Best practices for getting hired in a downturn

Dave Willmer, the executive director of Robert Half Technology, discusses finding a job in a deep recession.

How is IT holding up in the downturn? Companies are downsizing, but IT has been more resilient than other areas. In fact, the unemployment rates for many positions within IT are significantly lower than the national average. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for computer software engineers for Q1 is 4.2%, or half the national average of 8.4% for the same period.

Dave Willmer

Our company also publishes on a quarterly basis the Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report, and 8% of CIOs polled said they plan to expand their IT departments in the second quarter of 2009; 6% expect staff cutbacks. The majority of respondents, 83%, plan to maintain current staffing levels. Those companies that plan to hire cited reasons such as the increased need for customer/end-user support, rising workloads, corporate growth or expansion, and systems upgrades. CIOs planning to reduce staff said the primary reasons are reduced IT budgets, postponed IT projects and companywide layoffs.

When companies are doing mass layoffs, it's even more difficult than usual to find another job. What can help? A good way to jump-start your search is to reach out to members of your professional network and let them know you're looking for work. Be specific about what skills you can offer a potential employer and what type of position you seek to give people a better chance of helping you. Candidates should take a high-touch and high-tech approach to networking. Be active at industry, business and community events, and explore online professional and social networking avenues like LinkedIn and Facebook to track down job leads on your own.

Better than average

National average for Q1 2009 8.4%
Computer and IS managers 4%
Computer scientists and systems analysts 5.7%
Computer software engineers 4.2%
Computer support specialists 5.3%
Database administrators 6.1%
Network and computer systems administrators 4.3%
Network systems and data communications analysts 5.4%

Q1 2009 unemployment rates for select technologies

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Make sure you update your résumé, and not just with details of your last job. Look at it from top to bottom to determine if it needs a complete overhaul. Employers want to see the quantitative results you've helped a company achieve, whether it's saving time or money, or improving IT efficiencies. This is important to convey in your résumé and cover letter, and during the interview.

Another good way to double up your job search efforts is by registering with a specialized staffing firm. Because of their long-standing relationship with employers in local business communities, they often can open doors to opportunities that haven't been advertised or announced. You can build skills and earn money by taking on project assignments, many of which can turn into full-time roles.

Are there geographic areas of the country where jobs are more plentiful? Our most recent IT Hiring Index and Skills Report found that technology executives in the Mountain region (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) anticipate the strongest hiring activity for the second quarter of 2009. Eighteen percent of CIOs there plan to add staff, and 8% foresee personnel reductions. The net 10% increase is eight points above the national average. When evaluating potential jobs in specific states or metropolitan areas, candidates should consider industries not just companies. For example, there may be opportunities in the government or health care sectors, especially with the stimulus package infusing billions of dollars into electronic medical records. Candidates who are open to moving to another state for a job should carefully evaluate the long-term prospects of the position, as well as other factors, such as real estate, cost of living, schools, commuting and weather.

Do you foresee a lot of people leaving the industry? IT is actually one of the safer professions to be in now and for the longer term. IT jobs continually beat the national unemployment average and post some of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, according to the BLS. While many companies have downsized, they are experiencing rising workloads in the IT department. And as the economy turns around, there will likely be pent-up demand for IT projects that were previously put on hold. While I don't foresee a large number of people leaving the IT industry for this reason, some may consider switching directions within the field.

For example, we recently surveyed 1,400 CIOs about their technology investment plans for 2009. Seven out of 10 said their companies will invest in IT initiatives, and information security topped the list, with 43% of the response. This was followed by virtualization (28%) and data center efficiency (27%). VoIP (26%), software as a service (26%) and green IT (20%) rounded out the top six investment areas. Job seekers may have greater opportunities in these areas, as long as they keep their skills current -- whether it's on the job, though project or volunteer work, taking online classes or achieving a professional certification.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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