Advance your IT career during tough times

Advance Your Career in Tough Times2009 saw a significant downturn in the economy and flowed through the job market. Hardest hit was the finance sector, with IT also suffering. Many previously mooted large IT projects were put on hold or taken off the table. Many organisations downsized or decided not to replace departing employees. This increased the workload on those remaining, but put them in a invidious position to accept this modern day promotion (more responsibility with no increase in pay) for recognition that there was no greener grass elsewhere…

Having suffered through your companies downsizing with a flat employment market, there are still strategies you can use to move your career forward. We’ve gathered tips from career experts about how you can use this downtime to your best advantage. Think about it over the summertime, put these tips into practice, and you’ll be ready to advance your career when the IT world starts turning again hopefully first quarter 2010.

Time to think: What do you want?

“There’s not a lot of movement,” said Andrea Kay, a career consultant, author, and columnist. “This is not to say there aren’t companies hiring, but if you’re working and you’re feeling pretty secure about where you are now, use this time to think about what would be a more ideal situation for you and create a vision of what that is.”

Kay said most people are in such a hurry, they don’t take the time to think about what they really want. In the current climate, IT pros can either work to solidify their positions within their current company or prepare for a move. Most of all, you want to convey the impression that you bring value that exceeds the dollar amount of your paycheck, she said.

Start with research, both near and far

The first step to moving your career forward is research. Always make sure you know what is going on in your occupation, in your field, in terms of new technologies and advancing technologies.

It’s important to know what’s going on in the tech sector at large, but also what’s happening in your own IT circles. That includes what goes on in other departments within your own organisation.

Network now, not after you’ve been canned

It is becoming widely recognised the benefits of networking (done well, not like a speed dating event). I am a big proponent of networking, but not the way most people do it. The time to network is before you need to. Most people wait until they’re desperate or until they think they’re going to be laid off.

If you start planting seeds now, when that opening comes around, you’re going to be thought of before the people who haven’t put their face and credentials in front of those hiring. For more information around networking, refer to an earlier article –

Think beyond your job description

Remember that you may have a plethora of opportunities for career advancement within your current organisation. You can position yourself to climb the ladder right where you are just by ensuring that your employer thinks you’re worth more than what it costs to keep you. It’s especially important to have the right attitude toward extra work and new projects.

“The people who have the most value will be sought after when there is a big hiring wave again,” Kay said. “The people who are most valued by their present employers are the people who can make the company as efficient and as effective as possible. That’s what you should be sitting there thinking about, not just doing your so-called job.”

Learn to emphasise the impact of your accomplishments

One way to increase your value is to make yourself valuable in other areas within your company. If a company must downsize, it will choose to keep you over someone else based on the “continued or enhanced value you’re going to bring,” Kay said.

You should always be looking for ways to make whatever you do better and more effective for the company, even if it doesn’t mean a new title or more pay, Kay said. Remember that your efforts make their product or service more competitive and help them become a better company. This practice is the “personnel version” of return on investment, and it gets attention, she said.

Be able to communicate the value you bring

Not only should you strive to bring greater value to your employer and business, but you should be able to communicate effectively about what you’ve brought to your team. Most people don’t have a very good answer when asked, “Why should I hire you?” Kay said.

She suggests that instead of touting the myriad applications you’re familiar with, you should be talking about the differences you’ve made in your company. You should be able to communicate the value and impact you’ve had on your organisation.

Kay suggested that you practice providing an answer that includes “impact” by writing out, in a sentence or two, how you’ve increased revenue, efficiency, or morale by creating a new process, suggesting some new software, and so on.

This article was based on an old TechRepublic article I had saved from last time there was a downturn in the market. Whilst the market is on the rise and 2010 looks promising, the lessons contained are still valuable.