During the heyday of the Internet boom, getting an interview was easy. And often the IT job candidate interviewed the interviewer. "Why you should hire me" had become "Why should I work for you?"
But the market has changed and with it the sell-me-on-the-company interview. In the past six months, many hiring managers report receiving more and better resumes from IT professionals. "The thing that all [candidates] need to keep in mind is that the decision process is taking a lot longer than it did a year ago.
There are more people lined up behind [any given candidate] who will take a job opportunity that [the candidate] may turn down because it falls short of [the candidate's] expectations in career growth, compensation, or commute," says Mary Voss, president and CEO of Foxhunt Inc., a placement agency in Silicon Valley.
Today's IT job candidate must sell himself or herself first, and then interview the interviewer.
Research before an interview is a must in today's market. Although opportunities still exist with startup organizations, assessing which fledgling companies have staying power requires background investigation. Not all of the information necessary for an informed decision can be uncovered in an interview.
Whether IT professionals are looking for opportunities with non-IT companies or long-standing IT services companies, they still need to do some legwork. Who wants to sign on with a company that may be laying off employees in six months? Betting that U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan has the economy on the right path and that an ailing company will turn around in six months is just that -- betting. If you're going to make that gamble, be sure the odds favor you.
Research can be done by speaking with employees who work for the company, a competitor, or a buyer. Trade and financial publications, analyst reports, as well as target company's and competitor's Web sites should also be consulted. Consider the following key sources of information in your job search.
Key executives and board members. Who are they? What industry associations do they belong to? Have they worked for successful ventures?
Current investors. Look at both venture capitalists and large stockholders, as well as private and institutionalized investors.
Direct and indirect competitors. Which competitors are in the company's space? Which have better name recognition and a more sterling reputation? Are their companies entering the market through IT initiatives and partnerships?
Market share. Which company owns the market? How did it get there? Will that company be able to keep its market share? Which companies have written new business recently?
Vertical industry. How is the industry faring overall? Are competitors or buyers laying off employees? Have any made recent missed-earnings announcements?
After you've done the background research, you are ready to pursue the opportunity. "To shine, you need to be well-prepared, articulate a clear vision, and know the company inside and out. Use this information to differentiate yourself during the interview," says Ruben Santana, COO of Management Decisions Inc., an IT staffing company in Atlanta.
Santana also suggests that job seekers rehearse answers to a few questions. "Before an interview, ask yourself, 'Why should they hire me?' Your response should be tailored to the company."
The bottom line
During the interview, asking about benefits offered and training opportunities is not enough. Get to the heart of a job opportunity and the company by posing some pointed questions, says Judi Webster, partner with TMP Worldwide Executive Search, in Austin, Texas.
1. What is your existing IT infrastructure?
2. Have you outsourced IT? What role does IT outsourcing play in the business plan?
3. What relationships do you have with IT vendors?
4. What is the foundation of your high-tech offering?
5. How is IT viewed within your company?
6. Is IT a necessity for the organization, a competitive advantage, or a transformation vehicle?
7. From what industries have your IT resources come?
8. Does the company have a CIO or CTO?
The combination of doing your research and asking targeted questions should provide the you with good insight on the company's financial and IT health, and help you make the important decision whether or not to pursue the opportunity.