How to find a job in the data center: IT job hunt tips

In this economy, keeping an updated tech resume is essential whether you're employed or not. Mark Holt shares IT job hunting expertise that will help keep you in control of the job search and ensure you stand out to employers.

The IT workplace over the past year was a mix of good, bad and ugly. We feel the tension and stress of the economic

crisis all the way into the data center, while knowing we are essential to the business.

Consider the following examples.

  • IT professionals saw wages pushed down as far as they could go, but now that our digital lives are as real as our physical ones, our skills are more important than ever.
  • Job security became a quaint memory, although network and data security continue to be a golden ticket.
  • Global communications brought ever-cheaper foreign competition for local jobs, but expanded opportunities in remote support services anytime, from anywhere

That said, in spite of the recent unpleasantness (or because of it) we in the IT field keep a stiff upper lip. Employed or not (irrelevant distinction in this market), we soldier on. Most important, we keep our resumes updated.

In that vein, I've rounded up some ideas on IT job hunting and resume writing to share in three parts.

Run your job search like a project
Soon after being laid off, I was handed the "Managing Your Job Search" manual, which is a simple project planning tool that returns at least the feeling of control by following classic "phased" project methodology for a job search.

  • Define the SCOPE;
  • Use that to create a PLAN;
  • Begin EXECUTING that plan;
  • REVIEW progress and adjust accordingly;
  • CLOSE the process, reviewing lessons learned.

Apologies to PMI fans reading this …

  1. Scope definition means not just what the ultimate goal is, but also what it isn't. I don't, for example, plan to improve my latte-making skills.

  2. A plan could mean listing sites and locations best for posting resumes, how often to follow up on pending applications, or which people or groups to meet with regularly.

  3. Execution may mean sending a newly minted resume off to employers. It will get better over time, so don't wait for perfection, just run spell check and maybe have it edited by a trusted friend.

  4. Review means rehearse, especially your summary of what you are and what you want. (Oh, and here's a hot tip -- insist that one of those clingy recruiters pose as an interviewer with you to practice.)

  5. When you land the big one (and you will), close the project by gathering up the detritus of files and contacts to help the next person on the hunt for work. Keep engaged in the community that grew up around you when you were "out there" looking yourself.

Having that structure gives a sense of power over life. When nothing seemed certain, I could believe that the future isn't completely out of control, and with a project plan, I didn't have to go forward blindly.

Humans have a unique gift of gazing into the future and planning accordingly. We try to see, if unclearly, what lies ahead -- because we must. Whether it's a finely honed genetic trait or a blessing from above, we prove again and again that we have the skills to guide our destiny.

Make your resume stand out to a reader
After years in the doldrums, this new year should be good for hiring in IT departments. All the companies and governments that used spare cash (from former workers' salaries) to expand networks, build out storage and servers, and upgrade websites will hire the people that keep it all running. (Yes!)

Keep polishing and reviewing to get the best resume (hint: yours) to the top of the pile on a manager's desk. It takes continuous improvement to be noticed in his or her inbox.

Rule 1: It's always best to put the "effect" before the "cause."

BEFORE
I helped my company install about $750,000 in new network technologies.

AFTER
Directed $750,000 in network upgrades through technical project management, while reducing operational costs 20%.

The "after" is much more effective for two main reasons. First, it starts with a strong action verb ("directed") that instantly communicates the nature of the achievement. Telling what you achieved is just as important as describing how you achieved it. Second, it tells not only the result ($750,000 investment in networks) but also the cause (technical project management).

Rule 2: Be concise and compelling.

BEFORE
The company asked me to lead a big software development project that involved collaboration with several divisions in the company. I managed the two-million-dollar project and brought it in on time and within budget. Part of the reason was that I used my Agile project management expertise and introduced best practices.

AFTER
Delivered $2M software development project on time and budget by leading cross-functional team and introducing Agile and ITIL best practices.

The wordy nature of the "before" example will lose readers' interest quickly. It's not clear what was accomplished, and the first-person, narrative style hides important details.

In the "after" example, the exact accomplishment is clear, as are the reasons why they were achieved. Strong action verbs and a concise summary of the accomplishments keep focus on performance. Also, always use numerals in a resume -- use of the figure "$2M" rather than "two million" adds punch to the number.

Rule 3: Use good action verbs

BEFORE
Used lean manufacturing techniques and tools to reduce the number of employees and save approx. $500,000 annually.

AFTER
Slashed annual costs ~$500K by initiating lean manufacturing techniques and network automation to reduce headcount and improve efficiency.

The "before" example isn't too far off with its use of an action verb. Plus, it uses numerals and conveys both the cause and the effect.

Once again, the "after" example is more dynamic, conveying the accomplishment in a way that makes it shine."Slashed" is a stronger action verb, and "reduce headcount" is a more concise, professional way of saying "reduce the number of employees."

Rule 4: Mix formats for easy reading

At this point, to be fair, I have to refer you to the CleanTechies site.

Leave out the lame stuff
To round this little essay out, let's review the 10 things to never put in your IT resume. No, I didn't make all of them up. Ask the HR folks, they all have stories to curl your hair, and under the right influence, they might share.

Stuff to avoid:

1. College Diploma from that .biz domain address
(Caveat emptor)

2. Current certifications in any of these:

  • PONG
  • Luggable computers
  • CB radio
  • Windows ME
    (Actually, I have that last cert, but like a certain birthmark, not many people know.)

    3. Karaoke awards
    (Vegas gigs not withstanding.)

    4. Quotes from Jobs, Gates or Ellison (unless it's Harlan Ellison)
    (Which would be way cool.)

    5. The words "Enron," "toxic loans" or "PC jr."
    (There are plenty of other great failures, not the fault of IT, but does that matter?)

    6. That firewall change you did during your (former) CIO's conference call with Mumbai
    (Yes, this really was confessed during a job interview.)

    7. Former webmaster of DotCom bubble corpses Yadayada, GovWorks, Flooz or Peapod
    (And, of course, Pets-dot-com, birth of the billion dollar sock puppet)

    8. Job titles "Junior interruptor" and "Non-resident futurist"
    (I have no words for this nonsense.)

    9. Salary requirements -- before the 2008 crash
    (2007 seems like a lifetime ago, doesn't it?)

  • This was first published in January 2010

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