How to find that IT Job

So, you’ve studied your brains out. You’ve set up a home lab. You’ve installed, configured, troubleshot, and maintained computers. You’ve acquired the certifications. Now it’s time for the payoff, that IT job. But finding that IT job may be more difficult than you imagined. In fact, most people agree that finding an IT job is harder work than the actual job itself! You could say that it’s a job all its own – one you don’t get paid for! This article is designed to help you find IT work quicker and easier. I’ll give you 10 pieces of advice that I have implemented over the years. Of course, there are no guarantees, but this same advice has helped many of my students and website readers to find employment. Let’s go!

1. Build an awesome resume/CV

You’ve gotta have a killer resume. It’s imperative. There are plenty of free resume websites out there that can help you to design a professional, eye-grabbing resume. A quick Google search will yield a ton of results. When you do search, narrow your search to specific phrases such as “IT resume” or even more specific phrases such as “Systems Engineer Resume”. I’m sure I’ll write a separate article about this topic at some point, but for now I’ll give a general synopsis of what has worked for me and other IT professionals that I know.

First, keep your resume short and to the point. In general, resumes should not be more than a page, unless you have a lot of experience. If you want to showcase yourself in a greater fashion, consider developing a curriculum vitae (CV). In the United States, these are much more comprehensive than a standard resume. In other countries this might not be the case; however this article focuses on finding IT jobs in the US. Anyways, the resume should be concise – think about it: a person hiring for an IT job will probably get a lot of resumes. Accordingly, these people will quickly scan each resume. Some employers only look at a resume for 5 seconds before deciding to pursue it or discard it.

So next, you need to make your resume easy to read, and place your best foot forward at the beginning of the resume. If you have a lot of experience, consider a quick two sentence career summary at the beginning, followed by the list of work experience. If you are new to the IT field, consider a profile, or a skill set section in the beginning of your resume, but again, keep it short and sweet.

When developing your resume, use strong adjectives that give an energetic description of yourself. Define clearly what you have accomplished at previous workplaces.

Remember that certifications are great, but you shouldn’t rely on them to get you a job. In order of applicability, I recommend listing work experience first, then any appropriate IT degrees, and then certifications. If your resume is limited, consider internships, part-time IT work, or even helping out at an IT company for little or no pay, as long as they will give you a good reference.

Finally, after you have developed your resume, ask other for advice about it. Employment agencies have people that can help you produce a more effective resume. IT recruiters might be able to help as well, but anyone with resume experience should be able to give you some pointers. Consider their advice carefully and decide whether it works for you.

2. Get references

References prove your work history. They prove that you are the person that you say you are at an interview. Proper references come from previous employers or customers. Be sure that the referring person understands that companies might contact them, and keep in contact with your references every 6 months to a year to thank them and make sure that it is still ok to use them as a reference. The referring person should be available for a company to contact by phone (preferably) or by e-mail. Keep the originals and make copies for any prospective companies that are interested in you.

3. Create a portfolio

A portfolio can help to sell you to a prospective employer. Like the saying goes “a picture says a thousand words.” It’s true, a copy of your certificate, a picture of a computer you built, or a network that you troubleshot will go a long way to proving your credibility. The portfolio should include the following:

Resumes (on resume paper), enough to give to a ½ dozen people at once. I have to stress the importance of using resume paper here. It is expensive but helps your resume to stand out, and is at a level of professionalism that companies expect.

• CV if necessary

• References (and copies)

• Certifications (and copies)

• Pictures of previous work

• other letters of recommendation

• other accommodations and awards

You might even decide to make an entire copy of the portfolio to give to an interviewer. But this can be expensive, reserve handing these out unless the interview went well.

4. Search everywhere!

Work could come from the most unlikely places. You never know when it might hit you out of the blue. Keep resumes in your car or in your carry bag at all times. But otherwise, you need to search like crazy. Here are some places and tools that you have at your disposal:

• Word of mouth: You’d be surprised how many jobs are filled by word of mouth, in fact more than any other way. Tell your family, friends, associates, and anyone else you can think of that you are looking for IT work. You never know what might pop up!

• Newspapers: yup, organizations still advertise in the newspaper. Get out that red pen and highlighter! Keep old newspapers classified sections so you can compare jobs that have been relisted. You don’t want to send your resume to the same place twice! See the get organized section later. A lot of newspaper ads want you to mail your resume, so be prepared with envelopes, stamps and no where your local Post Office is. If you drop them off with the post office they will probably get to their destination faster.

• Job Websites: You’ve heard of all the job websites out there: Monster, Careerbuilder, and so on. Unfortunately, job websites account for a pretty small percentage hirings in the IT sector (which would seem counter-intuitive, nonetheless). There is a lot to weed out when you go to these websites, so you must be patient. Also, I recommend keeping your profiles on these website private. If you allow public browsing, you could get bothered by all the wrong people, yuck. You might actually have to select private in the settings of your account so be sure to check.
There are a ton of job websites out there but I would narrow the field by focusing the bulk of your time on IT related job sites such as: Dice.com, JustTechJobs.com, ITJobs.net, and ComputerWork.com. I, and associates and students of mine have had decent success with those sites in the past. However, don’t discount sites such as Monster and Careerbuilder, but don’t count on them either. Do quick daily searches (or view your agent) and move on. There’s so much content on these sites that you might spend your time better checking out other avenues.

• Other websites: Get access to other sites as well. Craiglist is known as the online classifieds website. Connect through sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn to build your social network and possibly find employment. And don’t forget to go to actual companies’ websites where you may find job postings as well. <!–

• State agencies: Many states not only have unemployment agencies, but also employment agencies. They quite often are in the same building, or perhaps one per county at the county seat. These agencies are set up to help you find work and become a productive member of the municipality. Some have their own private intranet with their own job listings that cannot be found anywhere else. Speak to an employment agency representative or counselor for details.

• Job fairs: Check out job fairs. They might be advertised in the paper, on websites, or on billboards. Just be careful, some of them are a waste of time. Review the particular job fair on the Internet before attending.

• Computer communities: Consider joining computer communities that meet locally at colleges or other technical institutions, or ones that meet online. Think about joining forums such as techrepublic, Tom’s hardware or Maximum PC (those are just a few examples, there are literally hundreds). Think about going to computer shows (Market Pro is a common one, do a search for “computer shows” to find others). This is more on the periphery of the job search, but it will increase your learning, and you might meet people that could help with your job search as well.

• Headhunters: I put this last because there are so many un-reputable headhunters. By the way, these companies are known as Employment Agencies, Job Placement Firms, or Consulting agencies as well). Most are in it for the quick buck, and don’t really know much about you, the position you want, or the positions they have in their database. Use them, but be very careful and security conscious. Make sure that you fully understand any contract before signing, and be especially sure of how and when you get paid! Also, be sure to understand how benefits (if any) work.

This list is in no way finite. Always keep your eyes open for other methods of looking for work.

5. Get organized

You might do this on your computer, on paper, on your smartphone, on graph paper, on an excel spreadsheet, in a database, who knows! How you organize your affairs is your business! But the more organized you are, the more time you will have to search for jobs, and perhaps have some fun time leftover as well. It is easy to get in a rut when searching for work. Being organized can help you to define specifically when job search time is and when your personal time is.

Personally, when I was job seeking I would always keep a spreadsheet with each place I contacted on a separate row. I would record the company name, contact, phone, e-mail, what I had done so far, as well as status. That spreadsheet was a life saver for me, really helped me to keep things together and not duplicate my efforts. And if don’t have Office, have no fear, you can use spreadsheets on Gmail or similar services. Syncs up to the smartphone really well too.

6. Practice your interview skills

All the work you put in up to this point can be undone in 30 seconds at the interview. I don’t mean to make you more nervous than you already may be, so I have taken the time to list a few things to remember when going to an interview:

• Number ONE! Be prompt! ‘nuff said. But I’ll add more anyway ? You should really be early. You never know if there will be paperwork to fill out, or other matters to take care of (yes, even if it is just a first interview).

• Number two: Be courteous. I can’t stress this enough. If you interrupt an interviewer for any reason, the interview is as good as over. Make sure your phone is silent. Be patient, observant, and understanding. Interviews are often hectic and disorganized. This is a good sign. If the company is in somewhat of a state of chaos, this means that they probably need you! If you are patient and understanding of the company’s predicament (and trust me, most companies are in a predicament of some sort almost all the time), then they will be much more likely to let their guard down, and accept you into their circle. Of course, too much disorganization could be a bad sign. And keep in mind that some companies will have the interview process down to a science. Others may look calm, but it could be a false façade.

• Number three: Speak in controlled, complete sentences. They should be simple and concise. There will be plenty of time to get more technical on the second interview.

• Number four: dress appropriately. I’ve put this farther down the list because from my experience it is not nearly as important as the others, plus it is common sense, if you show up in a Bon Jovi t-shirt, you will probably not get the job, and you just might get laughed out of the building.

• Number five: Know your stuff. Investigate the company beforehand. Know what they do, be well informed. Write down what similarities you and the company have. This leads to reasons why you believe you should work for the company.

That’s just a few tips, there are lots more interview techniques that you can find simply by searching the web. CompTIA has a helpful article here.

7. Look and act the part

This is more than just how you dress. It’s how you present yourself, how you walk and talk. You should be an expert, but not one that needs to show their expertise, that would be seen as weakness. Be confident but watch out for over-confidence, it might come across as a sign of self-doubt. Remember that you are not a part of the organization yet, and that it has goals which you need to prove you can be a working part of. It’s not about you on the interview, its about how you can help the organization.

8. Be persistent

Here’s an equation that might make you cringe, but it is par for the course when it comes to searching for IT jobs.

1000 resumes = 10 interviews = 1 job offer

That’s right. 1000 resumes, and you might not even like the job offer. Keep in mind this could be more or less depending on market conditions and so on. But the equation above is the average so you have to be prepared for it. This really means sending out 30 resumes a day. Every day. That’s right, 30 a day. Send out resumes like a tiger. Just be sure that the places you are sending to are accepting them. Don’t get down on yourself if you don’t hear back from a company, or worse if you are rejected. It happens to everyone, happened to me more than once. (Must have been my sarcastic attitude?) Look at why any rejections occurred, and try to improve for the next time. To me, job hunting and interviewing is kind of like bowling. If you don’t do it all the time, you’ll get rusty. So it takes some time to get into the groove of the job hunt.

Re-contact people you have interviewed with. You don’t want to be pushy, but sometimes an interviewer will simply forget about you, even if you had a great interviewer. Call back and ask to speak to the interviewer, thank them for the chance to speak to them, and ask for any status. (It can’t hurt unless you call every day!) Be courteous and if there is no decision, ask if you can call back at a later date. Add that information to your organizer (calendar, what have you), and be sure to call back if they are ok with that. I personally closed two excellent jobs in this manner and I would have been passed over if I hadn’t done so.

You must also remember that certain times of year are more difficult to find jobs, specifically Thanksgiving through February 15th, and during August. The former is because companies hire less (due to financial reporting, end of year, and so on). The latter is due to the fact that many people are on vacation. And then there are those dark times where it seems like no one cares about you or your resume, and no e-mails come into your inbox. Persevere! Use that time to send out more resumes, attend job fairs, computer shows, or learn more about the IT field. Again, I’m telling you that it will pay off in the long run.

9. Don’t listen to the naysayers.

People that say they can’t find work due to the economy, or out-sourcing, or whatever else are simply being negative (and probably lazy.) 9 times out of ten, those same people don’t apply the things I’ve said in this article, especially the one about being persistent. Don’t listen to them, jobs are out there, they always have been and always will be. And if not, then that means our country and economy have completely collapsed. I don’t expect that to happen in the near future, and IT jobs would be the least of our worries if it does.

So be positive, keep a bright outlook, and keep hammering away. Something will surface and you will be rewarded for your hard work. To help in your pursuit of long term job security I will share with you my two deadliest secrets. First, keep learning. You need to grow with the IT field, otherwise you will stagnate. Second, specialize (more about that at this article). Specialization is the real key to commanding respect in the IT workplace. (OK, not so deadly, but they WORK!)

10. Be prepared for the long haul

Finally, finding a job is usually an arduous process, and the IT market is one of the toughest. You should be ready to spend at least 20 hours a week (perhaps even 40 or more) looking for that elusive IT job. This will depend on your schedule and other factors of course. But be prepared to do this week after week… after week. The total length of time that you spend looking will depend on job market conditions, your geographic area, and the time of year. You never know; you might get lucky and get an offer for an acceptable job right away, but that is rare. Be ready to search for 3 to 6 months or even more. More experienced IT persons will usually take less time to find an IT job, but less experienced IT persons, and especially newbies, will take longer. You may have to work part or full time during your search. But regardless of your current personal demands, you must be diligent. Everyday, you must keep “pounding the pavement” so to speak. Whenever it becomes frustrating, look at the big picture and realize that it will all be worth it in the long run, and that your investment of time, money and energy was not a waste. Trust me on this; it’s a matter of faith – faith in yourself.

Well, that was a wordy article. Hope you gained something from it.
Good luck and good skill to you in your job search!

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