For the past several years, IT professionals have experienced unprecedented freedom to pick and chose between jobs. Stock options, four weeks vacation, or a mountain-bike course at the office were just some of the carrots that high-flying dot coms dangled in front of prospective employees.

But times have changed. An economic downturn has forced scores of IT workers into unemployment, creating a glut of IT job applicants. In such a tight job market, Tim Heard, a technical recruiter for JC Malone, warns one TechRepublic member that she may have to comprise when searching for the perfect IT position.

Question: Seeking the perfect position
I am a female IT consultant. I have a BA degree and started my IT career 10 years ago on a help desk. With diligent study, I have moved up to doing network infrastructure design and implementation, most recently on an e-commerce venture that included a lot of security work.

I want some advice to move on in my career. I just quit a position of two years because of health problems and what I believe was sexual harassment.

I had taken that position because it was a team lead/management position where I wasn’t required to do shift work, night work, or heavy lifting. I had spent six months looking for just such a position. A year after I was hired, people in our data center were laid off, and I found myself having to do heavy hardware lifting and spending lots of late hours working on emergencies.

Wherever I have worked, I’ve always been the only female in the group. This has always been stressful for me, but until the position I just left, my personality, skills, and work ethic have allowed me to be accepted and successful. However, I am not going to start a sexual harassment suit because I couldn’t stand the stress, and I don’t have documentation.

But now I can’t figure out what to do. I don’t want to work where I will be the only woman again. How can I approach that problem? And now more than ever, I cannot work shift or extended hours, nor can I lift hardware that weighs over 10 pounds. Every position I see needs 24/7 availability and heavy hardware lifting. How do I handle this? I love working in the IT industry, but am beginning to think I will have to change what I do.

—Name withheld

Answer: The harsh reality
Let me first say that sexual harassment must not be tolerated. If you feel strongly enough about your claim, you should definitely speak with an attorney. However, you’ve stated a desire to put the past behind you and move on to a new position.

As I mull over your situation, the Rolling Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” keeps running through my head. Something has occurred to me: Until recently, those in certain technical professions have led a life that has kept them somewhat insulated from reality. The reality for the rest of the world has been that we generally must sacrifice one thing to have another. You want to spend more time with your family; you might have to sacrifice a bit of income. You want to have a job that helps change the world; you may find yourself sacrificing a bit of everything. You want to be rich; you might sacrifice your principles. (Okay, so I jest just a bit, but you get the idea.)

However, those in technical circles have experienced a demand for their skills that was almost beyond belief. In practical terms, that meant that they often got to have their cake and eat it too. However, all that began changing with the crash of the dot-com sector.

Take the case of Philippe Mesritz, an online acquaintance of mine from Denver. About six months ago, Mesritz was an implementation and egress manager for a telecommunications/Internet-access company in Denver. At one point, he managed eight managers directly and 125 employees indirectly. Then, the company went bust and he lost his job.

What happened to Philippe is typical of what I’ve seen happening to scores of others in the workforce. At first, he was only seeking a management position at or near his last compensation level, which was substantial. Since then, he’s had to reevaluate his skill sets, the market for IT workers, and companies’ requirements.

“My search has broadened to included lead or supervisor positions, as well as general technical positions such as system/network administrator, Web administrator, or technical support. Two or three years ago, similar positions had requirements of three to five years of experience and a bachelor’s degree or equivalent additional experience. In today’s market, the same jobs require 10 to 15 years of experience and a master’s degree,” Mesritz said.

“This has created a very difficult situation for those who had learned to expect an…employee’s market, and it has required those of us who fall between the executive and the entry-level employee to switch our job requirements and priorities of what makes for a good job match.”

Like your job search, Philippe’s is complicated because he is restricting his search to one with a warmer climate because of health concerns of a member of his family. As a result, he has had to reject without consideration a number of opportunities that have been presented to him in colder-weather states. All of these factors have led him to very realistically conclude that he probably won’t find that ideal job this time around.

Consider alternative positions
Getting back to your situation, it sounds to me as if you’re still holding out for that perfect job. The terms may be different, but let’s look at the specifics. You’re looking for a network design an implementation job with specific, limited, predictable hours, which also requires very minimal physical exertion on your part.

My feeling is that you’re going to have to stop and reevaluate what’s a want and what’s a need. I think that, despite the economy, you can still find some very viable opportunities. However, since most implementation assignments involve long hours and many also involve some lifting, you may want to consider alternatives, such as getting back into a lead help desk role, information systems security position, or perhaps a job in technical sales.

My point is that you’re going to have a really hard time finding a clone of the job you just lost, minus the harassment. I hope that you do find a good position, though, and I wish you the best. Good luck.

What do you think?

If any of you would like to offer feedback, positive or negative, please drop me a line or post a response to this article. I’d love to hear from you. Happy job hunting!