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A Recruiter's Search Tips For Technical Candidates
By Perri Capell

Jon Zion is president, Eastern U.S. Operations, for Robert Half International Inc., a search firm headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif. He's based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

They know the Web well. But obvious venues for job seekers are not as valuable as their own networks. The fastest way to find the right job -- the best and highest quality opportunity -- is through networking. It's not by looking for jobs on the Web or in the newspaper.

The first thing you need to do as an IT job seeker is contact every resource, everyone you worked with and other people you know, and talk to them about who they know who might be looking to hire. These referrals don't need to be hiring now, but looking to hire at some point.

In this way, you prospect yourself. When you think of all the people whom you've known in your career, it's voluminous. Then think about all the people they know and parlay all that into your job search strategy. IT people are in the information business - in fact, we all are -- so when it comes to our careers, why should we approach gathering information any less aggressively than we would in our jobs?

The networking aspect is really critically important to career and job-search success. I'm not sure if IT professionals are as aware of how important networking is as, say, a marketing person. Their kneejerk reaction is to migrate to what they know well, which is to get on the Web and look at every job board they can find. Sure, that's part of the process, but it shouldn't be the most significant part.

Occasionally, candidates aren't clear about their market value and what areas they should focus on when talking with clients. For instance, let's say a candidate is trying to secure a compensation package that isn't comensurate with their credentials. You might need to remind them of this a few times. But ultimately when they go out and find they keep pricing themselves out of the market, they catch on.

Your resume shouldn't be longer than one and a half pages -- two pages at the maximum, but preferably less. Otherwise, the odds are it will never get read. A resume won't find you a job. All you want to do is whet readers' appetites enough that they pick up the phone and invite you to interview.

I recommend they prepare for every interview. Don't walk in cold. You need to understand the company you are interviewing with, its history, product mix, mix of U.S. and international business and so forth. You need to educate yourself about the company. That impresses the employer, plus its important information to know.

Second, you should be actively engaged in the interviewing process and dialogue with the interviewer. A lot of people don't think that's appropriate. They sit there quietly and don't ask questions. That's completely wrong. The interviewer is nervous, too. To the degree you can take that burden off his or her shoulders, you should. Ask them about themselves, how long they have been with the company, what kind of turnover there is, what the benefits are of working for this company, etc.

The more engaged you are in this process the more they will like you. And getting hired is about being liked. You need a threshold of credentials to be appropriate, but hiring decisions never come down to one person. There are always two or three people to choose from, and at the end of the day, we hire people we like. So the degree to which you can engage with interviewers will greatly enhance your ability to get an offer. A lot of candidates don't understand that conceptually.

Those things play a role. Obviously the most important thing is for your credentials to match up. Beyond that, a lot depends on your job history, stability and the contribution you made in another organization. But your ability to communicate and interact properly is a factor. Companies are inanimate objects. People don't interview with companies, they interview with people. That's a very important concept to understand. When you are interviewing with someone, you need to remember there's a person on the other side of the desk and to build bridges with them. If you feel when you leave that you linked up with the person that will have helped your prospects of getting the job.

The market is clearly healthier than it was a year ago at this time. There are many more opportunities available for IT professionals in technical support and development, so we are moving into a much better time than we lived through in the past three years. These aren't necessarily low-level jobs. They could pay between $50,000 and $200,000, depending on the position. And openings exist for managers.

In technical support, we are seeing industry-wide replacement of antiquated desktop systems and software due to cost of supporting the older systems. For instance, DHL and Hewitt Associates each just purchased 5,000 desktops, and Windham International just bought 500 PCs. As a result, there's a greater need for technical-support people. We also are beginning to see hiring activity surrounding the Linux Open System computer space.

Wireless-based services are very active. For instance, we are starting to see certain industry sectors, such as health-care, pharmaceutical and biotech sectors, implementing wireless local-area networks (LANs), such as computerized physician-order-entry systems.

Viruses plague IT systems so we continue to see an increase in demand for help-desk, desktop support, e-mail and network security specialists. Companies are hiring data-security analysts who try to stay in front of viruses and set up the security. In technical development, the Web is really hot again. The framework technology knowledge most in demand in this area is Microsoft.NET, C+, Visual Basic and JScript.NET. We're also seeing demand for Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) along with a variety of third-party languages like Cobol.

And the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 at its heart is about ensuring that internal controls and rules are in place to govern the documentation of financial data. So chief information officers have had to build the controls to make sure company financial records stand up to auditing scrutiny. Just recently, Microsoft Corp. announced it's entering this market with Microsoft Office Solutions Accelerator.

It isn't like it was in the 1990s, when this became a legitimate way to hire. We aren't there. The assumption is that you have the base-level experience to do the job.

No, a candidate's value depends singularly on their credentials, whether they're employed or unemployed, especially in the IT arena. If your credentials are current and strong, it matters little whether you're working or not working.

Age is a nonissue. The over-50 person can get a job just as easily as a 30-year-old if his or her credentials are good. This crowd is becoming much more attractive because we will be moving into a labor shortage. We are coming out of a recession but unemployment never got that high during the downturn. The demand for talent will increase rapidly and supply will decrease.

"Paint me a picture of the right opportunity for you and all the elements that go into it." By this, I mean the culture, environment, job content and types of people you like to work with. I want to get to know the candidate, what makes them tick and what things they value. People make decisions about where to work more for qualitative than quantitative reasons. If you get to understand someone better, you are better able to match them to the environment, not just the job.

Keep your technical background current. Continuing your education is critical. Also, any foreign language experience is an advantage, since so many companies have international components now. We live in a small world and being multilingual is an asset. We aren't necessarily being asked to find multilingual candidates that much, but knowing a second language tells companies there's a broader component to you as a person.

-- Ms. Capell is a senior correspondent for CareerJournal.com. She can be reached at
frances.capell@dowjones.com.

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