Should you stay or should you go?

For IT professionals looking to move up (or out) of their current jobs and into a higher paying or altogether new position, it’s always difficult to know when to pull the trigger and make the leap.

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‘The biggest risk I ever took . . .’

IT pros must often weigh the long-term benefits of staying at a job they love versus a move to a more fruitful position. Employees that can recognize when its time for a change and how they can make sure they are making the right choice is key to truly igniting a career in IT. Industry experts weighed in on these issues and more in a recent Microsoft Inc. IT careers Webcast.

Avoid falling behind

After settling into a job for a few years, people tend to get comfortable in their environment and with their co-workers. But at some point they may feel the need to broaden their horizons in an area not afforded to them in their current role. In those cases, IT pros need to ask themselves about the long-term benefits of staying at a job that might be hindering their development.

“You may be surprised to learn that there are great people at every job,” Ron McKerlie, corporate chief information officer and chief strategist for service delivery at the Ontario government, said. “Ask yourself, ‘if I stay here and my skills get out of date, am I ever going to be in a position where I can catch up again?’ If the answer is no, then it’s time to move.”

Wander around

McKerlie said that IT pros need to put themselves into positions where they are free to grow. And while training and education is a positive step for a candidate to achieve that, the most important thing an IT pro can do is expand their contact base.

“A lot of people think that if they want to move to another area in IT they have to change companies and I don’t think that’s true at all,” Nick Corcodilos, founder of the job search and hiring advice Web site Ask The Headhunter, said. “I would refer to it as ‘job hunting by wandering around.’ When folks are trying to get inside a company it’s really an uphill battle. Many employees don’t realize the privilege they have to walk down the hall, stick their head in a door and start introducing themselves to other areas of the company.”

Corcodilos said talking to other managers who may be short-handed and in need of extra help, is a sure-fire way to gain attention. “You might want to go in on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and put in a couple of hours of work to help out with a project,” Corcodilos said. “It’s sort of a form of apprenticeship that can help you hang around the people you want to work. I’d call it an investment in your career.”

When to leave

But if you are stuck in a situation where branching out to other areas that may interest you is not encouraged, you may be feeling what Corcodilos calls “hitting the wall.” And in this case, you may want to start hitting the classifieds.

“You may want to engage in cross-disciplinary action in other areas of the company, but for some reason your boss wants you stuck in your cubicle and doesn’t encourage you to spread your wings,” Corcodilos said. “I know a lot of IT professionals who have moved into sales and sometimes that is just the natural progression of your career, so if your company is creating too many walls and not allowing you to explore, it may be time to go.”

For people looking to switch to a totally new environment, Corcodilos advised employees to look at three factors.

“Are these people you think you can work with, do you like the product or service the company offers, and what is their reputation in the industry,” Corcodilos said. “It may also be helpful to look at these issues within your current organization as well.”

Don’t get burned

Corcodilos said he is often asked by clients to identity the “hot” job markets. And while IT pros might be tempted to follow the money, he said, it is often a better idea to simply pursue the area you most enjoy.

“It’s a good thing to know how the market is looking, but it’s not a healthy career move to look for jobs only in the hottest industries,” Corcodilos said. “You should be asking yourself what you are good at and then try and become a true professional in an area that truly charges you up and makes you proud to work in. If you are really good at what you do, even if the market is not that great, you will find a good job.”

McKerlie said IT pros would be better served to join professional groups such as Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS), as well as getting industry certifications such as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) designation.

‘These sorts of industry standard certifications create a common language that everybody can benefit from,” McKerlie said. “The learning and methodologies that are taught to get these certifications are incredibly useful. If there are two candidates who were closely related, we would lean toward the candidate with these certifications.”

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