By Jason W. Eckert
For people entering the IT marketplace or looking for a better IT job, the IT job market can be discouraging. At other times, it can be downright frustrating.
Unlike most job markets, the IT job market is like a moving target – it changes as fast as IT technologies change. Furthermore, the IT job market is one of the most diverse on the planet.
Say, for example, that you decide to give up your current job and become a plumber. The skills you need to become a plumber and the duties that plumbers do are well known. You simply need to contact the plumbing association in your region to find out what schools teaching the skills needed to become a certified plumber, and which plumbers are accepting apprentices. After building your plumbing skill set, you can become certified and apply for plumbing jobs. When you talk with other plumbers, you will probably find that all plumbers perform roughly the same tasks on a daily basis (unclogging drains, running new pipes, fixing pipe leaks, etc.).
Alternatively, if you want a job in IT, you must first browse online job ads to find a job that you would like, and then obtain the skills listed in that job ad if you do not already have them. This may involve taking expensive courses, buying books from Chapters, downloading evaluation software to play with in a makeshift computer network in your basement, and writing a costly certification exam. By the time you are finished with your retraining, that job may have already been filled, and since IT jobs are incredibly diverse, the skills you built may not be listed in other job ads. When you do find a job that matches your IT skill set, you will notice that different IT professionals perform radically different tasks and work with radically different technologies on a daily basis.
So how do you overcome these obstacles and land a good job in IT? Following are a few tips that I believe will help in any IT job search:
1. Keep informed about advances in technologies
Regardless of what technologies you currently use, make sure you know what technologies are available and what they do. You can do this by reading daily geek news sites, blogs and talking with other IT professionals. This will allow you to make quick decisions regarding the direction of your own career.
2. Consider larger job markets
Since the IT job market is diverse, finding a job that matches your skill set in a large city is much easier than in a small town. If you live outside a large metropolitan area and are within commuting distance, expand your search to include that area. Similarly, if you are within a moderate driving distance to other cities, include them in your job search.
3. Practice technologies that are not part of your current job
Keeping a small computer network or test computer at home will allow you to experiment with new software technologies as they become available. More importantly, you will likely prefer certain technologies to others after implementing them. If a job opportunity arises that involves technologies that you prefer, you are more likely to take them to advance your IT career.
4. Continually upgrade your skill set
We often neglect our own personal advancement when we are immersed in a job environment. Make sure that you take some time out of your lifestyle to upgrade your IT skills. Some organizations offer time and resources for employee personal advancement, but many do not. In these cases, upgrading IT skills may involve taking a weekend course or purchasing books and hardware. I recommend putting some money aside each month to create an “update fund” that can be used if you find a skill that you would like to pursue.
5. Keep an open mind and embrace diversity
Unfortunately, it is common for IT professionals to downplay the importance of some technologies. I have often heard phrases such as “Microsoft sucks” and “Linux sucks” when attending various IT gatherings. In reality, no technology “sucks”. Technologies that stay around for a while obviously provide some value to organizations – each technology provides a particular function and nearly all organizations use a variety of different technologies together when implementing software and hardware solutions. If you focus on a single technology, you are reducing the number of available IT jobs that you can apply for. On the other hand, understanding multiple (and sometimes opposing) technologies can broaden your job prospects.
6. Avoid applying for jobs that are specialized
Although specialization is not as common today as it was in the 1990s, some large organizations still offer IT jobs that require a single area of skill (i.e. Database Administrator). If the organization does not allow for personal advancement, you will find it more difficult to update your skill set over time and may have difficulty finding another IT job if the position is eliminated over time.
7. Embrace change and have fun
Two of the reasons that I chose to pursue the IT profession two decades ago are that I love challenge and change. The only way that you can continually adapt to new challenges over a long period of time is to love what you do. And to love IT, you simply need to have fun and enjoy your inner geek.
Next blog: Should I Get Certified?