Switch Industries

As a programmer at Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, Mark Rathwell spends most of his time working with a proprietary scripting language. Problem is, he gets bored with his day-to-day work. Rathwell says he would like to become more involved with other languages he has learned during his six-year career at the East Lansing, Mich.-based financial institution, including C, C#, Java, PHP and Perl.

That's one of the reasons why Rathwell is in the process of creating his own IT consulting firm, where he can take on a variety of customers and help them address a mix of technical and business challenges.

"Realistically, it's the best opportunity for me to see new stuff and try new things on a regular basis," says Rathwell, who has already landed an online banking software company as a client. As a consultant, he says, "I can jump from industry to industry."

While striking out on your own isn't the right move for everyone, one option for IT professionals who are looking for a change -- and more money -- is to make the leap into a higher-paying industry. According to this year's Salary Survey results, the construction and engineering industries offer the highest average pay increases (4.9%) across the two-dozen industries represented in the study. Business services/consulting (4.4%), defense/aerospace (4.4%) and entertainment/marketing (4.3%) also offer compensation increases that are higher than the average 3.5%.

There's strong demand for IT professionals in both the energy and health care industries, says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology. There are also opportunities for IT workers at law firms and corporate legal departments, which are storing ever-increasing volumes of data to meet regulatory requirements, says Spencer Lee.

Still, she recommends that IT professionals do research on each of the industries they're considering and examine whether their skills are a good fit. That process can include using online search engines to learn about industry trends, attending user group meetings for IT professionals in a particular sector, and picking the brains of friends and peers who work in other business domains, says Spencer Lee.

Tisa Knight-Chandler likes the idea of working for her local city -- in this case, Suffolk, Va., where she's been a network coordinator for the past year. But Knight-Chandler says she's fairly certain that she'll have to pursue a job in the private sector if she's going to have any chance at increasing her income and moving into a supervisory role after earning her master's degree in information systems from Strayer University in nearby Virginia Beach.

Within the city's IT organization, "everything is based on 'this person has been here for 20 years' and 'this person is going to be the next director,' " says Knight-Chandler. "So I don't see the opportunity for moving up in the IT department [here]."

She also recognizes the trade-offs that a move to the private sector might entail. "There are lots of good things about working in the private sector, like making more money," says Knight-Chandler. "But in the public sector, if I need to leave work to pick up one of my kids from school, I can do that."

Next: 5. Get a salary-enhancing certification.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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