Where The Jobs--And Bucks--Are In IT Now

Nearly 10% of CIOs are planning to add IT staff this quarter. The industry with the greatest optimism for IT hiring is retail, and CIOs there are spelling out key skills in demand. Among them: retail-specific apps and networking.



In a recent article for TechCareers, Katherine Spencer Lee discussed the current job market, hiring trends and what tech professionals should be doing to move onto that next career goal.

We spent a little more time talking with Spencer Lee, who serves as executive director of Robert Half Technology , a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis, to get further insight. She and her team work with thousands of IT hiring managers and job applicants each year. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services.

TC: In the most recent RHI IT Hiring Index and Skills Report, a net 9 percent of CIOs surveyed plan to add technology staff in the second quarter of 2006. Is there a specific industry or job title they're looking to hire?

KSL: CIOs from the retail industry were most optimistic about their Q2 hiring plans, according to our most recent report.

Many of these firms are turning to new industry-specific technologies to achieve cost-savings and improve competitiveness. They're hiring IT professionals who can recommend, implement and manage more sophisticated inventory management, forecasting and replenishment systems. As far as the positions CIOs cited as most in demand, they reported the greatest need for help desk, networking, and database and data management professionals.

Windows administration, wireless network administration, Cisco network management and firewall administration were all cited as in-demand skill sets. We are also experiencing strong demand from our clients across the country for .NET-related development skills such as C#, VB.NET and ASP.NET.

TC: In your article you stated that employers surveyed for the EDGE Report said the biggest hiring challenge is a shortage of qualified workers. Are companies doing anything proactively to shore up internal skill sets such as increasing training programs or supporting certification education? Should IT staffers be approaching IT managers and CIOs for expanded skill training?

KSL: In another recent survey we conducted among CIOs, 63 percent said they're providing professional development opportunities to retain their best people. Offering flexible schedules and increasing base compensation were also popular retention strategies. Many firms recognize that technology workers, in particular, value ongoing educational opportunities to enable them to keep their skills current and continue learning on the job. IT staff not currently being offered these opportunities, but interested in growing their skill sets, should be prepared to make a case to their employers addressing how additional training could positively impact the company's bottom line.

TC: Your article stated that average starting salaries for all technology positions are expected to climb 3 percent in 2006, with much greater increases projected for positions like IT auditor (11.2 percent), lead applications developer (5.3 percent) and network security administrator (5.2 percent). Does this mean that IT professionals need to do some research into their particular job and salary before negotiating a job commitment. Should they automatically ask for 3% more than their current salary if going for a new similar job?

KSL: While the salary data listed in the Robert Half Technology Salary Guide is a great resource, you'll need to do additional research to make sure you're completely prepared to discuss what your unique skill set commands in your specific market. Review additional salary surveys in business and trade publications, talk with professional contacts and recruiters, and check salary comparison sites on online job boards. Coming up with a reasonable request is essential, and your market research will help you do this. You'll also want to carefully consider your accomplishments and what they suggest about your future potential.

Identifying the appropriate figure can be a delicate balancing act: You don't want to undervalue your worth, but you don't want to come up with a number that makes your supervisor think you have an over-inflated sense of yourself, either. If your request for a raise is rejected, you want to remain positive. Be willing to compromise, and listen carefully to your manager's response. He or she may provide valuable insight that will help you secure future raises. You might also suggest re-approaching the topic with your manager in 90 days.

TC: As you explained in your column, the baby boomer retirement will also create a consulting career track for those boomers who want to ease into retirement by first serving in consulting roles, either with their current employers or with a range of businesses that require experienced professionals for special projects. Is there a particular tech field or specific niche where consultants will be needed in the next few years? And what's a good first step to moving onto that job road?

KSL: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2008, 22 million workers aged 45 years or older will leave the workforce, primarily due to retirement. Within that group, two IT job categories are expected to see a higher-than-average number of departures from the workforce -- technical writers and operations and systems researchers and analysts -- and no doubt many others will be affected. If you've decided to try project or consulting work, you'll need to make sure your resume is prepared correctly. More experienced job seekers are sometimes at risk of being seen as overqualified for jobs, so you want to make sure you're playing up your strengths effectively. Limit your resume to two pages and keep it focused on positions held in the last 10 years, since they contain the most timely and relevant aspects of your background. For consulting assignments, it's particularly important to highlight your problem-solving and interpersonal skills. Companies will be looking for a track record of success. Did you help your employer overcome unique challenges with a systems conversion? Have you managed an IT department on a limited budget? Research the company and its needs thoroughly so you can customize your resume and interview responses accordingly.

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