If you're seeking work in today's competitive IT environment, you've probably received some conflicting advice about the best ways to go about finding it. Some colleagues and friends may swear by online networking tools such as LinkedIn or Twitter. Others may insist that you're doomed without an enthusiastic referral from an insider. Job boards, IT trade publications and even employer Web sites all have their advocates as well.
The reality is that it's difficult to predict exactly where your next job will come from. You may spend hours painstakingly targeting your résumé and cover letter to match numerous openings, only to eventually find a position thanks to a casual conversation with your cousin's neighbor's friend. By exploring a broad range of paths, you give yourself an advantage over professionals who stick to one or two well-traveled routes.
Choosing your tactics
Taking a multipronged approach doesn't mean you should blindly pursue every possible source of job leads. On the contrary: The sheer number of ways to find technology employment makes it essential to carefully select the methods you'll be investing your time in.
You might start by surveying friends and colleagues (using Facebook, for example) about how they arrived at their current position. Some of their answers might surprise you, triggering novel ideas for reaching employers.
Every source of job leads has its advantages and disadvantages. Try to establish a mix of tools — specialized and general, large and small, local and national, online and off. Keep in mind that in general, the smaller and more specialized the source, the less time you're likely to spend sifting through irrelevant leads. The same applies to geographic focus: The want ads in a local business publication may feel passé, but their intense local focus may make them worth a look.
Another way to broaden the range of opportunities available to you is to register with a specialized IT staffing firm. Such firms effectively double your job search efforts, rather than interrupting your own networking and research. Their long-standing relationships with employers enable them to connect you with opportunities that may not be posted elsewhere. Staffing firms also provide career advice and training to help you enhance your marketability.
Trace your steps
A multifaceted job search can quickly become overwhelming if you don't keep track of your efforts. Take a few minutes out of each day to update a document or spreadsheet in which you briefly note the source of any new potential opportunity, the action taken and any planned next steps. Doing so might feel unnecessary, but it will help you identify redundant efforts and dead ends. It can also provide a sense of accomplishment on days when you don't receive encouraging responses from network contacts or potential employers.
Never stop networking
While there may be no single "best" way to find a job, there is one proven concept that underlies many successful job searches: maintaining a strong, active network. Rather than merely seeking opportunities, you should also be working to make sure opportunities can find you. As with the sources of job listings you use, establish diversity by networking both online and off, socially and professionally. For example, you might use Twitter to make plans to meet other professionals at in-person networking events.
Throughout your networking efforts, always consider how you might be able to help others. For example, if a recruiter contacts you through LinkedIn about an opportunity that isn't right for you, ask yourself if you can provide a reference to a more suitable member of your network. By helping others, you establish yourself as a well-connected team player and increase the number of people who will keep you in mind when they hear of opportunities.
Networking is also the most reliable way to keep pessimism at bay. Hearing about others' successes and failures can help you see your job search in its proper context, rather than as a reflection of your professional or personal worth.
Whichever paths you take in your job search, keep in mind that your journey won't end when you find your next position. The more fellow travelers you meet, the more likely you'll be to keep traveling forward throughout your career.
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.