With the general economic uncertainty that plagued 2008, many professionals, including those in technology fields, might not think that proactively finding new employment should be a 2009 priority. However, unlike the recession of the early 2000s where we saw the implosion of the dot-com industry, this downward market hasn’t been mirrored in the technology sector. In fact, many funded companies are at critical periods in their growth where pulling back would be more catastrophic than plunging ahead. Technology companies today are more business focused and better vetted by investors than ever before—and are still ripe with employment opportunities for talented professionals. Individuals who are prepared will be in the best position to take advantage of new career opportunities as they are uncovered.
Follow these 10 tips to find the technology employment you want in the New Year:
1. Don’t bury your head in the sand. In soft economies, many people think it’s safer to stay with their current employer than to risk taking a job with a new company—and often it is. But don’t bury your head in the sand and hope that everything will be okay. Even in the best of times, companies routinely are merged, acquired, imploded and overtaken, sometimes leaving hundreds and thousands of people looking for new jobs. Be prudent and always be aware of your business’s conditions; keep your eyes and ears open for when it is the best time to move on.
2. Assess yourself. As people age and lives and goals change, so do our career objectives. Spend the time necessary knowing what really makes you happy. Is it being a pioneer in a cutting-edge technology? Having a schedule flexible enough to see your kids play soccer on a midweek afternoon? Knowing that the code you create could rocket your company past its competition? Be realistic and have a heart-to-heart with yourself about what you want from your career and what steps would be necessary to achieve this goal. Then share it with a colleague, spouse or former manager for additional insight. Have realistic expectations, but know that most career dreams are within our reach.
3. Step outside your networking comfort zone. Asking for assistance and advice is the heart of networking, and it’s the single most important thing a techie looking for a new job should do. Your next opportunity could come at a user group meeting, from a comment in your blog or from a LinkedIn connection, but you will never hear about it if people don’t know you are looking (even passively). You need to be courageous enough to talk to people you meet about what you ultimately want instead of regretting that you didn’t mention it sooner. Also, tap into your college or university online alumni network - this underutilized tool can open many doors for you. When approaching someone you don’t know, make sure to reference that you are seeking career advice (not a job) from a colleague in the same field or with the same college affiliation.
4. Devote time to job searching. Succeeding at anything takes practice and hard work. Tiger Woods didn’t become the world’s best golfer through skill alone. He spends the greater part of each day practicing, conditioning and trying to improve his game. If you are trying to further your tech career, you need to devote the energy needed to make that change, and that takes time. Establish some goals and set aside the time it will take to accomplish them.
5. Adapt your resume and include side projects. The first person that sees your resume may not be the technical hiring manager, so the more broad you can make it without losing impact or watering it down, the better positioned you will be to move to the next step. Your resume must balance your specific technology expertise within the context it was used. Don’t just list the technologies; find a way to weave them into a business scenario. Are you a Web designer who developed a portal that changed the way your company communicated? How did the application system you implemented improve business processes and support critical corporate strategies? Additionally, show progression in experience, skills and responsibility and how you have contributed directly to your employer’s, or former employer’s, success. Don’t forget to include relevant part time and contract work, side projects and open source software applications you created or adapted.
6. Be prepared to sell yourself and demonstrate your expertise. If you are like most people, you’re not used to—and are downright uncomfortable with—talking immodestly about yourself, your attributes and shining moments. Get over it. Advancing in your career or finding a new job requires you to balance humility with bravado. You can be assertive without being overly aggressive, and you can be confident without being cocky. Your resume or a relationship may open a door, but you have to be prepared to march through it ready to talk specifically about your strengths and accomplishments with confidence. Similar to the resume advice above, it’s particularly important for techies to be able to speak with and convey their experience to non-technical HR professionals and recruiters. You may also be asked to demonstrate your expertise by providing code samples, going through whiteboard exercises, solving logic problems or detailing how you would communicate with business users. Be prepared for these types of interview scenarios and practice in advance. If you are unable to share proprietary code or documentation from an employer, use a side project or create an example.
7. Know what’s hot and enhance your skill set. Obviously, it’s imperative to career success for tech professionals to have a current skill set and know what’s hot in their field. Make sure you are in tune with the latest technologies and have a way to pick up this training or knowledge. Even if you aren’t proficient in Web 2.0, Ruby or .NET you still need to know what’s hot, what’s not and what’s coming. To enhance your ongoing training and education, investigate and join new user groups, professional associations and online communities. Also look into classes, seminars and activities that will strengthen your business acumen and interpersonal skills, too.
8. Seek professional career support. You probably ask for help from professionals in all other areas of life—lawyers, financial advisers, doctors. Why not seek assistance for developing your job? Career consultants, such as recruiters and career coaches, have a wealth of knowledge about what is happening in the current employment market and also what’s on the horizon. They have access to opportunities not available elsewhere and can help you build and execute a career search strategy. As with a doctor, you will need to find the right fit. Ask friends and colleagues for referrals to recruiters or career coaches that specialize in the tech sector, and keep looking until you find someone you are comfortable with and trust.
9. Plan for a disaster. No one who loses their job really expects it, no matter how volatile the economic conditions. Never assume that tomorrow will be the same as today. Having a plan in place allows you to be ready if it happens. Although you should always have a current resume prepared, in the event that you don’t—keep an updated list of your technologies, skills, training, projects, certifications and education as well as a goals-accomplished list so you have the ability to say to a potential employer, "I was charged with being the technology lead for all new product lines, and under my oversight we successfully launched six new products." Keeping track and having realistic successes and speaking points on hand allow you to better market yourself to your next employer.
10. Get off your duff. Self assessment is important but can be paralyzing. Take the time necessary to be introspective and then craft your plan, but don’t let those activities stall you from taking action. Talk is cheap—get out there and take the steps to change or improve your career. Being proactive in your career will open up technology opportunities you never dreamed of and will start 2009 off right.
Tracy Cashman is general manager of Winter, Wyman's New England Information Technology division.
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