by Meridith Levinson

IT Careers: In Search of a Better Fit

May 18, 2010

Layoffs altered IT job descriptions significantly during the recession, forcing IT pros into roles that don't fit their skills.

Much has been written about a “retentionless recovery” in IT, and how many IT professionals who’ve held onto their jobs through the recession plan to jump ship as soon as the IT job market heats up. It’s no wonder: During the recession, IT professionals took on more work while their compensation stagnated. Now, as the economy begins to recover, they’re calculating career moves.

The desire to earn more isn’t the only reason IT professionals are on the hunt for new jobs. Chuck Martin, CEO of NFI Research and co-author of Work Your Strengths: A Scientific Process to Identify Your Skills and Match Them to the Best Career for You (Amacom June 2010), believes many IT professionals are considering career moves because their existing roles are no longer a good fit with their skills. 

“Over the last several years, a lot of [IT] jobs were lost, but a lot of the work associated with them didn’t go away,” says Martin. “People in IT who had one job had to absorb the jobs and functions of people who were laid off. They might have been well-suited for the job they had been doing and very happy in it, but now, because of the new duties, tasks and functions they had to pick up, they may find themselves in more of an unfit situation. That stresses how they’re hardwired. That’s why people might be looking for a career change.”

Martin’s observation gets at one of the consequences of layoffs: They completely upend companies’ best-laid staff management plans. For the benefit of this blog entry, I’ll assume most companies put a lot of effort into selecting candidates for open positions and creating career paths for employees that take advantage of their individual strengths.

However, when a layoff becomes necessary, all previous staff management plans get tossed out the window. Workloads have to be restructured quickly, leaving employers with little time to fully consider how combining job roles will affect the individuals taking on the newly designed position. In some cases, they may have no choice but to give people work they’re ill-prepared to do because the layoff cuts so deep. 

Employees become stressed when the new roles they are thrown into require a skill set they simply don’t posses. Unfortunately, the employee is often unfairly viewed as the problem–incapable of performing the necessary responsibilities. In a worst case scenario, the employee gets cut during the next round of layoffs or fired over a performance issue.  In a best case scenario, the employee looks for a new, more suitable job.

As more IT jobs consolidate and more IT professionals are required to wear different hats, I wonder whether IT professionals will be able to find that one job that’s a perfect fit for them? On the flip side, I wonder if employers will be able to find the perfect candidate who possesses all the skills required to perform flawlessly in one of these new, amalgamated roles? I would think that these consolidated roles would require different, conflicting skill sets that would be hard to find in a single candidate.

If you’re an employed IT professional looking for a new  job, why are you looking? Is it a compensation issue, a job fit issue or something else? 

One last question to consider: Do you think employers might have been able to prevent this flight of talent that’s leaving to find more suitable jobs if they had more carefully redistributed work after a layoff, and if they had been more forgiving of employees’ performance in their expanded roles, given that employees were forced to take on new responsibilities that weren’t a good match with their skills?