Surviving the Current Market
Work on building those soft and technical skills
By Peggy Albright
It’s a tough time to be looking for a job. The global economy remains weak and any potential recovery hasn’t translated into meaningful employment opportunities. Available positions are harder to get. More people are vying for open slots, and efficiency minded employers are often seeking more diverse skillsets in new hires. The resume that got you a job a few years ago might not even yield an interview these days.
So where do you look for a job in this environment, and how do you go about it? Recent research from a leading employment firm and observations from some of the country’s top headhunters provide some context and tips for how computing professionals can best pursue one of the most challenging job markets in years.
Where the jobs are
Although most companies are still cautious about adding employees and rebuilding IT staffing levels, new opportunities are expected to open up at large technology firms in the US and Canada in the next few months, according to a recent Robert Half Technology study. Companies with 1,000 or more employees plan more IT hiring activity than the employment market at large, where hiring overall is expected to remain flat.
The main IT job opportunities will be regional and linked to the business services, transportation, communications, and utilities sectors. Robert Half expects that more IT job openings will emerge in the New England and South Atlantic states than other US regions. Employers are especially looking for network administration, desktop support, and Windows administration expertise. Help desk/technical support and networking are two job areas showing the most growth, followed by applications development.
The turnaround will come
It’s hard to look to the future when you need a job right now, but if it’s any consolation, computing professionals can be confident that their skills will remain important and vital to business and the economy.
“Technology in general, unlike some industries, cannot be dormant for a long period of time,” says Steve Watson, international chairman at Stanton Chase International, an executive search firm. “It’s technology that drives productivity, business enterprise solutions, and competitive advantages in the corporate environment. I think we’ll see that there’s a pent-up demand [for talent] that is being created.”
Where to expect future jobs
It’s important to anticipate future job opportunities. One way to do that is to look at current trends and extrapolate how these trends, if introduced into the business environment, will create new needs.
“The smart technology person will be adept in understanding global trends influencing where the industry is going overall,” Watson says.
He recommends that computing professionals target the gaming, entertainment, and media sectors, which are still active and picking up traction despite the economy, as well as the 4G wireless space. The forthcoming 4G networks are expected to begin coming online in the next year, and they will come to market integrated with new entertainment and media services. People who can figure out how to bring in the right skillsets or update their skills to give employers value in these contexts will find opportunities, he believes.
Social networking is another of these trends. Mark Hornung, senior vice president for strategy at the Bernard Hodes Group, says that the increasing use of social networking is already having an effect on business. Companies are seeking ways to use it for business communications and enable people to collaborate with others within their organization as well as with customers and strategic partners.
Yet these services introduce a tension within companies that seek to offer these capabilities, because the desire to offer social networking tools is hampered by the potential security vulnerabilities that these services might introduce. Computing professionals who have network security skills and experience, as well as an understanding of how social networking tools can be used effectively in a business environment, should be able to offer particular value to companies, he believes.
Jason Kranz, a partner at Heidrick & Struggles, advises computing professionals to look into the emerging clean tech and energy management fields, which are drawing stimulus funding as well as venture capital investments. IT talent will be needed at all levels of these initiatives, he says.
Expect downsizing in BPO firms
IT professionals who work in certain business-process outsourcing firms should expect to see some cost-cutting and layoffs associated with recent acquisitions and mergers. Just as Hewlett Packard trimmed personnel after acquiring EDS, Watson says he expects to see similar job losses in the next six months associated with Dell’s planned acquisition of Perot Systems and Xerox’s planned acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services.
Position yourself for the market
The business environment for computing professionals today is much more complex than it was just a few years ago. Globalization continually introduces new competitors, suppliers, and customers to a typical business ecosystem, which puts added pressure on executives and personnel to outperform rival firms.
The pace of information exchange enabled by today’s networking and communications technologies makes everyday business dynamics more demanding and intense. Computing and technology professionals have to figure out how to bring more value to their organizations within this overall business context.
Offering a diversity of skills to your potential employer has become a necessary way of offering that extra needed value in the workplace. The new differentiators are the so-called “soft skills,” including superior abilities to communicate, write, speak, give presentations, and work with customers. Opportunities are available for technology professionals who have those skills, and competitive job hunters will pursue training to obtain those skills.
Hornung cited research from a global high-tech company that his firm represents, which surveyed its business units around the world as well as their high-tech customers. The company, which Hornung declined to name, found that 78 percent of the organizations surveyed are hiring, but they’re finding it hard to find certain types of talent. They found a distinct unfulfilled need, he said, for people who have both soft skills and up-to-date technical skills, such as familiarity with new technologies like social networking.
“If you have that mix of skills, you can pretty much write your own ticket,” he said.
Begin planning now
It goes without saying that if you’re currently out of work, you need to rejuvenate your personal and professional network by joining LinkedIn or attending professional society meetings, to name just a few approaches. Hornung said that his client’s study found that 54 percent of the professionals surveyed used their professional network to find work, and that 55 percent found work through referrals. “It is really important to do that,” he said.
The end of the year is a good time to begin positioning yourself for a future career move. Jason Kranz recommends that you identify the companies you respect and would want to work for some day. Determine if you know someone who works there. If you don’t have a contact at the company, find a way to develop a connection and let people in and around that company know that you’d like to work there. That way, when the job market turns around (which it will, Kranz says), and when that company starts looking (and it will, he says again), your interest will already be appreciated.
“Planting those seeds is really important,” Kranz says. “And very few people do it.” (CW, 13 October, 2009)