients. At the same time, though, they shouldn't discount the value of offline networking, such as attending local users groups related to the services they want to market. Since these groups are always looking for speakers for their monthly programs, it should be relatively easy to arrange to deliver a talk that would allow the consultant to showcase her expertise.
Interviewing for a consulting engagement: Before the interview, they should inquire about the client's experience in using consultants, including the causes of any dissatisfaction, which should guide them in preparing for the meeting. Also, let's say someone left an application development manager job at a Fortune 1000 company, where a business analyst acted as the liaison to internal clients in defining requirements. Since the new consultant's optimal business opportunities may lie with small companies that don't even have a CIO, he should expect to interact with CEOs and chief financial officers. This means he'll have to shift his communication style from a computerese-based vocabulary to the language his prospective clients understand. With this in mind, an important preparatory step before having any communication with a prospective client would be to familiarize himself with the company's industry, including technological trends.
For a contract assignment: Firms that place tech professionals in contract assignments are very concerned about assigning people who will conduct themselves in a manner that will contribute to long-term repeat business from their clients. With this in mind, the candidate should make a point of inquiring about the firm's policies regarding interactions with client personnel. For example, the staffing firm may want their contractors to refer questions about the progress of a project or the resolution of technical issues to one of its managers. The mere fact that candidates ask this question will enhance their ability to get the assignment.

To read Part 2 of this interview, click here.