Let headhunter Kevin Rosenberg help you set your career compass. Kevin is managing director and partner of BridgeGate LLC, a California-based search firm. Kevin, who specializes in IT management searches, shares tips on a host of career issues in this biweekly Q & A format.

Q. I had a job as a welder for six years. Recently, I got my MCSE and start a new career in computers. Now I have my MCSE and MCP+I and no job, because I lack experience. I’m currently working at a wholesale computer company building and loading computers. I have been using headhunter.com to look for a job, but no luck so far. What should I do next?

Karl, location withheld

Rosenberg: Karl, your dilemma is a common one. Many freshly minted MCSEs, A+ Certified Professionals, and MCP+Is are encountering a lukewarm reception in the job market. The letters I am receiving from Career Compass readers indicate that those with brand new certificates are being met with less-than-inviting responses.

With skyrocketing salaries and the national deficit of skilled IT professionals, why is it that you, like the thousands of other entrants into the market, are having trouble finding work? Based on the feedback I’ve received from my clients and peers, several issues have had a profound effect on the value and marketability of the dozens of certification programs available to today’s would-be IT professional.

Newly certified professionals are entering the market at a dizzying pace. This influx of candidates into an already crowded space is creating a market pressured by simple supply and demand. Additionally, the majority of the new IT pros are coming to the table without any experience, breadth of knowledge, or track record.

This, according to Craig Mills, owner of Brea, CA-based CAM Associates, is the kiss of death. Mills said that for a small systems integrator or even the large IT shop, the risk of hiring a new MCSE, A+, or MCP who has no prior IT expertise is significant. From Mills’ point of view, career converts with new certifications are equivalent to entry-level professionals, only worse. “They have limited real-world expertise or troubleshooting skills but come with salary expectations that are inconsistent with the rest of the entry-level market.” Mills prefers the somewhat passé CNE because “at least with the CNE, you know someone had to have experience before obtaining the certification.”

An additional challenge is the perception of quality. Without doubt, the value of professional certifications is beyond reproach. However, due to the overwhelming number of organizations that are capable of issuing certifications, IT managers and HR pros are concerned with not only which cert a candidate has, but also where he received it.

Given that the market is sensitive to the profusion of newly certified IT pros, how do you go about establishing a career in the field of your choosing? In a word: flexibility.

I strongly encourage any entrant into the IT community to seek an opportunity that shows a great deal of potential growth, where you will be compensated according to your experience but afforded the opportunity to grow and develop professionally. This may mean taking a third-shift position on a help desk to get a foot in the door. Once inside, learn and leverage what you know. Get noticed and get promoted. It sounds old-fashioned, but there is no substitute for experience.

Q. Kevin, I have been with my current employer for over nine years, and I am starting to feel that it is time to move along. Since I have been out of touch with career shopping for quite some time, I was wondering if you have any suggestions on where to begin and how to update my resume.

Kurt, location withheld

Rosenberg: There are numerous online and print sources for the job seeker. My advice to someone who has not been in the market for some time is to first bring your periscope out of the water and follow these steps:

  1. Survey the local market.
  2. Learn who is hiring and what skills are in hot demand.
  3. Examine how your expertise and abilities correlate.
  4. Polish up on your interview skills.

Additionally, read Ask the Headhunter: Reinventing the Interview to Win the Job by Nick A. Corcodilos. This is a well-respected book that takes a straightforward approach to job interviews.

As for writing a resume, the favored format of most HR pros and search consultants is a reverse chronological resume, where your employers, titles, terms of employment, and duties and responsibilities are all clearly defined.

The advice I give to those writing a resume is to write it as if a five-year-old will be reading it. Use few acronyms and leave nothing to interpretation. Do not leave the writing of your resume to a third party, since no one will be able to explain you better than you. If you need some outside help, read The Damn Good Resume Guide: A Crash Course in Resume Writing (3rd Edition) by Yana Parker.

Next, interview some local recruiters and determine which ones make you feel comfortable. Make sure that the recruiters you work with are client-driven—in other words, they are engaged by companies to do a search for candidates, not the other way around.

Finally, get known. Talk to friends and colleagues about your goals for your next position. Often, your next job is already in your Rolodex. Discreetly contact former colleagues and professional associates who know your work. In this market, you may be surprised at how effective your personal network is.
Send your career questions to Kevin . He may answer your letter in an upcoming column.