Selling Yourself, Part I

The signature characteristics of technology employment during the boom have vanished, replaced by an uncomfortable realization about the need to place renewed efforts into self-marketing.

Wesley Jost didnt have to do much more than place his resume on an online job site or two to find his last job, working for a London software company with an office in San Francisco. Josts job-searching style was common among technology professionals.

"I got interest from many different recruiting firms and companies -- maybe 10 a week," recalls Jost, who was laid off in August from his position as a sales engineer. "That was as easy as it got."

But today the signature characteristics of technology employment during the boom, from job-hopping and double-digital salary hikes to stock options and speedy job searches, have vanished, replaced by an uncomfortable realization about the need to place renewed efforts into self-marketing.

The Post Boom Job Search

Techies generally didnt have to worry much about selling themselves in the boom period of the mid-1990s through 2000. Jobs were plentiful, especially for those with buzzwords like Java and Cisco on their resumes. But that era is over, and now technology professionals are struggling with the realities of the post-boom job search.

Hiring managers, recruiters, career counselors and others say technology professionals must come to appreciate the need to market themselves to employers, rather than simply email a resume and wait for a response. Among many techies, an attitude adjustment is in order, requiring them to accept the need to network far and wide, work hard to craft cover letters and be willing to engage in multiple interviews. "You cant just be handed your job like you were a year ago," says Jost, who now recommends proactive job searching.

Patti Wilson, owner of The Career Company, a career management firm in Silicon Valley, says the boom era, when "the minute they put out the word they were looking, they had another job," was atypical, though some saw it as the natural order of things.

"This was an aberration," she says. "More typically, the tech job market was one where you always had to sell yourself. You couldnt just rely on saying, This is my background and my skills."

Barry Mills, national recruiting director for MATRIX Resources, the IT staffing company, says the 180-degree change in prospects for techies occurred more suddenly than in other economic downturns. Techies are just beginning to realize what they have to do. "Now, instead of being sought after, theyre almost going to have to be a salesperson," he says. "Its been a real eye-opening experience for candidates."

Making the Adjustments

During the boom, interviews were often perfunctory, and job searches might take a matter of days, rather than weeks or months. In interviews, techies would often ask about stock-option plans and perks. Now, techies find themselves struggling to explain the ways they can contribute to a companys culture and its bottom line.

Mills notes a number of reactions from candidates, including fear, anger, disappointment and extreme financial stress. "The hiring process is not a one- or two-day process, like it was before," he says. "Its lengthened out often into one or two months. A large majority is having a hard time making this adjustment."

As Jost remarks, "You just have to be patient with it."

Marcus Courtney, co-founder and organizer for WashTech, a Seattle-based union and advocacy group for high-tech employees, says the turnaround is evident at IT job fairs. "If you go to a job fair now, everyones wearing a suit and tie," he says. "You can tell, with some of these kids, theyre borrowing their dads suit to get the job."

Not all techies, Courtney says, have been able to let go of the idea of a new economy, where everyone would be able to become a millionaire off of stock options by the time they were 35. "Were talking about a generation of workers who believed they were immune from recession," he says.

And its not just a self-marketing problem. As Courtney notes, "Theres really not a whole lot of hiring out there."

Read Part II -- "Seven Tips for Marketing Yourself" -- here.

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