CXO

Finding work in difficult economic times

Layoffs and downsizing go hand-in-hand with a troubled economy, which is something many IT professionals have had to face lately. Find out what advice our career expert has for two consultants who have found themselves looking for work in these difficult times.


Tim Heard is a technical recruiter for JC Malone, a career placement service. Tim shares his career advice by answering questions from TechRepublic members.

Question
I am one of those PricewaterhouseCoopers consultants who was laid off in South America. I worked for PwC in several IT and re-engineering projects [over four years], hoping to build a good resume [based on my enterprise resource planning (ERP) experience]. Unfortunately, I only participated in three real implementations (two J.D. Edwards OneWorld and one SAP). My previous jobs were as an NT and SQL Server administrator in the United States.

What are the career options for someone like me? Should I be looking for employment in South America or in the U.S.? I have been advised to abandon ERP and start a new career with a Cisco certification. Is this a good idea?

—Gonzalo


Answer
Your last question really caught my attention, so I'll address it first and work backward. My personal feeling is that most of the companies that are offering Cisco certifications and promising lucrative careers in return for your hard-earned money are running scams.

Granted, there are Cisco Certified Network Professionals (CCNPs) making excellent money, but there are also a lot of Cisco Certified Network Associates (CCNAs ) that are out on the street looking for work.

The same is true, in my opinion, of other certification programs. For example, even prior to Sept. 11, I knew of individuals who were willing to assist with Windows 2000 rollouts for $11 or $12 per hour, without benefits. The fact is that the supply of these individuals has outpaced the demand for their skills, leaving very bright people with huge debts and no jobs.

On the upside, I think that we'll see a rebound on the ERP side as economies begin to heat up again. Some analysts are already projecting a recovery in the United States in the first quarter of 2002.

With regard to your job search, I don't see any reason why you should limit your search to either South America or the United States. Why not do both? Begin by posting multiple resumes on a variety of job boards. (Monster.com, Dice.com, and Headhunter.net are good places to start).

Craft at least one resume that targets the United States and another that targets opportunities in South America. You may also want to consider contacting a recruiter in each hemisphere.

I think your career options are wide open. You possess familiarity with two ERP packages, implementation experience, and undoubtedly a bit of project management experience. All of these skills are transferable.

For example, you might find a job doing software implementation for either an unrelated software company or a company like PeopleSoft, whose products are doing well.

You undoubtedly also had some interaction with end users in your previous roles, so perhaps either working as a trainer or serving as third-tier technical support might be worth considering.

Your main challenge will probably be to make ends meet until the right job comes along. My advice: Don't be too proud to take anything that's going to put food on the table. Lately, I have been contacted by a lot of very talented people who are rethinking their salary expectations as the reality of their situations begins hitting home.

Good luck. This is likely to be a painful time, but I can assure you that there is life after a downsizing, even in difficult times like this.

Question
I [am not sure] where to start researching available [contracting] opportunities [and hope you might be able to help].

My employment status changed because of the Sept. 11 disaster. We witnessed both planes [hitting the buildings] and both towers collapsing. My wife lost an uncle and we lost several friends in the towers. Our next-door neighbor was on the flight that crashed in PA. A few weeks before the disaster, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which is also what my father died from at 37.

My wife and I have two babies and a $3,000 monthly mortgage. Needless to say, losing my job due to the disaster was horrific. I was doing very well and now I am paid $405 a week from unemployment.

I appreciate any help you can provide.

—John


Answer
I'm very sorry about your losses. I know that this time must be very difficult for you. If you haven’t already contacted the Red Cross, it's likely you may qualify for some assistance. You might also want to get in touch with the local United Way, as they might be able to direct you to sources of assistance regarding your MS diagnosis.

As to your job search, I'm sure that you're well aware that both large and small companies are becoming extremely cost conscious in these difficult times. Large capital expenditures are being put off or scrapped altogether, and many large IT projects are being delayed. There undoubtedly are "hired guns" out there who are still making the big bucks, but the opportunities are becoming harder to find.

On the other hand, I believe that there is a pent up demand for these projects that must eventually be met. My gut tells me that we will see things improve dramatically for contractors sometime this year.

If you are absolutely determined that contracting is the way you want to go, I would offer the following suggestions:
  • Network, network, network: In a lot of cases, finding a high-profile contract position is a matter of who you know. If you were still employed, I would encourage you to attend as many seminars as you can that discuss the latest in cutting-edge ways to utilize technology. In such situations, you would be there not only to learn but also to meet the speakers and other professionals who are in attendance. If there are conferences in New York that you can attend without significant expense, that might be the best way to seek out contracting opportunities.
    You can also do research to find out what firms are doing what types of projects. Venturewire.net, for example, is a good source. Look for high-level individuals who are on the move and send them your resume.
  • Don't be above taking on small projects or other odd jobs to pay the bills: Especially in light of 9/11, I don't think that it would be perceived as a strike against you that you did whatever was necessary to provide for your family while seeking a high-profile position.
  • Conduct a job search via traditional means: A quick search for contract jobs on altavista.com, for example, yielded quite a few sites dedicated to listing contract opportunities.
  • Look for opportunities at a large IT consulting organization: My guess is that your best chance of finding something on a long-term basis that will meet your needs will be for you to work through a large IT consulting organization, such as GE Capital. Taking contract work for a larger company will likely put you in line for hire as a salaried employee with benefits. Also, a large firm will employ a sales force with the sole purpose of locating new opportunities and keeping their current employees productive, which should provide steady work.
    To the best of my knowledge, however, GE Capital and others have experienced dramatic cutbacks in the past year, so don't be disappointed if they don't have something to offer you at this time.

I can only imagine the anxiety that you must be experiencing right now, and I will certainly keep you and others in similar situations in my thoughts. Please drop me a line through the TechRepublic Web site when you have found work.

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