Advice from the CIO’s career agent

It’s no secret that IT professionals are some of the most in-demand workers in the world.

But that doesn’t mean that finding the right job is easy, especially for those shooting for top-level executive positions at the largest and most prestigious companies.

That’s particularly true today, with the recent downturn in the economy making competition in the IT job market stiffer than it has been in years, according to veteran recruiter and career agent Phil Schneidermeyer.

Schneidermeyer should know. As a recruiter at Los Angeles-based search firm Korn/Ferry International during most of the 1990s, he placed scores of IT professionals in new positions and quickly rose to the top of his field. Last summer, he struck out on his own, launching Darien, Conn.-based Talent Intelligence Agency LLC, a company based on a new model for matching top IT professionals with companies desperate for their skills.

Playing a role he compares to that of a sports or entertainment agent, Schneidermeyer develops long-term relationships with his IT executive clients, giving them career advice, apprising them of new job opportunities and coaching them through the hiring process and salary negotiations.

Unlike career agents in other fields, though, Schneidermeyer doesn’t charge his clients a fee; like a traditional recruiter, he has the hiring company foot the bill when a successful match is made.

With his long list of contacts and deep knowledge of the IT job world, Schneidermeyer is well qualified to give advice, and even some of the most experienced IT professionals can use it now.

As many Internet companies have folded in recent months, many IT executives who had left their jobs to work at start-ups are trying to re-enter the corporate world, Schneidermeyer said. This is filling the market with a new wave of candidates and making competition for top IT posts tough, especially since many companies are reluctant to make big hiring investments at a time when their financial futures seem increasingly less certain.

So what kind of advice is Schneidermeyer giving IT managers and executives looking for jobs in a tightening market? The following are some key points:

Be patient: “Understand that it takes time,” Schneidermeyer said. “There aren’t that many senior CIO-level positions out there to begin with, so you can’t expect the phone to be ringing every day.”

Schneidermeyer said that most job searches take three to six months. If you’re out of work, some consulting work can bring in extra income, keep your skills sharp and let potential employers know you’re still in the game.

Be realistic: The number one limitation on career growth for top-level CIOs, chief technical officers and vice-presidents of IT is geography, since there are only so many top-level firms within a given metropolitan area. If you’re not prepared to relocate, find out what openings there are at those companies near you. If there are none at the top level, be prepared to take one lower down.

Also, realize just how stiff the competition can be. People from all over the world apply for many top-level positions. Too many job-seekers think they are a shoo-in because they meet the requirements for the job, when in fact there are plenty of candidates who surpass them, Schneidermeyer said.

“The question is how do you measure up to the other candidates, not how do you measure up to the position specification.”

Stay aware: If there’s one thing Schneidermeyer stresses to clients it’s the importance of looking ahead. Even IT executives in stable positions should always keep an eye on the job market, no matter how happy they are with their current roles.

“When you need a job, that’s the wrong time to start looking,” he said. If recruiters call, find out what they’re offering, even if you don’t have a job change in mind. Then you’ll know if you’re over- or under-paid and get a sense of what skills are most in demand.

Tobias is a freelance writer in Santa Cruz, Calif.