Without a doubt, economic uncertainty and a growing candidate pool are creating new hurdles for technology professionals seeking project work. Those IT contractors who are surviving and thriving despite these challenges are taking a proactive approach to managing their careers. Here are a few pages from their rulebook:
Promote your talents. Maintaining a competitive edge in today's IT market involves being proactive in your career. To showcase your talents, develop a business Web site and create customized résumés that not only outline your skills, certifications and past employers, but also the business objectives you achieved. Have you helped clients reduce costs or generate new revenue streams? With increased scrutiny on return on investment, quantifiable business results can catch the attention of prospective clients. Tailor your résumé to highlight the skills and achievements most relevant to a particular company, and even more specifically, a particular job opening.
Establish and utilize a network. Now more than ever, developing a broad base of professional contacts is the most effective way to advance your career. By joining university alumni groups, local business organizations, trade associations and user groups, you will increase your network and have more venues to market your abilities. Former coworkers are especially important in your list of contacts. If you impressed them with your past performance, they may also open doors to new assignments.
Increase your marketability. The more skills and industry knowledge you have to offer potential clients, the better your chance of landing new assignments. Hardware, software and programming languages are upgraded frequently, so take advantage of training programs to enhance your expertise. Target the in-demand skills, such as Web security, Windows 2000 networking and Java programming.
Be careful, however, not to overstate your abilities. While the current IT job market is more competitive than ever before, embellishing your skill set can only hurt your reputation in the long-term if you fail to meet project expectations.
Develop a stronger business sense. Technical aptitude alone no longer secures back-to-back engagements. Understanding business trends, industry developments and the overall economy will allow you to be more strategic. Learn how products and systems are developing by reading industry publications each week as well as national and international economic trends in newspapers and magazines, such as The Wall Street Journal and Business Week.
The business sections of your local newspaper may also offer insight to the successful companies and industries in your region. For instance, you may learn two small pharmaceutical companies are merging and seeking contractors for systems integration projects.
Research potential clients. Understanding the objectives, challenges and the competitive landscape of potential clients will give you an edge over other candidates. How can you contribute to the business? Do you know if and why a company's competitor recently gained market share? You can research each client company through annual reports, its corporate Web sites, and any current or former employees you may know. By demonstrating your knowledge in these areas, you convey a desire to work for their organization, not simply a desire to work.
Strive for excellence. Your current performance on the job plays the most significant role in landing future assignments. In each assignment, be professional and seek out opportunities not only to learn new technical skills but also to improve your interpersonal skills, management expertise and customer service abilities. By establishing yourself as a valuable worker, clients may think of you first when sourcing upcoming projects or be willing to provide references for you to other potential employers.
Lastly, consider your long-term career goals when searching for your next assignment. Uncertain economic times may have reduced the number of projects available, but try to pursue opportunities that support your desired objectives. By securing challenging yet meaningful projects today, you'll be better positioned for future projects when the market improves.
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, formerly RHI Consulting, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia and offers online job search services at www.roberthalftechnology.com.
This was first published in October 2002