Let headhunter Kevin Rosenberg help you set your career compass. Kevin is managing director and partner of BridgeGate LLC, a California-based search firm. Kevin specializes in IT management searches and shares career tips in his biweekly Q & A column.
Q: I am concerned about my future. I strive to be technical, but my job has changed and now focuses on project planning and managerial concerns. I am not the managerial type.
I am the EDI analyst for our organization. I love doing EDI, but I am concerned about the future of this career, and I have not completed my four-year degree. I don’t know if I should augment my skill set with XML and middleware knowledge or finish my degree. Where do I go next?
Rosenberg: Your challenges, although multidimensional, are not uncommon. Let's address your concerns piece by piece.
First, your job is evolving into something you dislike. This is a frequent issue, especially for the technical professional. Techies often withdraw from management responsibility. However, the transformation of your job from a technical position to a leadership role is testament to the faith your company has in your ability to lead.
Your employer may see a bright future for you in management, but if that’s not something you seek, it is your responsibility to address this with your employer. My advice is to not simply address your concern—also suggest a remedy. Come to the table with a plan, not a problem. Perhaps you can craft a role that lets you take a technical path parallel to a management path. Oftentimes, we see companies creating job tracks exclusively for the technically minded that offer the same rewards, challenges, and incentives as those afforded to employees on the management track.
Your second concern involves obsolescence of technology, and you are trying to weigh the value in learning a new technology (XML) or obtaining a four-year degree. If you are a regular Career Compass reader, you know my posture on college degrees: Regardless of how long it takes, that degree can be one of the most lucrative investments you make—in yourself.
When addressing the potential obsolescence of EDI, you will have to look at the future direction of your organization. Sure, the Web is a burgeoning environment, where more and more business is being transacted. However, good, old-fashioned EDI is still alive and well. Moreover, to many companies, EDI is the precursor of B2B e-commerce. Your company most likely values you and your 16 years of knowledge about the company’s business.
My assumption is that whatever technical direction the company takes—Web, XML, and so on—it will probably take you along with it. As for the XML training, buy a book, take a class, or play with it on your own time. Who knows, perhaps you can recommend this new standard to your employer.
Q: I have this overwhelming feeling that nobody wants me. I became a Microsoft OfficeSpecialist in 1996-97, learning all of Office 97; plus I learned desktop publishing. Later, I studied A+, but I was unable to take the certification because I was broke.
I am 46 and Hispanic, and the single mother of 11-year-old twins, and I found out I could not get a job. I went to the Computer Learning Center for 14 months and studied network systems engineering and administration. I will graduate in September. But still nobody wants me!
I plan to get my CCNA certification and later my MCSE. My head is full of this computer knowledge. I am a tax preparer and E-filer. I produce a weekly church bulletin, flyers, and PowerPoint presentations, in addition to doing paralegal work.
Now I feel that after I finish this product-oriented training, I should go for an associate's degree in computer science.
There are thousands of jobs out there, but I can't get one, not even to dust a computer as a janitor. Something must be very wrong with me: My age? My race? My language? My lack of outside work experience for a boss? My sex?
I study hard, but I feel Americans look down on me.
Rosenberg: RA, this is not meant to sound harsh but rather constructive: You need to focus. There is no direct answer to your questions because, frankly, I believe there are much more significant issues at play here. Your career should be a series of calculated steps that lead to an end result. What those moves are and where they lead is uniquely yours. You must own it; set a course and stick with it. Sure, you have to provide for your family and make ends meet, but when developing a career, you must know what you want and determine how to get it.
After reading and re-reading your letter, I can only assume that you are trying to do too much for too many. When trying to convey your aptitude, expertise, and versatility to a potential employer, your real skills—those most likely to get you hired—get lost in the disarray.
Here is what you need to do. First, throw away any version of your resume you currently have. Next, with a pen and paper, write down your professional short- and long-term goals. Be descriptive and edit them over and over until you have one succinct and clear thought for each three- to five-year period you choose to address.
Now, for each goal, write down the practical knowledge you have that will help you accomplish it, your professional experiences that directly apply to the goal, and finally, what you must learn in the future to excel.
From this set of documents, you can craft a new resume. Although I am not typically a fan of the abbreviated resume, in your case I suggest no more than two pages. In this document, you must be disciplined. Your objective should be well-defined. The employment history should be in reverse chronological order, with your most recent experience first. You should omit any extracurricular experience not relevant to your objective. Your technical expertise, education, and certifications should be clearly stated.
With this more focused sense of your career and a new resume to substantiate it, begin networking with other professionals, visiting job sites on the Web, and responding to newspaper ads. Be sure to include a unique cover letter for each resume you send.
Some suggested reading includes:
- 10 Minute Guide to Job Interviewsby Dana Morgan
- Career Bounce-Back! : The Professionals in Transition Guide to Recovery & Reemploymentby J. Damian Birkel, Stacey J. Miller
- Using the Internet and the World Wide Web in Your Job Search by Fred Edmund Jandt, Mary B. Nemnich
Good luck in your search.
If you’re facing a career dilemma, send Kevin some mail . He might answer your letter in an upcoming article.