I was fired from a job a few years back. I got a new job, but got laid off from that one about a year ago. I haven’t been able to find work since. I’ve been on a few interviews and had one job offer. I turned it down because it wasn’t what I wanted. I need to find work soon—to keep my sanity, not to mention my house—but I want the same kind of job I had. I am concerned that my track record will scare off any employer. Any suggestions?

Well, I’m going to be blunt here—do you want to fold sweaters for a living or do you want to get into a job that will help you keep your sanity? It’s not a facetious question, because you have to decide whether your career is worth saving.

If you decide it is, you’re going to have to face the reality that you may never have the same kind of job you once had—and you may have to adjust your living conditions.

I’m being this blunt because, although the overall economy seems to be improving, I don’t see signs that companies are investing money in IT with the same enthusiasm they were four or five years ago. To further economize, they are loading IT managers with a lot of responsibility and keeping staffing levels low.

Robert Half Technology’s recent survey of CIOs’ hiring plans for IT professionals corroborates my observations. For the last quarter of 2003, 85 percent of the respondents said they had no plans to hire; 9 percent said they expected to hire, and 4 percent expected to trim staff. The net increase is an anemic 5 percent.

If the economy improves a few percentage points in 2004, then I think IT hiring will also improve a few percentage points. I don’t think that we’ll see a boom in IT hiring any time in the next few years.

Your work history isn’t as big a limitation as you might think—as long as you take the next IT management job you can find. The longer you wait, the harder it will be for you to convince someone to hire you for an IT management position. Every day that passes, your technical knowledge falls behind and your management skills erode.

You need to keep trying to get a job in IT management, but you’re going to have to make your own opportunities. Don’t wait for the perfect job to turn up in the newspaper want ads. Look for smaller, younger companies with smaller IT departments. These kinds of companies don’t have the financial resources to hire recruiters and they don’t have the perks to attract lots of applicants. Yet, smaller companies grow faster than bigger ones and IT hiring follows corporate growth.

You may end up supervising only one or two employees, but you will get a steady paycheck. You will also be in a good position for the future. Your responsibilities and compensation will grow as the company grows.

To find the kinds of companies I’m talking about, you’re going to have to do some research. If your area has a business journal, read through the back issues for company profiles. Ask the editor to recommend some companies for your list. The major daily newspaper in your area must have a business editor, so talk with that person. Some trade association Web sites maintain open access databases of member companies; ask the association staff for recommendations, as well.

Then, find out as much as you can about the company. These days, doing company research can be as easy as reading through the materials on the company’s Web site. Use a Web search tool and type in the company’s name and the names of the company’s top executives or owners.

If it’s a public company, you’ll be able to track the value of the stock, and you might even find a stock analyst who will give you a five-minute summary opinion of the company’s prospects. Here are a few Web sites that you can use to research companies:

Send your resume directly to the company president and explain in your cover letter that you want to work for a company that is growing and has a bright future. Don’t mention your current unemployed status or the fact that you were fired once. If they ask what happened, then be ready to explain briefly and calmly what happened. They’ll be concerned only if you start ranting or complaining.

You will probably get one interview for every 10 or 20 resumes you send out, so you’ll need lots of companies on your list. If you can’t find at least 20 companies in your immediate area, then broaden the geographic range of your search. Keep the research and outreach going until you find a new job.