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On The Job: Ten IT Job-hunting Truisms Page 2
Truism #5: Who you know can help
Almost everyone hates office politics (except perhaps for the office politicians). Techies, more than most, loathe the notion that "it's not what you know, it's who you know" that counts in getting a job or promotion. In a perfect world, the boss's nephew would not be treated any differently from any other employee.
Most of us don't live or work in a perfect world, though, we're stuck with the real one. You may not have an uncle in the IT business, and I wouldn't advise that you go out and marry the HR director's daughter just to get a job. But who you know does matter, and who knows you matters even more.
Networking professionals will find their job searches much easier if they practice a little of the old-fashioned kind of "networking." The more people you get to know in the business, the more likely one of them will be able to put in a good word for you when you're looking for a job. All things being equal, most employers prefer to hire someone who comes with a recommendation from someone they know. A huge percentage of all open positions are filled through this informal word-of-mouth process rather than from candidates coming in "cold" off the street or in response to newspaper ads and the like.
One of the best things you can do for your career is to establish a good network of friends and acquaintances that are already working in the industry. How do you do that? Join professional organizations, participate in Internet mailing lists and newsgroups, "hang out" where the other IT pros go. Get your name out there - with a positive connotation. Be someone who's known as a team player, agreeable, easy to get along with, always eager to help. That reputation will come back to help you in your job hunt.
Note: a corollary to the above is that a negative reputation will come back to haunt you in the same situation. Think twice before you get into a flame war on a public MCSE mailing list. One of those lurkers who reads your invective and writes you off as a hot-head just might be the hiring authority at the next company where you apply for a job.
Truism #6: You have to pay your dues
We covered this in the IT job-hunting myths, but it's worth revisiting. In a tight market, you might be able to land your first job making $50-60K, but don't count on it. Most of us had to pay our dues in this business by starting out at a lower salary than we'd have liked and proving that we were worth the big bucks.
Don't balk at accepting a job that pays $35K when you have no experience in the field. Even if you were making $15K more in your old occupation, if it's not related to IT, you have to accept that you're starting over and you're a "newbie" again. The good news is that if you work hard and prove to be a team player, the dues-paying phase usually doesn't last long. You don't have to spend years scraping at bottom-of-the-barrel wages like an M.D. suffering through internship and residency to get to the "brass ring" of private practice. Most people who start out low, after six months to a year of solid experience, are able to negotiate a substantial increase with their current employer or move on to another organization at significantly higher pay.
Remember: patience is a virtue.
Truism #7: Hey, they expect me to work
Back when the MCSE training program recruiter was regaling you with tales of how getting that piece of paper would take you instantly from rags to riches, he/she forgot to mention something: network administration is a lot of - (watch out, scary word ahead) - work.
The reason IT professionals are generally well paid is that they generally work hard. Long hours are the norm; going home at the stroke of 5:00 is not. Expect to wear a pager and be called in on weekends when the network "burps." Don't be surprised to find yourself slaving away until after midnight when the server goes down, and then back on the job again at 8:00 the next morning to be sure all your users are able to log on.
The life of a networking pro is not a life of leisure. If you're not something of a workaholic, maybe a little obsessive-compulsive about getting everything just right, you might be happier in another line of work.
Truism #8: There's more than one fish in the sea
And there's more than one company in need of IT workers. Some job-hunters get their sights set on one particular organization and see it as the Mecca of their career plans. "I'm getting my certification so I can go to work for Microsoft/Cisco/EDS [insert "dream company" of your choice]" is a shortsighted goal that can narrowly limit your chances for success.
Be open to opportunities - even if they come from quarters where you would least expect to find them. It may not be as glamorous to say "I'm the network administrator for the ABC Widget Company," but what if the job includes a big corner office, four weeks of vacation, great working conditions, stock options, and a starting salary twice what you would make at the company of your dreams?
This truism is a good one to keep in mind later in your career, too. In this industry, being labeled a "job hunter" is not the kiss of death that it is - or used to be - in some fields. Don't feel you have to find the perfect job match before you can accept a position because once you take it, you can't ever make a change. Company loyalty is great - if the company inspires that loyalty by treating its employees well. If it doesn't, there is no shame in moving on to something better.
Accepting a job is not like getting married (or rather, like getting married is supposed to be). There is no "'til death do we part" clause.
Truism #9: Money is not the only great motivator
There is more to a job offer than the salary. Sure, money matters. More of it is usually better than less. But a job carries with it many other tangible and intangible benefits that you should weigh in deciding whether to accept an offer.
"Fringe bennies" can make up almost as much of a company's employee expenses as the salary itself. Insurance, paid time off, paid training, free parking or transportation, free meals, a company car, use of the corporate condo or corporate jet - all of these and other "creative" employee benefits add monetary value to the salary package (although you probably shouldn't expect to see those last ones until your career takes you into the rarified air of the executive suite).
Another very important factor when comparing salaries for two job offers in different geographic locations is cost of living. How much are those dollars actually worth in the area where you'll be living? Is a $50K job in San Francisco a "better" offer than a $45K job in Houston, everything else being equal? Not hardly, when you consider that the same house that costs $100K in Houston will cost you over half a million dollars in San Francisco, and you'll be paying state income tax, too, if you take that SF job. Now, if you love and adore San Francisco and wouldn't live anywhere else, you might be willing to accept what is really a lower salary in terms of buying power. But be sure to consider all these factors, and not just look at the numbers alone.
Note: There are several websites that offer cost of living calculators, to allow you to compare salary requirements to maintain the same living standard in two different cities. I used the one at www.homefair.com to determine that a $50K salary in Houston is equivalent to $86K in San Francisco.
Truism #10: Persistence pays off
We've all heard it all our lives: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." Nowhere is this more true than in pursuing your dream job. Don't let one (or a hundred) rejections get you down. If you have the skills, if you have the personality, if you are willing to work hard and pay your dues, if you're willing to consider relocation, if you understand that you may not start out at an astronomical salary, if you put a little time and effort into building a good risumi, if you will get out there and network with other IT professionals, if you keep trying, you will get a job.