Standout skills

What employers are looking for in 2007

Golf balls run amok and ping around a warehouse in an amusing new DHL commercial. A distraught warehouse manager phones the shipping giant to reroute correspondence and packages, while a booming voice pledges that DHL has adopted a renewed focus on customer service -- a promise that will extend clear down to IT personnel manning help desks and scrambling to provide technical support.

IT hiring figures are expected to dip slightly in the coming year, so you'll be getting a flood of resumes for every job opening you have. From those, hiring executives will pluck people with the strongest combination of technical and business skills. For instance, knowing how to help a call center agent navigate malfunctioning pop-up screens will no longer be enough. Instead, DHL and other big companies want tech support staffs to prioritize and understand why jumping on a problem quickly is a mission-critical must.

Essentially, CIOs are looking for the "Renaissance" IT professional -- for instance, the individual with sharp skills in the Cobit (Control Objectives for Information and Related Technology) framework for governing IT and evaluating internal system controls, and a good feel for internal business processes. Proof that a potential hire is well-rounded might include five in-demand skills recently identified in Computerworld's latest quarterly Vital Signs survey of IT trends: programming acumen, project management experience, IT-business analysis know-how, security savvy and technical support skills.

"For us, 2007 will be a year of focusing on what is really important to our company as a whole and what will bring us the most value," says Jim Niemann, vice president of DHL Express IT in San Francisco. "In past years, we've tried to solve every problem in the book. Now we are working those projects that show true bottom-line value."

To address the most pressing and critical challenges in 2007, DHL and other major corporations are looking for employees who can help establish priorities, roll up their sleeves and take action, Niemann says.

1. Well-rounded tech chops

While today's IT job seekers need to develop strong communication skills and shrewd business sense, they must still have stellar technical backgrounds.

"Large organizations have traditionally focused on specialists," says Tom Carpenter, president of Sysedco, an IT training, staffing and consulting company in Dayton, Ohio. "However, this seems to be trending toward what I call 'deep generalists.' These are individuals who have in-depth knowledge in two or three areas but complement this with broad knowledge in both technical and business areas."

Corporate leaders will also begin looking for programming, application development and other technical skills in the portfolios of those farther up the chain of command, adds Dan Twing, vice president of research and consulting at EMA, a U.S.-based consulting firm that focuses on the technology and business management needs of utility, public works and manufacturing organizations.

Twing suggests that midlevel managers seek certification in the hottest technical areas, such as Cobit, ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) best practices, CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) processes and the Six Sigma quality assurance framework. "These certifications might only yield pay premiums of 10 percent to 15 percent, but the training will make the candidate stand out and be more competitive in a crowded marketplace," he says.

Likewise, for hands-on programmers and others constructing core enterprise systems, a firm grasp of the big picture is essential, notes Susan Merritt, dean of the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Pace University in New York. "The ideal candidate has at least a baccalaureate degree in computer science or a related field. He or she must also know how to build and 'read' software as well as have a good overview of systems and services," she says.

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