Over the past decade, we’ve witnessed a number of changes in the IT employment market: the ecstatic highs of the dot com boom, the plunge into recession, and now the slow climb through a recovery-era, high-skill demand. With the ever changing landscape that is information technology, we start to ask ourselves if there is such a thing as work stability within the IT workforce. Whether it’s full-time employment or contract staffing, the only certainty is the constancy of change. For all IT professionals, adapting to this change is vital to maintaining a sustainable work history. Some of the key areas to focus on in order to remain marketable through economic ups and downs include:
Stay current with skills. The most obvious marketable traits are the currency and relevancy of skills. Technologies come and go, as proven by the mega-ton mainframes from the 1970’s. We now have technologies on our phone that can process information more efficiently than the rooms full of servers and mainframes from just 40 years ago. Technology will change and it’s essential to stay current through training or employers’ technology migration programs. There is a minority argument that supports the “deep and wide” specialty-niche skill set concept, but history shows that an end-of-life will come at some point; just make sure that your retirement comes first.
Create a Personal Network. Technologists, by default, talk to machines all day. Programming, building applications, and designing network infrastructures all require that people tell computers what to do. However, expanding communication into the realm of the living is a crucial requirement for building a network that can help keep your marketability high. Without question, many people today still get hired because of who they know. Taking time to build connections, meet people, and to truly showcase your skills to a relevant community are just a few ways to build a strong personal network.
Get in front of people. Perhaps you’re not one to branch out and meet new people or to present to a crowd. Regardless, it might be worth stepping out of that comfort zone every once in a while by attending a user group meeting, or by presenting to a small audience. By freshening up communication and public speaking skills, your non-technology centric skills are fine-tuned for interviews or other venues that require oral speaking skills. Communication and presentation, or “soft skills”, are critically essential when evaluating comparably skilled technicians.
Become a Thought Leader. If public speaking isn’t your thing, build your digital presence by becoming a valued resource in a particular niche area. If you are very good at what you do and you know it, talk about it in a published format. When it comes time to interviewing or being assessed on your craft, you can point to articles, white papers and other publications that showcase your capabilities. Just make sure to check your ego at the door since sometimes over confidence can lead to a failed interview.
When it comes to creating stability, you must be in a position to convey personal differentiation along with skills that maintain marketability through economic peaks and valleys. Only a select few have the gift to stay highly marketable through these times. Even if you feel established and secure in your job, it’s always a good idea to think about what position you would be in if the market went south (an inevitable scenario). Is stability in your picture? Are you doing the necessary things to be a top contender when the competition is this plentiful and strong? Think about it.