Q&A: IT job hunting advisor Janice Weinberg

In Debugging Your Information Technology Job Search, Janice Weinberg is targeting experienced IT workers, as she outlines her tips for IT professionals looking to break into higher-level management positions.


Weinberg, a former IT professional at IBM and General Electric and the founder of Westport, Ct.-based Career Solutions, has written extensively about the IT job market and recently spoke to ComputerWorld Canada about her latest book.


ComputerWorld Canada: So who’s this book geared toward?


Janice Weinberg: Anyone seeking a line manager position in an IT department, computer hardware or software manufacturer, or a service company such as a systems integrator or a consulting firm. It could also be someone who is aspiring to their first manager-level position or even a CIO or CTO role.


CWC: For somebody who hasn’t been in a managerial position before, what are they doing wrong when they try to make that move?


JW: It seems to be most evident in the ways their resumes have been developed. Their resumes seem to be emphasizing their technical skills.


Instead, if they have performed due diligence for vendor selection or have contributed to compiling a budget for a project, those would be important skills to promote.


CWC: On your Web site, you mention that a lot of candidates pack their resumes with keywords. Is that the answer? What should they be doing?


JW: A good first step is to prepare a list of the hiring criteria of the employers the person is targeting. Imagine that you’re the employer. Develop your wish-list and your must-list. Each employer that you target will probably have a list of mandatory requirements and those that are not mandatory, but highly desirable.


And so if you develop this list, you would then strive to the best of your ability to provide complete statements — whether in a strengths section, in your previous job descriptions, or an accomplishments section — that provide evidence that you have the experience called for on as many items on that list.


This will help you see what weaknesses you have relative to their criteria and you may be able to eliminate or minimize these weaknesses.


CWC: What about the cover letter? How important is that and what should it set out to accomplish?


JW: The cover letter is critical. When employers get a resume, they assume that the resume has been submitted to other employers. At the same time, these employers have a reasonable expectation that anyone who wants a job with their organization should devote some effort to personalizing their approach when they submit their resume.


The cover letter really gives the job seeker a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge they’ve gained of the employer’s industry and to draw parallels between their capabilities and what they know about the employer.


In my book, I used the example of someone seeking a position as a manager of technology partnerships at a company. This person, before contacting the company, should study the list of partners on the company’s Web site and try to think of new, prospective partners that the company could benefit from relationships with. Even better, they should try and think of new categories of partners that don’t seem to be represented on the Web site.


Use the cover letter to present these ideas to the employer.


CWC: Specifically with management level positions in IT, are these jobs being posted on the online job boards? Is that the way you find them or is there a better way?


JW: Certainly online job boards do list many jobs that would be very desirable to a lot of people in the computer industry. The problem is when someone looks at a job posting on one of these boards and they say, “this job matches my experience so closely it has my name on it.” Because of the availability and exposure of these job boards to thousands of others, the competition is so keen.


The level of competition means that the vast majority of people who apply for those jobs, including those who are going to be very well-qualified, won’t generate interviews. That’s why it’s important that job-seekers proactively target employers at the same time they’re using the job boards.


CWC: When deciding whom to proactively target, is there a way to know whether a company will be more receptive to you?


JW: I do include in my book suggestions for particular types of companies that IT management candidates might want to target. For example, let’s take the Sarbanes-Oxley law here in the U.S.


That law fostered the establishment and development of many companies that have developed IT-related products and consulting services to facilitate compliance with the law. One strategy that an IT management job-seeker could use is to focus on companies that are in the business of helping companies comply with laws governing their operation.


Anytime there’s a compliance or regulatory mandate, there’s no latitude for a company to say they don’t have the funds to invest in a solution, such as internal content management software, for example.


CWC: Moving on to the interview process, how prepared do you have to be going in?


JW: Given the global economic recession we’re in, it really becomes a precious opportunity. And as the saying goes, “you’ve got one chance to make a first impression.”


It’s always a good idea to try and find out what created the job opening. You can often easily learn that. A recruiter might tell you or the ad might say, “we’re expanding or launching a new division.”

Let’s say a hypothetical candidate learns that management was dissatisfied with the person who previously held the position because that person was unable to resolve vendor quality and cost issues. In this case, the candidate should come prepared to emphasize his skill in that area.


One way to do that is to come to the interview with a one-page document that describes the vendor quality problems and cost issues that the candidate had to deal with in their current or previous position and the actions they took to resolve them. Also, they would want to talk about any quantitative measurements of the improvements that resulted from those actions.


CWC: Lastly, I know many people probably have difficulty at the end of their interviews. Any advice on how to leave off an interview?


JW: When I speak to someone who’s had a number of interviews, but no offers, I always find out how that interview came to an end.


It’s common at the end of the interview for the job-hunter to hear, “we expect to make a decision by such and such date.” Often times, that date isn’t met because of the way organizations work. Job-hunters know that, but when they hear that, some candidates are tempted to say, “well, if I don’t hear from you by that date, I’ll call you.”


That’s a mistake, and the reason is it’s very important to assume that when the interviewer makes that statement, they mean it. So, when the job hunter says, “I’ll call you,” they’re sending a subtle message that essentially could be casting that interviewer’s credibility in doubt, or implying the candidate has some doubt about the interviewer’s ability to build consensus among all the decision-makers who have to agree on a finalist by that date.


How would I advice the candidate to respond? All that needs to be said is, “thank you very much, I look forward to hearing from you.” There’s nothing to prevent the job-hunter from following up on that date.

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