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The IT salary market and how to increase your value

Beth Schultz, Contributor

As economic tensions ease, many IT professionals are waiting with bated breath to see whether their paychecks will benefit moving forward.

Continued patience will be a virtue, said Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, a national IT staffing firm in Menlo Park, Calif.

While hiring demand for some skill sets is on an uptick, thriftiness prevails, Willmer said. "When we start to talk about an increase in demand, the inclination is to think, 'Is it my time to ask for a raise?' But everybody has to remember that there's a lot of pent-up demand, and while there are areas of investment, companies are still cost-conscious," he said.

In fact, Robert Half's salary research shows that base compensation for many IT positions decreased by an average of 1.3% in 2010. Based on the thousands of placements in full- and part-time positions Robert Half has finessed, the company's 2010 Salary Guide shows base pay for IT technical services managers ranged from $66,500 to $92,750 -- representing a 2.2% decline from 2009. Likewise, base pay for systems administrators dropped 2.8%, to a range of $51,250 to $80,250.

The need to approach pay sparingly will continue to be essential for many companies as they strategize for the future, Willmer said. "The only reason some companies are moving forward is because they can keep a cost-effective pricing ratio relative to the project they're hiring for. In other words, if they can't

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do the project for a certain amount of money, they'll hold off on it altogether."

That said, Willmer gives the following advice for how IT professionals can affect an upward trend in their salaries:

Advance your security, cloud and virtualization expertise

"Despite the limited places to hide in this economy, there are some skill sets in heavy demand. Number one is network security," Willmer said.

"If you're an IT manager or systems administrator with five-plus years of experience and network security expertise on top of that, you're going to increase your leverage.... There's always been a need for security specialists, but it becomes heightened during certain economic times," he added, attributing a rise in the concern about internal threats to employee layoffs, merger-and-acquisition activity and fierce competitiveness.

Joining security projects on the table are ventures that companies believe will create opportunities for revenue generation, Willmer said. IT professionals can't go wrong by bolstering their virtualization and cloud computing knowledge, he said. For example, as the 2010 Salary Guide shows, the base pay for technical support personnel rises on average by 7% when IT professionals sport virtualization skills.

Get certified

Certification always pays off, Willmer said. "If you look at certification at a finite point of time, you might say, 'Gosh, it didn't pay for itself this year or during the course of this project.' But the answer is still 'Yes, certification is well worth the investment and it will pay for itself over time.'"

Willmer also advises not to strictly think in terms of hard dollars and cents. "Sometimes having certifications may actually present an opportunity on a really cool project or job that will lead to long-term career success. So certification isn't just about the money but about opportunities and credibility," he explained.

Think beyond a raise

While a salary increase is likely your end goal -- especially after years of stagnant paychecks -- be open to the idea that other perks may have to suffice for the time being, Willmer said. "Companies will continue to be creative about investing in their current talent pool without necessarily pulling out their checkbooks and upping everyone's salaries for lost time." That might mean they'll provide year-end or performance bonuses rather than raises, or pay for certification coursework or other training.

"It won't always be about the money," he said. "Those who have a professional approach and aren't adversarial will be successful in getting what they'd like to have, be that flex hours, a new title, more responsibility or a certification."

Beth Schultz is an IT writer based in Chicago. You can reach her at bschultz5824@gmail.com.


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