As 2012 comes to a close, IT job seekers should already be formulating a plan for career growth and professional development in 2013.
By Rich Hein
The New Year is almost here. 2012 proved to be a tumultuous year for IT pros and 2013 is looking to be just as challenging. However, the IT job market has been slowly gaining strength and as more companies start growing and adding staff, employees who have been waiting for this turnaround are getting ready to spring into action.
Even if you are happy with your current IT job or role, there is a chance you might find yourself looking for a new position this year due to downsizing, outsourcing or reorganization.
According to recent statistics, the average worker has been in his or her current position for no longer than 4.4 years, a number that has been on the decline for decades. The days of working for one employer for your entire career, it seems, are over. So what can you do to shield yourself from the turmoil and layoffs that swirl through IT? Be ready for anything. You can’t stop progress; the only choice is to evolve with the technology or get left behind.
With that in mind, here’s our list of nine career-related resolutions to make for 2013.
1. Work Better to Understand My Industry
“Know specifically how and where you fit in it, where and how you can help. Then you’ll be considered invaluable,” says Ross MacPherson, president of Career Quest and a specialist in advanced career strategies.
You may be the best programmer in the world, but what companies really want are people who understand the business side of things as well. So attend an event, set up Google News Alerts for industry keywords or join LinkedIn, Yahoo groups and get involved. Knowing what’s going on in your industry will give you a leg up over your competition.
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave “up. -Thomas Edison
2. Build a Career Map
Many companies today, both big and small, don’t have well-defined career paths for their IT workforces. That’s why creating your own can be helpful in determining your strengths and weaknesses as well as in identifying clear career objectives.
“No one is responsible for your career but you–not your company, not your boss– just YOU. Design a great career and make it happen,” says Macpherson.
Your personal career map should include the following:
An employee profile that list jobs and roles you have held (be specific).
An idea or goal position that includes positions within and outside of your company.
An analysis of your skills and a plan to bridge any skills gaps.
A network of professionals who you can work with and use for advice when necessary.
Building a career map of your own will help you do a better job focusing your job search. So get it done. To find out more about career mapping, here is a recent article covering the basics.
“Control your own destiny or someone else will.” – Steve Jobs
3. Update Your Resume
Having your resume up-to-date and ready to go can do wonders when it comes to setting your mind at ease. You can be sure that occasionally checking in to update your resume is a lot easier than having to do an overhaul of your resume in crisis mode.
“Your resume is a marketing document. You need to sell your expertise and stand out among your peers who may be just as qualified as you,” says Macpherson.
Build your resume with the position you want in mind. Highlight your skills that are relevant to that position. Look around on job boards and see what keywords recruiters are using and add them where they fit into your resume. Include honors, awards and any charity you actively participate in. Seminars or course are often over-looked here as well.
Don’t feel like dealing with the actual mechanics of resume writing? Well, there are plenty of career services companies out there that will work with to achieve your IT career goals. Whether you want to craft a resume, build a social presence or change careers altogether.
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius
4. Build a Personal Website for Your Brand
Most professionals could perhaps do without a website containing their professional brand but you work in IT, the web is a part of your life. This approach works best for people who want to display a lot of information on past jobs and products. It serves as their online portfolio. Macpherson’s advice: “Don’t make your site a data warehouse&make it dynamic, make it market your value.”
Yes, there are many things to consider: hosting, domain names, content creation, programming and maintenance, not to mention cost but you have to ask yourself how much is your career worth to you? Like most things in life the more you put in the more you get out. It’s also good to improve your SEO rankings.
If you already have one maybe it’s time for an update. Make sure your contact information is easily found. You can also include the URL on resumes and cover letters. With the current IT unemployment rate at 3.6 percent competition is fierce in the tech market. Building a personal brand can be a great way to cut through the noise.
“Think not of yourself as the architect of your career but as the sculptor. Expect to have to do a lot of hard hammering and chiseling and scraping and polishing.” – B.C. Forbes
5. Create or Refine Your Social Profiles
Social networking profiles have become critical for recruiting in the tech field. Jobs have been won or lost over them. Maybe you’ve been hesitant to join the social networking fray, but you can’t afford to avoid it any longer. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ have become necessary evils as they relate to search traffic, web presence and IT hiring.
Recruiters and companies are getting savvier at gleaning information from these social networks to target the right candidate. “Build, maintain and nurture a great online presence/brand and opportunity will start knocking on your door,” says Macpherson. Get your profiles up-to-date and professional-looking and your next job might find you.
Google or Bing yourself and see what comes up. Anything negative out there? Chances are HR people are going to do a web search before an interview just as you would do to find out as much information about a company you’re interviewing with. Whatever it may be–stupid comments you made years earlier, a pending lawsuit, a bad picture–get out in front of it and be prepared to explain it somehow.
There are services out there that claim they can help clean up and maintain your online reputation. If you’ve had had a positive or negative experience with them we’d love to hear about it in the comments section.
“By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be a boss and work 12 hours a day.” – Robert Frost
6. Build a Social Network
You’ve heard the adage, “it’s not what you know it’s who you know.” With the emergence of professional networking sites like LinkedIn and BranchOut on Facebook, there are multitudes of ways to grow your professional network. “Networking is still the #1 way to make opportunity happen and don’t forget about face-to-face networking,” says Macpherson.
With LinkedIn, for example, you can follow companies that you’ve targeted. Connect with people whom you’ve worked with or admire. There are plenty of industry leaders to be found on LinkedIn as well. Connect with and follow them. Join a group and engage in some of the conversation. It sounds like a lot of work and it is but doing so may be the proverbial “foot in the door” you’ve been looking for.
“For many people a job is more than an income– it’s an important part of who we are. So a career transition of any sort is one of the most unsettling experiences you can face in your life.” – Paul Clitheroe
7. Improve Your Follow-Up Skills
“The right follow-up is critical–make it timely and professional every time,” notes Macpherson. In a competitive job market like IT you don’t want to leave things to chance. Improving your follow-up can help keep your name in the head of the HR people. Send thank you notes after interviews and exchange business cards.
Some experts recommend that after an interview that you should wait two to three weeks before checking back in with your contact. Maybe someone else will get the job but new positions open up all the time. Follow-up and staying in touch could land you a role you didn’t even apply for.
“A good manager is a man who isn’t worried about his own career but rather the careers of those who work for him.” – H. S. M. Burns
8. Personalize Your Cover Letters
A cover letter is designed to personalize your message. It is a showcase for your communication skills as well as transferable knowledge to prospective employers and recruiters. Use your cover letter to convey how your experience and knowledge will add value to the company. If your cover letter is compelling chances are someone will read it.
Make sure there are no typos. If you aren’t sure get a friend or colleague to read it. If there was a person listed in the job posting make sure to address your cover letter to him or her. Macpherson’s advice on cover letters is simple: “Make them concise and to-the-point. Avoid huge paragraphs and clearly articulate your qualifications and interest.”
“Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it.” – Katherine Whitehorn
9. Expand Your Horizons
“If you’re not growing, you’re dying. Grow, expand, be distinct and make yourself invaluable,” says Macpherson. Get out of your comfort zone and learn something new. There are plenty of free options available to you. That may be the library, a local course, college classes or seminars. The bottom line is never stop learning and growing.
“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.” – Buddha