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Recession-Proof Your IT Gig

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Dec 11, 2008


Drew Robb
Sadly, an awful lot of IT staff got jettisoned as the big financial companies shed staff in record numbers in November. There have been plenty of job losses strictly within the technology sector, too, in recent months.

Career and Staffing: Sometimes ensuring employment (or finding a new job) is as straight-forward as broadening your skill set -- think adding Linux to your Unix arsenal. Other times, it pays to look at growth areas outside the box, like sales.

This is not a good climate to be looking for work, and the bloodletting is far from over. More casualties are likely in the coming months.

Each month, this column will provide a tip or two to help those in IT find a new position or make suggestions to help them retain the job they have.

Doubling Up

Say you have been a backup administrator since the Middle Ages and know that field inside out — or you are a server manager specializing in UNIX. In a tight market, it's critical to broaden your skill set. Add in a new platform such as Linux, or an extra facet such as SAN management, or perhaps something completely different like security expertise.

This applies equally to those still fortunate enough to have work. If you widen your scope enough, maybe you will be retained while others are let go. Similarly, if you don't have employment, adding to your skills can only help your resume.

There are many ways to go about this. Lots of good certifications are available from a wide range of industry bodies. Vendor certifications can also be valuable. Going back to school evenings, if you are employed during the day, is another possibility.

It might also help to get some real-world experience to back this up. Volunteer to do IT for a non-profit, church group or society, and learn your new field in a non-critical environment. After a few months, you'll have figured out the basics and be well on your way to mastery. This also gives you something sensible to say to those embarrassing questions about how you've been spending your time since your last job. Your answer may even seal the deal.

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As far as what skills to add, take a deep breath — the answer may not appeal to you. A recent study by career site Jobfox found that recruiters are most often looking for sales people and business development personnel. Now, if you "hate" sales, maybe it's time to reconsider. Take a sales course and gain some sales experience. You don't have to become a sales rep. There are loads of pre-sales, sales engineering and sales support positions around that demand a high degree of tech savvy. By marrying your existing skills with a little sales know-how, you automatically become more employable.

For example, many vendors have skilled individuals in presales who help customers with product demos or setting up test environments inside their own data centers. Such jobs come under the sales umbrella but don't necessarily demand a lot of direct sales. Similarly, there are sales positions designed to ensure a smooth implementation. You grease the sales process by setting up a new system in the customer's environment and stay alert for upsell opportunities. These positions require the ability to interact with customers and listen to them, as opposed to the ability to close million-dollar deals.

For those who really don't want to venture beyond the tech perimeter, the top purely tech positions most in demand at the moment are software design and development, followed by network or system administration, and then IT executive positions, such as CIO or CTO. Adding any of these zones to your current talents could pay dividends. A network admin could perhaps consider learning system admin skills (and vice versa) as a way of increasing value to the organization or a prospective employer.

Next month: Flying Solo — How to turn a job loss into an opportunity to launch that company you've always thought about.

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