Blame it on 9/11, the economy, threats of war, shrinking IT budgets, or anything else. It's harder to find an IT job than it was a few years ago. Even though industry watchers like the Information Technology Association of America report that employers claim 35 percent of IT job openings are currently unfilled, that doesn't help much when you've been out of work for six months—or a year.
To help you with your job search, we researched the popular job-hunting sites—CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, and HotJobs.com—searching for IT job openings and where they are located. We’ve also suggested some strategies you might consider if you have to relocate or switch to a different industry.
First of two parts
This is the first installment of a two-part series that looks at where three job search engines indicate open IT positions are plentiful and what you might have to do to secure one.
What we found
We located more than 8,800 open IT positions listed across the United States. As you can see in Figure A, the Western region leads the country in the number of jobs (partially due to the larger number of states included in the region). The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have roughly the same number of jobs, as do the Midwest and Southern regions. There are far fewer IT jobs in the Central region of the country.
The five states with the most IT job listings were California (1,693), New York (559), Texas (471), Illinois (462), and Virginia (458). These states have more open positions, but that may also be balanced by an increased number of qualified IT candidates. If you look at how many IT jobs have been lost in Silicon Valley during the past three years, 1,693 openings for all of California doesn’t seem large.
The toughest places to find an IT job were Hawaii (8), West Virginia (7), Montana (6), South Dakota (3), and Maine (1). We didn’t count Wyoming, which didn’t show any job listings, but that may be due to other factors. Seventeen states had more IT job listings than the average of 178 openings per state. The listings for each state are provided in Figure B.
When you add the "hidden job market"—jobs not announced online—you know there are jobs out there; the trick, as always, is to find one you want. There are two keys to landing an IT job in a tight market: flexibility and preparation. (We’ll cover preparation strategies in the next article in this series.)
If possible, look outside your geographic area. Although companies may not be willing to pay as much for relocation as they used to, if pulling up stakes moves you from the ranks of the unemployed, it may be worth it. Of course, this is a lot easier if you’re single than if you’re married or have children to consider.
Flexibility also encompasses looking outside your comfort zone. Take a look at contract-to-permanent positions (72 percent of temporary employees go on to permanent jobs, according to Net-Temps.com), smaller companies, a variety of industries, even government. The companies who list on CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, HotJobs.com, and similar job Web sites are usually midsize to large companies or recruiting firms. We’ve discussed using recruiting firms before, so let’s look at the other options.
Smaller companies are prime sources in the hidden job market. They rely heavily on newspaper classifieds and employee networking to fill their job openings. They often provide a better working environment and “soft” benefits than their larger counterparts. You can research publicly traded small companies on Hoover’s or Redchip. Check with your local public or college library to see if they have a subscription to these or similar services.
For privately owned companies, networking is key. Start attending your local Chamber of Commerce meetings. Send an e-mail to offer congratulations or ask a question of a small company covered in your local newspaper. In your networking group, ask, “Who else should I talk to?” instead of just “Have you heard of anything opening up?”
Smaller companies also offer the opportunity to stretch your skills, so those training classes you took won’t go to waste. Everyone in a small company IT group wears multiple hats, so you could find yourself doing end user training, answering help desk calls, providing content management for the intranet and maintaining the data center (a.k.a. the server in the corner). You’ll have time to update the nonexistent disaster recovery plan and still be able to take a full hour for lunch.
Speaking of stretching your skills, try shifting or expanding your skill sets to include other job functions. For example, is there a job one step over from what you’ve been doing that you could move into? Think about IT procurement if you liked the contracts and negotiation part of the last vendor search. Validation can sometimes move into compliance or auditing. Help desk experience can move into training, and so on.
Look at the nonstandard projects you participated in during the past couple of years and decide what you liked to do. Did you work on the disaster recovery plan or help implement sales force automation? Perhaps you played white hat hacker to check your intranet security? Did you work closely with certain vendors, enough so that you’re experienced with a specific type of middleware, ERP, or network protocol?
You’ve already gotten the experience; if you liked it, use it.
While some industries, such as financial services and pharmaceuticals, look for specific industry knowledge in their IT departments, other industries are happy with your IT experience or just a working knowledge of the industry. Just because you’ve spent your working life in one industry doesn’t mean you can’t move to another. You can gain industry knowledge by reading trade magazines or through Internet research. Try to get the perspective of that industry by studying regulatory requirements, community sensitivity, or budgetary restrictions. Every industry has its own quirks and problems. Demonstrating sensitivity to an employer’s special needs will always set you apart.
Government agencies at all levels are using technology more than ever. Local governments are easily overlooked for job opportunities, especially school districts, which offer the additional benefit of synchronized schedules with school-age children. (No more calling in sick for Columbus Day!)
The Department of Motor Vehicles, the Tax Assessor’s office, Recreation Departments, the Police Department, and Maintenance departments all need IT people. So do the Post Office, the Social Security Administration, and the IRS. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) maintains a database, USA JOBS, for nearly all federal jobs, including civilian positions in the military departments; the database is updated daily. The site allows you to search for employment by state, agency, etc. And about.com has a list of state government job resources in its section on the U.S. government.