On Your Mark, Get Set for Job-Hunting Season

For IT professionals who plan to change jobs next year, now is the time to prepare, experts say.

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.

Next Page: More specific strategies for getting hired.