Landing an IT Job in Today's Tough Market

"Diversify."

That's James McKnight's premier piece of advice to the IT unemployed.

Laid off from his year-old job as an IT contractor in late 2000 as a direct result of the AOL Time Warner Inc. merger, it took McKnight, 31, nine months to land his current position. He is now manager of systems integration and development at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, an Alexandria, Va.-based designer and distributor of educational training materials. He got the job after answering an ad in The Washington Post.

During that period, McKnight, who has eight years of IT experience, said he sent out an average of eight resumes per day, five days a week, for a total of 1,440 resumes. He also expanded his skills well beyond his Microsoft Windows NT expertise by paying for his own training to learn Cisco and Unix technologies. He is now certified in both.

What You Have to Offer

"You have to be able to contribute," said McKnight, who also advises job seekers to "look ahead and keep your eye on where technology is going, and get training there." For example, he noted that a certification in Linux will soon be available and that Cisco is branching out to offer additional certifications.

Recent hire James McKnight

With IT unemployment at its highest level ever, job hunting has become an agonizingly slow process for thousands of out-of-work IT professionals. On average, it's taking three to six months for IT job seekers to land a new position, according to Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. To help smooth the search, Computerworld canvassed CIOs, recruiters and successful IT job seekers for specific tips on how to land a job. They include the following:

- Get training in security technologies, and work to obtain a government security clearance.

- If you're an experienced Oracle database administrator, upgrade your skills to Oracle9i and 11i. That's where the hottest demand is, recruiters say. Other hot areas include network security, C++, SQL software and Java.

- Rewrite your resume to describe your skills in business terms. "If you're looking for a job today the same way you looked 18 months ago, you need to change," said Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at RHI Consulting Inc., an IT placement firm in Menlo Park, Calif. "Typically, what we see on resumes is a little sentence that says 'I'm a [database administrator],' then there's a laundry list of technical skills. The people getting jobs now are not providing a laundry list. Don't say you implemented Siebel CRM software, but [say] that you were on a project that ultimately will save the company millions of dollars a year."

- Shine the spotlight on any and all of your management, customer contact and communications skills, which the Fortune 1,000 recently ranked as the top-two most desirable skills in new hires, according to a survey of 150 senior executives conducted from Dec. 3, 2001, to Jan. 22, 2002, by Accenture Ltd. Technology skills ranked third in the overall list of most desirable skills.

- If you're a so-called one-trick pony who knows only mainframe programming, for example, get training in distributed computing platforms and learn the basics of networking. If you know Novell networking, learn NT. If you know the NT operating system, learn Unix and Linux.

- If you're an out-of-work, under-30 dot-commer who earned six figures and had a vice president title, you must lower your expectations and swallow your ego.

- Consider working for the government, which is facing a crippling shortage of IT workers. Federal employees can retire at age 55, and 29% of all government IT workers are now over the age of 50, according to the CIO's office at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The Washington-based National Academy of Public Administration estimates that the government will need to hire 45,000 IT workers over the next 10 years.

- Keep up your Rolodex, and network, network, network.

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