7 IT career rules worth breaking

While they may not be written down, certain assumptions about how to succeed in the IT field have gained general acceptance. In today's difficult job market, it may feel especially risky to break these rules. But blindly adhering to them can actually hinder your career. Here are seven IT career rules made to be broken — or at least questioned:

1. Longer hours equal greater success. Hard work is a prerequisite for most IT positions, but that doesn't mean that more hours is always better. An extreme work schedule can actually lower your overall productivity by wearing you out and leading to burnout. Regularly working late also might be a sign that you're not managing your time well. Talk to your supervisor about reprioritizing projects, delegating assignments or bringing in extra resources.

Dave Willmer
Dave Willmer

2. Stick to one specialty and get great at it. IT will always rely on experts in specific technologies, but succeeding in today's environment also requires an ability to expand beyond your job description as needed. Don't pass up training opportunities or projects that can help round out your skill set. By demonstrating that you're eager to expand your core abilities, you make yourself more likely to be considered when a chance for advancement arises.

3. Grab any new responsibilities. On the other hand, a can-do attitude won't move your career forward if you take on work that you can't, in fact, do. Indiscriminately volunteering for projects that demand more than your current abilities can create headaches for the entire IT team. Ask yourself whether you have the appropriate skills and experience for the job. Instead of volunteering to lead a project, would it make more sense to play a supporting role in which you can learn as you go?

4. Always try to move up. It's easy to be blinded by a loftier title and higher salary, but before you accept a promotion or a change in your current role, consider all the ramifications of the change, including your work/life balance. Also think about the tasks you most enjoy: Will you be able to devote as much time to them? All advancement entails some uncertainty, but accepting a higher-level role just for the pay and prestige can sap your satisfaction and lead to a career dead end.

5. Rack up certifications. In a highly competitive IT job market, the urge to enhance your résumé in any way possible is understandable. To bolster your qualifications, you may be tempted to earn new certifications — any new certifications. But these credentials carry their full value only when they're paired with experience. Choose training opportunities and certifications that realistically enhance your ability to help your current or next employer.

6. Above all, impress your boss. IT reputations are built from the ground up. While you should always try to meet your manager's expectations, your day-to-day working relationships with colleagues are just as important. Assist your peers whenever you can without spreading yourself too thin. After all, they're the ones who can step in and help you meet a tight deadline. Chances are, your boss cares more about your ability to meet that deadline than your ability to kowtow.

7. Keep to yourself. If you're like many IT professionals, you're wary of being perceived as a gossip or social butterfly. But spending a little time every day to maintain personal connections with people throughout the organization is essential to the health of your career. These informal relationships strengthen your network and may open the door to unforeseeable opportunities.

Most of the "outlaw" behavior suggested above boils down to one simple concept: The best way to show that you're valuable is to be valuable. Focus on how you can deliver the most benefit to your employer, not on making sure everyone notices how hard you're working or what you've achieved. The most reliable way to keep your career moving forward is to build a track record of consistent success.

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. For additional career advice, follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalftech.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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