Once upon a time and not so long ago, IT professionals could get new jobs at the drop of a hat.
Those days are done.
"It's definitely become an employers market, by far - more than I've ever seen it," said Craig Rumberg, director of operations for CyberForce, an IT employment specialist.
Because of layoffs and failed businesses, the supply of employees vastly outstrips the number of jobs. For every LAN/WAN administrator job, there are 1,000 qualified candidates; for every Java or Visual Basic programming job, there are 250 potential replacements; for each Oracle database administrator slot, there are 150 applicants, said Barry Mills, director of sales programs for Matrix Resources, another IT employment specialist.
Whereas before an IT technician might spend 60 to 90 days looking for a job, it now takes six months, Mills said. For IT executives, he said the search period has stretched from six months to a year or more.
This is a shocking change for IT professionals, a group that historically has been in such high demand that most members could get a new job quickly, and the best had to fend off constant offers even while they held jobs they loved.
In the face of this new market, job seekers need to put in more work to sell themselves. Employment professionals recommend resumes customized for each job and that are scrupulously accurate. Fudged job experience, unexplained gaps in resumes, even honest mistakes can rule candidates out.
"I've had someone lose a job because he misstated the dates for a previous job by three months. He put down what he remembered," Rumberg said.
Candidates should also be prepared to face drug testing and criminal background checks, employment specialists say. Because they have fewer jobs to fill, employers have the luxury to spend more time thoroughly checking out the top contenders.
Despite the short supply of most IT positions, some job areas are hot, he said. People with experience shoring up health-care provider networks so they meet new federal requirements known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, enjoy a 2-to-1 ratio of applicants to jobs. There also is a job for every top security specialist who is looking in the wake of Sept. 11, Mills said.
Those still holding high-level IT jobs after layoffs are among the best, Rumberg said. "You're not going to be lopping off your best performers," he said.
But they should take every opportunity to broaden their practical experience so if their jobs do disappear, they have as many skills as possible to offer new employers. "If you still have a job, you should absorb as much information as possible," he said.