Career Advice for IT Professionals

Joseph L. DeVenuto, vice president and CIO of Norton Healthcare, answers Computerworld readers' pressing career questions about taking a lower-level position, IT skills, and why they aren't getting promoted.

This month's Premier 100 IT Leader, Joseph L. DeVenuto, answered questions about taking a lower-level position, the industry's future, losing a promotion and the skills to have in the slump. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it toaskaleader@computerworld.com and watch for this column each month.

I have a lot of experience in networking, but I've been out of work since the beginning of 2008. I seem to be joined by more people all the time, so there's a lot of competition for jobs. I've got nearly 15 years of solid experience and great references, but I'm thinking about trying for some lower-level jobs that I've ignored so far, like help desk. Two questions: Do you think I would be seriously considered, or will my résumé be tossed aside because I'm overqualified? And if I have success and land an entry-level job at this stage of my career, am I washed up in this field?

Joseph DeVenuto: The current economic environment is causing many leaders to re-evaluate the way things have always been done. You are correct that in the past your résumé may have been passed over. This was probably not because you are overqualified but because of the perception that you would expect a higher salary than an entry-level position is usually budgeted for. While salary expectations remain as something to deal with, organizations today are more willing to look in unexpected places to add skills and talents to their teams that were unavailable months ago. We have a more dynamic employment environment, which is creating a larger candidate pool that is filled with many professionals whose availability is not necessarily a direct result of their performance. Because of this, many people will need to move laterally or backward. At the end of the day, however, good workers (at any level) are good workers, and most organizations will recognize that and will work to put you in the "right seat on the bus" over time.

I've been a database administrator for several years, pretty much still enjoying the challenges of my job. But when my technically astute nephew recently asked me about pursuing a job in IT, I told him it probably wasn't a good time to get into the field. Later, though, I found myself wondering, what field does look good to get into right now? Sure, I've seen a lot of layoffs lately and IT jobs are still going offshore, but was I too harsh about prospects in IT? I decided I need a second opinion that I can give him. What do you think?

I am probably biased, but I think technology is always a good field to go into, with positive career opportunities on the horizon. The world is becoming more dependent on technology every day, and with that dependency comes opportunities. The opportunities will be different in the future. Historically, every company that had an IT staff had every discipline in IT on the team. In small companies, this meant people wore multiple hats. In larger IT organizations, there is a level of specialization that can occur, like a dedicated DBA. With "clouds" and software as a service, you will probably see more consolidation of technical roles out of individual businesses and into larger technical services organizations. As a result, the role of IT within many organizations will evolve.

Recently, and not for the first time, I was passed over for a promotion to IT director. I'm an outgoing woman who has worked for 15 years in desktop support, Exchange administration and databases. I've always enjoyed working closely with users and have learned a lot about what they need. I think I have proved myself valuable (and said as much when I applied to move up), and I'm beginning to feel frustrated. I don't want to think the problem is that I'm a woman, but I don't know what to think, quite frankly. Should I move on? It's not a great time to be looking for a new job.

Based on the information you provided in your question, it is hard to say for sure what your course of action should be. Some of the questions that immediately come to mind are: Are other women being promoted, either within IT or the organization as a whole? Are there educational or other requirements for the position that you don't meet? Are you applying for an open director position or looking for a title change to your existing position? Finally, have you received any feedback, specific or general, as to why you haven't been selected? The answers to each of these questions will help clarify what steps you should be considering next.

If you decide to leave, you will find that there are still good employment possibilities, even though the market is not great for a job search right now. Keep in mind that it may take time to find the right fit. In the interim, continue to do good work and improve yourself. If you have received feedback on specific areas (even if you don't agree), this might be a great time to work on whatever it is. Who knows, the growth may cause your current employer to take a new look.

With the world economy in the biggest slump I've ever experienced, I'm wondering what sorts of skills are going to prove most valuable to companies in the near future.

The skills that are the most valuable to an organization don't change during an economic slump. They are simply getting more attention and focus in today's environment. Being able to contribute to the success of an organization through your actions and activities will always be valued. The specifics of your particular organization and its approach to the current environment will determine whether you add more value through contributing growth strategies, cost-saving measures or general process improvements or efficiencies. In all cases, being able to execute on the strategies is also critical. When you are able to align technology with business processes and improve them, not just automate them, you are bringing value. Coming up with ideas is good; actually delivering on them is great.

This story, "Career Advice for IT Professionals " was originally published by Computerworld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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