Career Watch

Q&A: 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. [See chart below.]

In our quarterly Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report, 8% of CIOs polled said they plan to expand their IT departments in the second quarter. Those that plan to hire cited reasons such as the increased need for customer/end-user support, rising workloads, corporate growth or expansion, and system 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. Be specific about the skills you can offer and the 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.

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.

Another good way to double up your job search effort is by registering with a specialized staffing firm. They often can open doors to opportunities that haven't been advertised. You can build skills and earn money by taking on project assignments, many of which can turn into full-time roles.

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 Bureau of Labor Statistics. While many companies have downsized, they are experiencing rising IT workloads. And as the economy turns around, there will likely be pent-up demand for IT projects that were 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, through project or volunteer work, taking online classes or achieving a professional certification.

-- Jamie Eckle

Better Than Average

Q1 2009 unemployment rates for select technology positions

National average for all industries 8.4%
Database administrators 6.1%
Computer scientists and systems analysts 5.7%
Network systems and data communications analysts 5.4%
Computer support specialists 5.3%
Network and computer systems administrators 4.3%
Computer software engineers 4.2%
Computer and information systems managers 4.0%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Jobs by Gender

The technology positions held most frequently by men and women.

Rank Women Men
1 Business analyst IT management*
2 Project manager Systems administrator
3 Quality assurance tester Software engineer
4 Programmer/analyst Project manager
5 Developer, applications Programmer/analyst
*Includes CEO, CIO, CTO, vice president, strategist and architect
Source: Dice's 2008-09 Tech Salary Survey, April 2009

Compiled by Jamie Eckle.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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