In challenging economic times, it's natural for IT professionals to turn their thoughts away from career advancement and toward job security. Whether you're concerned about your current position or looking for a new one, a few key strategies can help you keep your career healthy in the face of economic uncertainty.
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Even during periods of robust growth, IT professionals who do not focus on enhancing their own marketability to employers can have trouble competing for the most desirable positions. In contrast, those who continually update their skills and build their networks keep themselves in high demand when employers start tightening their belts.
Forget What You Deserve
A sense of entitlement hinders many otherwise promising IT careers. Talented professionals often presume that their training and capabilities will guarantee them secure, high-paying jobs. Their mistake is underestimating the number of other candidates who are just as, or more, qualified.
To stay ahead of this pack, your first priority should be to update and expand your skills. Continuous learning is an essential part of your profession. If your current employer doesn't offer sufficient training options, ask about reimbursement policies. According to the Robert Half Technology 2008 Salary Guide, the following skills are especially in demand:
- Microsoft .Net development. Firms want professionals who can apply .Net skills to all aspects of the development process.
- Microsoft SQL Server development. Those who can write code, including stored procedures, database scripts and triggers, are in heavy demand.
- Windows administration. IT departments continue to value Windows administration skills.
- Network administration. Demand remains high for the maintenance and troubleshooting of routers, hubs and switches.
- Database management. Database management skills, including expertise with Oracle database and Microsoft SQL Server, are highly desirable.
- Wireless network management. Wireless network management skills are critical to keeping employees, customers and clients connected and secure.
Even the latest technical skills and credentials won't guarantee you a spot on the most-wanted list if you can't use your abilities to help solve real business problems. Well-developed soft skills such as problem-solving, business acumen and interpersonal communication can set you apart from other candidates.
Soft skills may be hard to quantify, but that doesn't mean they can't be learned. Business and interpersonal training is available in many forms. Look into business courses provided by local colleges and universities, online classes and seminars from training companies or organizations like the U.S. Small Business Administration, or industry associations and events offered through your local Chamber of Commerce. Even public-speaking clubs such as Toastmasters can help you refine your communication skills and other leadership abilities. Publications and Web sites like BusinessWeek and CIO.com can keep you up to date on the issues that matter most to executives. Sites geared toward small business, such as Entrepreneur.com, can provide insight into management strategies and practical business issues.
Attending industry conferences and other events is another way to develop not only your soft skills, but an additional critical ingredient in a recession-resistant career as well: a thriving network.
Your Network: Not Just a Safety Net
Keeping in touch with a wide range of contacts increases the odds that you could be pointed toward career opportunities you might not have otherwise been aware of or even considered. Creating a thriving professional network requires sustained effort, but establishing new connections can pay big dividends. Even if you meet only a few new people a month, your network will grow exponentially. Remember that when you make a contact, you re also connecting to that person's peers, and so on. Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn can reconnect you with former colleagues and lead to connections you might draw on. Don t overlook social networking sites such as Facebook—you never know where a promising lead or idea will come from. If you're not currently working full time, consulting and project-based work can also be great ways to jump-start your network.
Motivated, skilled and connected IT professionals may be the last ones affected by economic downturns, but even they aren't guaranteed secure, steadily advancing careers. Ultimately, there's no protection against uncertainty, and that suits the most successful and satisfied IT professionals just fine. Instead of barricading themselves against a volatile industry, they dedicate themselves to changing and growing along with it.
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director at Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.
This story, "Recession-Proofing Your Career in IT" was originally published by Computerworld.