Opinion: Job hunting 101

"Where the jobs are . . . does one wait for me?" I borrowed -- and tweaked -- the line from an old Connie Francis song, yet it's a familiar refrain in conversations among IT professionals today. Amid layoffs, downsizing, company buyouts, and mergers and acquisitions, what is there for us? How do we cope? What do we do? How do we compete?

Finding the job opportunities in which we can learn and grow is becoming more difficult in these leaner times. I was laid off or downsized three times between 1994 and 1999. Each time, I looked for a new job in my community so I didn't have to uproot my family and move to another region of the country. Each time, I found employers who were looking for my level of expertise and experience.

Was it easy? Absolutely not! The beginning salary level in each new job was equal to or less than that of the previous job. But my hard work, enthusiasm for learning new systems and skills, and my flexibility to rise to the challenges of a new job enabled me to move into positions that brought pay increases and more responsibilities over time.

IT professionals who remain rigid in their scope of work are being left on the curb. The future of technology is very bright with many opportunities. But we must grow and expand our expertise. We cannot cling to our mainframe loyalties.

Those who are positive about accepting the challenges of working with new ideas and with younger people in the IT profession can find the opportunities very rewarding. I have been a manager in past jobs, and I participate in the interviewing process in my current position. I see the faces that look defeated before we even begin to talk. I read resumes that aren't varied in experiences and see people who appear uninterested in new challenges and opportunities.

As companies eliminate middle management positions, we often face the uneasiness of going back into the technical team. I went back to a systems analyst role after being a team leader and a department manager in previous jobs. I am certain that my positive attitude helps me a great deal in my daily interactions and work with my peers.

Each of us brings different strengths, and we work hard to use one another's strengths for the good of the team and the good of the projects. Our manager fosters cooperative work, with two people often working together on a problem. My manager uses my expertise and varied past experiences as part of his "sounding board" when we discuss various approaches to solving system problems.

Many of us in the IT profession today have, and want to have, very positive attitudes about ourselves, our abilities and our companies. We look forward to being at work. We also expect our employers to honor the fact that we have lives and families and commitments outside of the office. Flexible schedules can enable us to have that life beyond the workplace.

Finding that new job is possible. It takes planning and lots of effort. You begin with an evaluation of your skills -- past and present. Look for those experiences you enjoyed most, as well as those projects that benefited your company most.

Get help with your resume from someone in the IT profession who sees resumes as a part of his job. Talk with friends and others who have been in your shoes to work through the emotions surrounding letting go of the past and finding that positive attitude toward your next position.

Look for companies that offer opportunities to build on past skills and have the training opportunities to support personal skills growth. Sometimes you must take the job that gets offered because you have bills to pay, but you can continue to look for that ideal position that will offer the personal growth opportunity in the longer term. Jobs are out there -- but you must look for them.

Networking with peers is a great way to find an unusual opportunity or something a little different in its challenges. That new job opportunity could be just the steppingstone you need to build your skills for a better future.

In her 32 years in IT, Betty Jo Sims has worked as a programmer, systems analyst, team leader, project leader and manager. She is currently a systems analyst and PeopleSoft developer at LandAmerica Financial Group Inc. in Richmond, Va.

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