Re-entering the IT workforce

Even under thriving economic conditions, the prospect of returning to the IT job market after an absence can be a daunting one. Professionals who have taken a hiatus for family or health reasons may find it intimidating to reinsert themselves into the fast-changing IT landscape. Many others find themselves in the unexpected position of coming out of retirement; such a return may prove even more difficult, since people often have little incentive to keep up with technological changes after retiring.

Dave Willmer
Dave Willmer

Whether your return to the workforce was planned or unplanned, it's important to deal with potential stumbling blocks directly and strategically. By doing so, you give yourself the best chance of receiving an attractive offer. Here are several key tips for resuming a rewarding IT career.

Refresh your skills

Carefully read the job descriptions that appeal to you, and note any recurring qualifications you lack. For some roles, you may discover that you need additional education or training in order to compete. Taking time to augment or refresh your skills may delay your search, but it will boost your confidence, as well as your chances of finding a satisfying position. Courses, workshops and seminars can help you better align your capabilities with current demand.

To stay up to date on recent trends, technologies and in-demand skills, make a habit of reading IT publications and Web sites. Participating in professional associations can also help you remain aware of current IT challenges and opportunities.

Refocus your résumé

Your résumé primarily determines whether you get invited for an interview, so make sure yours clearly conveys what you can do for the employer in the specific position at hand. Instead of attempting to hide your time away from IT, focus on emphasizing your strengths. A combination functional/chronological résumé, which first lists your most relevant skills and then presents your work history, may be the most effective choice. When invited for an interview, be prepared to honestly discuss your absence from the workforce.

On your résumé, include any volunteer work you've done since you left work. IT departments operating on lean budgets often seek well-rounded candidates who can go beyond the technical requirements of a position, so be sure to emphasize any leadership, negotiation or communication skills you've gained in unpaid roles. Also mention professional organizations you belong to or industry events you've attended. Employers want specific examples of how you've remained active and engaged during your hiatus.

Reinvigorate your network

Let all your former colleagues know about your plans to rejoin the workforce, and enlist their help in finding opportunities. Get out and meet new people by attending trade shows and meet-and-greet events. The connection that finally leads to a job offer may come from an unforeseeable source, so spread the word freely, not only to those inside the industry. When networking, always keep an eye out for how you might help others -- doing so will help keep your spirits up while building long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships.

Reconsider your options

Consider broadening your objectives to include contract- or project-based work. Such positions give you a chance to ease back into the workforce, get a firsthand sense of today's IT environment and evaluate potential employers before committing to a full-time position. A specialized staffing firm can help connect you with opportunities that suit your talents and preferences without interrupting your pursuit of training or full-time work.

While your job search may require a bit more work than it does for those with an uninterrupted work history, approaching potential hurdles head-on will help you present yourself to employers in the most favorable light. A positive attitude and flexibility about your goals will also go a long way toward helping you find an opportunity that restarts your IT career in a positive direction.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.

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