How IT Candidates Get Noticed – Part 2: Preparing for opportunities, adapting expectations and creating options for growth
Candidates currently looking for interesting government contracting work are faced with an unfamiliar environment: where there was once a seemingly endless demand for ‘tried and true technical skills,’ many openings currently available are less focused on depth of experience and more attuned to the rapidly evolving tools, frameworks and technologies of the past few years. Although this shift is most acute in software engineering, it is also being felt in other IT fields.
As an IT professional, this is what you can do to capture a recruiter’s attention and keep your career moving forward:
- Know thyself. Take a realistic assessment of your background – what do you know well, and what would you like to be doing? What criteria matters the most to you (i.e., location, stability, team mates, specific technologies/domains, benefits, flexible hours, pay, potential for leadership, etc.)? If you do not know what you are looking for it will be hard for someone to help you find it.
- Be passionate. Staying on top of emerging trends in the field requires dedication to it. If the technologies and methodologies you are using have grown stale, make the time to learn new ones. Ask your coworkers, managers and friends what they like, and go from there. One night a week spent learning, practicing and honing your craft will pay dividends.
- Be pragmatic. Largely gone are the days when becoming a Subject Matter Expert (SME) is the best route to job security. Well-rounded professionals who demonstrate continual learning prepare themselves for opportunities before their grasp of a new technology is mission critical. Technology can address all sorts of problems outside of the office, and those who find ways to ‘learn by doing’ demonstrate their resourcefulness and creativity.
- Share. If you can upgrade a non-profit’s technology infrastructure or applications, you are in a position to learn while you grow. For example, if you maintain UNIX systems at work, help out with Linux or Microsoft solutions outside of the office. Why not get involved with the Open Source community and fix a bug on an existing project? Serve as a mentor at your local school. Network. Attend a User’s Group for a technology or domain that interests you. Showcase your work through your web and social media presence.
- Adapt expectations. A few short years ago IT professionals expected and often received increased salaries when they changed jobs. Due to the changes in the federal IT sector detailed in Part 1 of this 2 part series, this is no longer sustainable. If salary is the most important motivator for you, be prepared to receive less of other things. As an engineer confided in me after she was promoted to Project Manager, “sometimes when somebody wants to pay you a lot of money, it’s because the work is no fun and that’s the only way to get good people to do it.” In her case, she did not want to sacrifice the enjoyable aspects of being an engineer for the salary increase she was given when she switched jobs. Another engineer told me about being recruited for a program which “paid great, but used tons of proprietary technologies which would make my skills grow stagnant and were non-transferrable.” In both cases, the engineers decided that the higher salaries offered did not offset the negative aspects of the positions offered.
- Create options. Take advantage of training opportunities and pursue relevant technical certifications. There are myriad free tutorials and eBooks that can introduce you to the emerging technologies, domains and methodologies in demand. If you have the option to obtain a (higher level) security clearance, take it. Seek out tasks that will present you with challenges you have not met before.
- Bring it together. If you followed the advice, be sure to mention it in your résumé. Include links to your Open Source contributions, your relevant volunteer experience, or whatever else you have done to demonstrate your passion, adaptability and growth.
In short, IT professionals who demonstrate technical curiosity (through taking classes, sharing their work, etc.), are engaged in learning a variety of technologies (rather than investing all of their energy in a narrow field), know what they are looking for (be it managerial responsibility, stability, variety of tasks, etc.), and are able to articulately convey their passion both in writing and verbally are more likely to get a recruiter’s attention…and get the job they want.
Senior Technical Recruiter