Land an IT job: Tips from recent hires

Four IT workers who recently found new jobs describe their hard-won success and offer a view from the street.

It's no secret to most technology professionals that the IT job market has outperformed other fields in the past few years, with unemployment rates much lower than the national average.

Yet IT hiring trends are subject to ups and downs, as is the case in any other field. So landing a new job is never a sure thing, with timing, geographic location and professional connections still influencing how smoothly and quickly the process proceeds.

Moreover, companies aren't necessarily quick to expand their staffs, even in growth areas like IT. Several labor market analysts reported that IT hiring fell in September, while others have predicted only limited growth in the fourth quarter. According to staffing firm Robert Half Technology, only 9% of the 1,400 U.S. CIOs surveyed for its IT Hiring Index and Skills Report expect to expand their IT departments, while 6% anticipate cutbacks.

Still, there are jobs to be had. Here are four IT professionals who recently landed new gigs and have tips on how to make it happen.

Derailed Near Retirement, Now Back on Track

Tom Kirkham

New job: Senior project manager, Maximus

Search: One of the first emails he sent to former colleagues on the day he was laid off eventually led to his current job.

Compromise: More travel

Surprise: How many opportunities there are in IT given the overall high unemployment numbers.

Advice: Prepare a skills-based resume (rather than a chronological one).

As a four-decade veteran of the IT profession, Tom Kirkham has experienced his share of layoffs. But he was still surprised on June 20 when his bosses told him he was being let go from his position as a senior business analyst at TIAA-CREF after eight years on the job.

"We knew there would be layoffs, but I didn't expect it to be me," he says, adding that he had hoped to retire from the financial services firm in four years, when he turned 66.

Even though he was blindsided by the news, and therefore a bit unprepared to begin job hunting, Kirkham says he was quickly ready to move forward. He had learned from past experiences to keep his resume up to date and save lists of professional contacts and companies he wanted to target on his home computer.

Kirkham also learned what worked and what didn't. "I've had very poor success going out to Monster and other resume sites," he says. "So I'd collect the names of companies I was interested in, and I'd search the companies' websites for open positions and reformat my resume to tailor it to [each] job description."

He sent emails to about 20 or so IT professionals in his network, and he used exercises in the popular job hunters' book What Color is Your Parachute? to help plan his career path, something he regularly did when moving between jobs in the past.

He acknowledged that job hunting can be disheartening.

"It's a depressing process. You send in all these resumes, you talk to recruiters and you go in for interviews and you hear nothing. It's really an exercise in keeping your spirits up and carrying on," he says, adding that he treats job hunting as a full-time occupation.

But as bleak as the outlook seemed to be, Kirkham had his limits. He was unwilling to relocate from North Carolina, because he and his wife, a nurse practitioner, liked the area and wanted to stay put.

Despite those geographic restrictions, Kirkham's approach to finding a new job quickly paid dividends. One of the colleagues he had emailed the day he was laid off replied within days, telling him about an open position. Kirkham sent in his resume and soon landed a telephone interview.

Maximus, a Reston, Va.-based provider of government services, offered him a job early in the summer, one of two offers Kirkham got by tapping into professional connections.

"Certainly the personal contact helped, but having experience in IT and interviewing with managers who valued that experience helped a lot, too," he says. Kirkham started as a senior project manager at Maximus on Aug. 6.

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