Getting the Job: 5 Tips for Struggling IT Pros

There's a disconnect between the analysts that show large numbers of unfilled IT jobs and the continued and frustrating experience of many IT pros who can't find suitable work.

Brian Reinholz

March 31, 2011

4 Min Read
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There's a disconnect between the analysts that show large numbers of unfilled IT jobs and the continued and frustrating experience of many IT pros who can't find suitable work. Specifically, I've had a number of readers personally tell me that they've received the following responses from potential employers:

  1. These employers only want people with very specialized experience, primarily in very new fields that few people have experience with (cloud computing, virtualization, mobile development).

  2. Many employers and staffing firms (at the request of the employers) are only accepting applications from currently employed workers.

  3. Many professionals are "overqualified" for certain open positions and therefore are not being considered.

For what little it's worth, I empathize with this incredible frustration. I have heard enough stories to know that this is not an isolated scenario: this is happening nationwide (and beyond) in the technology sector.

I recently spoke with Heather Perez, a senior recruiter for MATRIX Resources, an IT staffing firm. While we talked about hiring trends and tips in general, I also breached the specific issue of IT pros who are out of work and struggling to get back into the workforce.

1. Focus on your internal network. One of Perez's ideas for unemployed workers is to focus on their individual network, rather than job boards. Talk to previous employers, friends, and acquaintances—these people can attest to your skills regardless of how long you've been unemployed. Even if you don't find the exact right fit, getting back in the workforce will position you to move into something better.

2. Use LinkedIn. Every recruiter I've talked to on this topic says the same thing: LinkedIn is a big recruiting tool. Having a robust LinkedIn profile, filling it up with useful contacts, and getting recommendations where possible are all things that make you much more marketable. Just remember, if you do decide to put your resume on LinkedIn, to blot out personal information (phone number, address) that you don't want to be publicly available.

(Related: LinkedIn: IT Pro Friend or Foe?)

3. Prepare answers to tough questions ahead of time. When you do get an interview, be aware that most recruiters and hiring managers are going to ask why you left your previous job. If you've been laid off or have been unemployed for awhile, they're going to ask about that. So take the time now to sculpt some very good (honest) answers that demonstrate that any previous setbacks you've had are not an indicator of your value as a future employee.

Also, this is just a good tip in general. Prepare answers to all the common questions you think you might be asked…study them well, but make sure your answers sound natural and not scripted. It's also a great idea to have answers to competency-based questions, such as "tell me about your experience with X tool" or "tell me about a situation where you had to resolve a conflict with your team." You can generally surmise what types of competency-based questions you'll be asked based on the job description.

4. Seek new experience if needed. If you're finding that your skill set isn't marketable today, I would recommend taking a long hard look at additional training. Yes, it's frustrating to move into something you might be less interested in (or put in money that you don't have toward training), but even being in some type of training will be much more attractive to a potential employer. You don't have to wait until you have the degree or certification to start bragging up the benefits of that training you're getting.

5. Don't forget tried and true job search lessons. The same things you've been hearing for years really do work. Tailor a custom cover letter and resume to each job; aim for depth in your job search (spending a lot of time on each application), not breadth (mass-spamming your resume out); come 15 minutes early; come well-dressed, nicely groomed, awake and smiling; and if you tend to get nervous, practice, practice, practice.

There are a lot of things that aren't fair about the job world. Try not to dwell on them, but keep a positive composure and optimism that things will work out. In the meantime, continue to stay engaged with your network (and grow your network), continue learning, and give your all to every opportunity.

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