Hiring managers go through their wish list

The holidays — and the time immediately following them — are a great time for IT professionals to pick up consulting assignments that could lead to permanent positions.

Retailers of all shapes and sizes are beefing up their IT infrastructures to deal with holiday issues by scaling up for the influx of online shoppers. They’re also hardening security systems to better fend off hackers trying to exploit the holiday shopping rush.

And organizations not conducting e-commerce are accelerating their IT activity as well, often trying to use up their IT budgets before year’s end rather than risk losing unspent funds. All of these requirements increase demand for IT consulting staff and represent a rare annual employment opportunity.

So, what will hiring managers be looking for this year and into 2008? Employers will be proactively searching for the best talent, which means that making yourself visible is a must. Keep your resume polished and updated on social and business networking sites.

Perhaps most important, make sure your skills are up to date. Many IT workers fail to recognize and take full advantage of this opportunity, often because they don’t know what skills are on employers’ wish lists. To that end, here are the IT roles most in demand this holiday season, and those that will continue to be in demand into next year, according to the Yoh Index of Technology Wages.

Database administrators. All of you with these skills won’t see a spike in job opportunities this holiday season because you’re in demand year-round. However, the holiday season will see an increase in your workload. Retailers will have a lot of information to sort through during the holiday season and afterward, with the influx of returns, and they’ll rely on you to ensure that they have a handle on it.

Security software engineers. Managing account information and mission-critical systems is no easy task — especially during the holiday season. With nearly 100 million cards affected by the TJX breach this year, retailers want to ensure that their online and in-store customers are protected.

User interface designers. JupiterResearch is predicting that nearly 126 million people will make online purchases during the 2007 holiday season. That’s a six per cent increase from last year’s holiday numbers. And what about those who will be logging on after the rush to take advantage of holiday gift cards? User-interface designers are the go-to resource for making sure all 126 million shoppers can use the sites they’re logging into with ease and efficiency.

Web site producers. With so many shoppers taking to the Web for the holiday season, it’s crucial for retailers to stand out from the competition. To do this, they’ll rely on skilled site producers to improve online stores’ layouts and make sure checkout systems are efficient, providing an aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-navigate site.

J2EE developers. BlackBerries, iPhones and Treos — not only have these been the coolest toys for adults in 2007, but they’re also another way to get holiday shopping done without hitting the malls. These new mobile technologies require mobile payment services, and that’s where skilled Java 2 Enterprise Edition developers can have a huge effect on this holiday season.

Personalization software engineers. Forrester Research estimates that online retail sales will reach $33 billion this year, and that’s great news for retailers. In order to make sure customers make the most of their online shopping experiences, personalization software engineers create customized shopping experiences for shoppers, including registries, lists and unique personalization tools.

Quality assurance engineers. If you’re a quality assurance engineer, you’re in high demand. Since your role is somewhat more scalable, you can make a big impact in a number of departments. From making sure shopping carts are built and maintained to monitoring whether programs are working properly and are robust enough for users’ needs, you ensure that holiday shopping runs smoothly from all angles.

Process engineers. Process engineering is another job in demand year-round. While especially important during and after the holiday season to keep everything on track, day-to-day operations throughout the rest of the year are equally important. Those with process-engineering skills may be responsible for working at a plant’s operational level, helping the plant to run efficiently or handling mathematical principles. But no matter what the specific task, the holidays simply wouldn’t run as smoothly without you.

Ultimately, any holiday position, be it permanent or consulting, gives IT pros the chance to go above and beyond the call of duty and show how well they perform under pressure. Better still, if you get a seasonal gig and do a great job, the role can turn into a long-term position once the holiday returns are back on the shelf.

And fortunately, the 2008 outlook continues to mirror what we’ve seen in 2007. With the war for talent still raging and the draining labor pool still stagnating, skilled workers will continue to be in high demand.

Jim Lanzalotto is vice president of strategy and marketing of Yoh, a unit of Day & Zimmermann.

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