Opinion: How to solve the mystery of the IT job market
What insights make today's job market easier to understand?
(IDG) -- In response to my recent columns on the IT skills shortage (see Related IDG.net stories below), readers offered four important lessons about today's IT job market that will give struggling job-seekers a better understanding of why companies behave the way they do -- and may even help them find jobs.
Lesson No. 1: The skills shortage is not the same in every area of IT.
"We have to recognize that there are not enough people who can debug an IP routing problem, whereas there is an abundance of people in the world who can tell us why teamwork is good," one reader wrote.
This is not to say that teamwork isn't important -- it, along with other business and managerial skills, is crucial to getting a lot of IT jobs, and may be even more crucial to succeeding in those jobs. However, teamwork is not enough by itself; companies are looking for people with specific technical skills who can also work as part of a team.
Lesson No. 2: A company may be desperate for workers and at the same time turn down applicants who are almost -- but not quite -- qualified.
It is frustrating for applicants who feel they could do a job if they were just given a few months of training and a chance to prove themselves to be turned down while hearing hiring managers complain that they can't find workers.
But, as several readers who have been on the other side of this situation wrote to me, companies do have reasons for this approach: As companies try to do more with less staff, there is less time for training and less room for staff members who aren't contributing. Some of the readers who wrote to me said they had learned from the mistake of hiring someone who wasn't quite the right fit, just to fill a position.
"Limited headcount means that every position must add value to the department, preferably immediately," wrote a reader who works for a manufacturing company.
Another reader was even blunter about the necessity of hiring the right person, not just anyone.
"While there are lots of jobs and lots of workers, there are very few good workers -- that is, non-prima donnas who know their stuff and can focus," the reader wrote. "And quite frankly, employers seem to have decided that in the IT/knowledge worker realm, it's better to leave positions unfilled than to settle for less than what you want."
Lesson No. 3: Experience counts for more than simply proving to the employer that you have done the job before.
"Known quantities are better than unknown," one reader wrote. "So people try to hire former co-workers or those personally referred by respected members of their network before they even advertise or call recruiters. Thus, a major part of having experience is having co-workers who will be part of someone's network and let you in on a better deal somewhere else."
This comment also points out the value of networking. Even if you don't have a lot of experience, getting to know other IT professionals in your area by joining a professional association or going to conferences can pay off.
Lesson No. 4: You need to know what your background says about you and work to counter any negative impressions.
The experience of former military IT workers trying to find work in the private sector provides a good illustration of this, but the lesson applies to all job-hunters. Whether it's fair or not, some people will have preconceived ideas about your weaknesses, and you can help yourself a lot if you move to dispel them.
Although many former military workers do move smoothly into the private sector, one IT manager wrote about why she hasn't hired any of those she has interviewed.
"My experience has been that they come across as very structured," the reader wrote. "The IT person needs to be flexible because things change fast -- technology, the business, the requirements, people, etc. -- and we need people who can rapidly change to the environment. By the way, I never automatically turn away a resume because it's a person from the military."
The insights these readers offered don't solve the problem of how to break into IT. But by providing a look into the minds of the hiring managers, they may help some people get closer to that goal.
Margaret Steen has edited InfoWorld's Enterprise Careers section since its inception and has worked as a high-tech journalist since 1994.
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