Getting the inside skinny

How do you zero in on the best IT jobs? Bob Weinstein says you need to have the big picture. In this week's Tech Watch, he offers tips and resources for getting the real scoop on companies you might want to work for.

There is no shortage of IT jobs. But great jobs are hard to find. The key to tracking them down is to get the inside skinny on potential employers.

What do you do if you’re sitting on a couple of scalding job offers with no idea which one to take? I’ve got some tips to make your life easier.

Before you begin your research, divide the information into two camps: hard, or objective, information, and soft, or subjective, information. Together they will give you the big picture.
Each Wednesday, Bob Weinstein gives you the scoop on great trends in IT. And you can get his report delivered straight to your e-mail front door. Exclusively for our TechMail subscribers, Bob answers questions from a worldwide network of IT pros.
Take a hard look
Hard information consists of facts and figures you can collect via newspapers, reference sources, the Internet, and reliable people sources.

Mark Mehler, co-author with Gerry Crispin of CareerXroads (MMC Group, $24.95; ), a comprehensive directory of job and career sites on the Web, advises starting with corporate Web sites. “Why beat around the bush?” he asks. “If you’re interested in a company, its Web site is the place to start. Learn to read between the lines.” The contents and graphic on the opening page tell a lot. “If the opening page is full of clean-cut people in suits and ties, chances are it’s a conservative, traditional organization, contrasted to the more laid-back, casual dot-com companies staffed by GenXers,” says Mehler. “If companies have an aggressive recruiting policy, it should be easy to find job information. A company that’s technologically up to speed will encourage candidates to e-mail resumes.”

A recent study of Fortune 500 companies by Crispin and Mehler surprisingly revealed that 50 out of the 500 didn’t have Web sites. Now there’s an eye-opener.

Beyond checking out the actual companies, many other good sites can be accessed to dredge up information about companies. Fortune Magazine ’s Web site lists the 100 best companies to work for. See if the companies you’re investigating are on it and, if so, why.

Two other good Web sites are Individual (formerly Newspage) and Wetfeet. Individual is excellent for finding current news about a company, and Wetfeet is a solid, all-round, company-information source.

Next, what kind of training does the company offer? How committed a firm is to training its people tells you a lot about the corporate culture, according to Rachel Cheeseman, executive director of the Information Technology Training Association in Austin, TX. Approximately 45 to 55 percent of a company’s training budget is spent on IT, according to International Data Corp. “Most companies allocate a certain number of days a year to training,” says Cheeseman. “Find out how many days and how much money is earmarked for IT training.”

Ask if there is a tuition reimbursement program to offset the cost of training. “If you’re certified, find out what kind of value the company places on certification,” Cheeseman advises.

“Will the company foot the cost of certification, and can you attend training seminars or take courses on company time if you pay for it?”

Beyond training, Cheeseman suggests asking about company-wide turnover, especially in the IT department. Naturally, high turnover is a red flag. Find out why.

Get a subjective perspective
Soft information is equally valuable, yet it must be evaluated carefully because it’s based upon people’s experiences and impressions. Beyond your own network of contacts, two other Web sites are worth investigating. The first is , a sprawling career site, which was recently praised by Web site newsletter Electronic Recruiting Daily. It offers an “Electronic Watercooler” boasting close to 49,000 postings, including employees expressing opinions about companies they’ve worked for or are currently working for.

Crispin calls the Peyton Place of the Web and advises not taking its postings as gospel. “Much of it is sour grapes and a venting outlet for anyone who has had a bad experience and wants to share it,” he says. Since the postings are anonymous, you don’t know if they’re made up. Nevertheless, you’re bound to uncover inside dirt if you follow them regularly.

Finally, there’s the Sixdegrees site, recommended by Ron Zemke, senior editor at Training Magazine, which offers an opportunity to connect with more than 3 million people all over the world, many of whom may have worked at the companies you’re considering. Here you can seek out people who have had both positive and negative experiences.

There's no shortage of IT jobs, and there's no shortage of information. The trick is getting that inside skinny.

Bob Weinstein's weekly syndicated column, Tech Watch, is the first career column covering the exploding technology marketplace. The column appears in major daily newspapers throughout the U.S.

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