By T.J. McCarthy

No doubt about it, times are tough. Just ask Rand McLaughlin, a 20-year Jacksonville, FL, IT pro who was recently laid off from his job with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida. “I’ve been laid off before. It was a painful experience,” McLaughlin said.

Sadly, it’s a familiar refrain among IT managers. However, there are steps you can take to increase your chances of finding a good management job in IT. And even if you find yourself out of work longer than you expected, it’s important to spend that time wisely.

Pounding the pavement
“Don’t count on recruiters to get a job for you,” said McLaughlin. “I do use recruiters, and I cooperate with them, but I also search the most popular job banks every day and send out resumes by the dozens. Eight out of 10 jobs that I’ve had came from my own efforts.”

Robert Barry, a Network Manager for a large credit union in Fort Worth, TX, agreed. He researched each company before sending a resume and tailored his pitch to the company’s needs. “Find out as much as you can about the company and job you’re applying for. I had a specific resume for each job. You can’t use a cookie-cutter resume any longer!”

However, McLaughlin cautioned, “The recruiter may be the final link in this process, so don’t discount his or her help.”

In tough times, you might have to set your sights a bit lower, especially if the open position hints at future opportunity. Even if you have to step outside management temporarily, the long-term payoff could be worth it. McLaughlin warned against holding out for that perfect job in the current market. His advice: “Accept what is offered as long as it’s within your pay range. Eventually an opportunity will arise.” Then, prove yourself. Through hard work, recognition will come and, with it, better jobs and better pay.

If your search drags on, consider contracting. The skills you’ll pick up along the way can be a valuable addition to your toolkit. Further, a good contract gig might lead to a permanent job. McLaughlin also cautioned against discounting your “old knowledge” because “COBOL programmers are still in demand. Novell 3.x is still running on many company networks.”

Use your time wisely
If a great job doesn’t come your way quickly, there are plenty of ways you can take advantage of the time off to make yourself more marketable. One important strategy is to continue your training. If you’re on a limited budget, books and online resources can help you hone your IT skills and expand your knowledge base.

In a tough job market, it’s important to mix your knowledge as much as possible. For instance, McLaughlin suggested that network or hardware experts learn at least one popular, widespread programming language, such as C++ or Visual Basic. Likewise, software pros should learn as much as possible about how networks and hardware work. Some companies are more likely to hire candidates who have multiple skill sets. “Even wireless or telecommunications might help you land that next job,” he added. McLaughlin is putting his money where his mouth is: He’s currently studying for the CISSP and CIW certifications, while he searches for a new job.

Barry took a different approach to land his job, convincing the company that they needed expert management experience more than they needed more technical skills. He said, “I am a manager. I came to the table with over 24 years of military management and leadership skills. I know and understand technology, but I am not certified. I enjoy technology and think it must become an integral part of any business plan. Landing the job as Network Manager was tough, but in the end, I convinced the hiring manager that what they needed was a manager with an understanding of technology, not another Network Engineer with an understanding of management.

Examine your soul
After a heartbreaking layoff, it can be tough to pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Even tougher is the process of looking into your soul and approaching your next career move in a positive way. But the benefits of such an outlook are many. McLaughlin suggested you consider your layoff as a challenge: The prospect of new environments, assignments, and new staff lie ahead. Perhaps even more important—and more challenging—is the need to focus on landing the right job, instead of the right money or location. “Insist on what you want,” said McLaughlin, “something you enjoy doing.”

Have any good job-hunting tips?

What is your strategy for finding a management position in IT? Do you have any suggestions for what NOT to do? Send us some mail or post a comment.