Finding the Right IT Job – Made Easier

 In TCM Post

My articles have slowed down a bit for summer, but I’m getting back into the swing of things. I’ve spent lots of time on this one, and it’s a bit longer than usual because I packed in extra value! Consider it a deeper dive into my previous article “How to Choose an Area of IT.” Keep these tips in mind for targeting specific jobs, markets, companies and more.

Recent Graduate Awareness
It is no surprise that as a current high school or college graduate you don’t understand the general business landscape. Even those with several years’ experience may still be navigating these new waters. You don’t know there are numerous options for careers like “law enforcement.” Your guidance counselor might inform you that Law Enforcement means a beat cop on your local police department; a job in traffic tickets and public disturbance calls.

My light bulb went off while working in the Washington DC metro area when I noticed the hundreds (if not thousands) of different types of law enforcement careers. At the end of the day, the mission is always to serve and to protect, but the roles and responsibilities widely vary to the degree that you can be an IT Cyber Analyst for the FBI or any other “3 letter organization”. Your organization’s mission is to serve and protect (possibly the President of the United States), but day in and day out, you are performing information technology security tasks.

Much like the Tech Career Mentor Blog focuses on the IT field, you should choose an industry to target when searching for a job. Find a passion outside of IT; maybe you do have a love for law enforcement, but the thought of being a beat cop doesn’t interest you. Know that you can still work in law enforcement, you just need to find the niche as it relates to IT!

What else are you interested in or maybe already have experience with: healthcare, education, customer service, GIS, automotive, gardening, insurance, retail, etc.? Identifying passions can help you target job offerings now and prepare yourself for opportunities down the road. I call this the “Domain Advantage.” It is a greater advantage to you to get both IT experience and domain and mission experience when looking for a job. I’m sure you’ve heard of a few major “Domains” that are very popular: Healthcare IT (in recent years you can get a degree in Health IT – not when I was in school though!) Financial IT and Government IT are also large specializations or “domains.”

Domain Advantage
Domain Advantage is a strategy that uses your expertise or interest in a particular area to explore opportunities. A “Domain” can be described as an industry that you possess some experience, working knowledge of, or passion. For example, if you are a trained RN, you have Health Care experience. If you are looking for a transition to an IT career, you should focus on Health IT companies and jobs. What type of background do you have? Do you already have clerical or administrative experience in healthcare, education, or finance? If you’re switching careers to IT, focus your job targeting those organizations to parlay your existing expertise into an IT career.

Leverage Your Interests
One of the things I wished I had realized before my career started was to leverage my interests to further my career. In high school, I thought about being a chef or a weatherman. I love the weather. I wrote it off though because I’m not exactly the most photogenic nor did I think I’d be an excellent on-camera personality. I made the mistake of not believing that I couldn’t participate in weather-related professions. NOAA, The National Weather Service, the Weather Channel, and Weather Underground all need people to run their computer systems. That’s four weather-related companies right off the top of my head. There are countless others, and all of them rely on IT to some degree.

Start Over Again
If I were to go back and start my IT career over again, I would target weather-related companies so that my IT skills would support their weather-related mission and I would feel that I was contributing to something that interests and is important to me. My day to day responsibilities are IT related but the purpose that I support is something I’m interested in, and that keeps me going, knowing that the stress and hard work are providing a necessary meteorological resource to many people.

One of my favorite examples of Domain Advantage is a mother of three that I talked to after giving a guest lecture at George Mason University. She waited in line and asked, “so I’m confused about what to do. I don’t know how or where to look for a job! How is a potential employer going to see me as viable after just having been a mother for so long and out of the workforce?”

“How do I start?”

My first question was, “what have you done, what do you do now?” She answered that she was a part-time clerk in a doctor’s office, and her job before being a mother was as a nurse’s assistant. So I explained to her that Health IT is a vast market. Also due to my healthcare consulting, I knew that they have their own lingo (it’s a Transcriptionist, not a Transcriber, or anything else) and some of their own rules (HIPAA). I advised her to tailor her resume, specifically in the Summary section, to indicate that she was returning to the workforce with an IT degree and that she was leveraging her experience in a doctor’s office to focus on Health IT. Even better if you have a Healthcare IT-specific degree! Then you send resumes directly to hospitals and healthcare ISVs. All she needed to do was talk to someone at a healthcare company, and they would immediately pick up on her enthusiasm for healthcare and her passion for helping people as I did during our ten-minute conversation. Not only that, companies look for and prefer when you have domain knowledge.

Use Your Experience
This sounds simple, but so many folks I’ve talked to don’t realize that experience they already have is more relevant than they realize. Even the old example of cashiers at fast food restaurants can use that experience to influence a potential employer. If you are applying for an entry-level Tier 1 help desk position, the fact that you interacted with customers daily as part of your job is definitely relevant. Two candidates being equal, I would select the one that said they were a cashier at McDonald’s over one who had no customer facing experience. Those are soft skills that I scan for, and if you have them – use them, you just may not realize that it’s relevant. Think deeply about this paragraph as you are trying to build your resume to land that first job.

Identify Areas of Interest
Ok, it’s time… grab your notebook. Write down or review all of your hobbies and interests. Every one of them. Anything you’ve ever said to yourself, “that’s interesting” or “I wish I were…” or “when I grow up I want to be a…”
Do some general research on technologies in those areas; does that domain or industry have their own unique IT specialization? Which of these will provide you an additional layer of satisfaction on top of your day to day IT work?

Size Matters
You can further focus your job search or career goals by deciding what sized company you think you want to spend your career. You may also choose to start out with a big company then move to a smaller company because it will work for you. Or vice versa. One of your parents, Aunts or Uncles may have a strong opinion about this, but remember, it’s what you want; just know that size matters and impacts your career options! Let’s look at some attributes of different sized companies.

Large companies might feel like they provide significant long-term growth, though I would argue this is an urban myth perpetrated by our parents and grandparents. Pensions are a thing of the past, and so is a 30-year career with a large company. However, they can make lateral or upward moves within the company more accessible, but you may end up lost in the shuffle of being a number. Your compensation will be much more structured or banded. Your resume can get a name-recognition boost by working for a well-known firm.

Medium-sized companies can provide excellent opportunity with a lower amount of internal competition. These companies may be as agile as a small company but have the resources of a larger company – great questions to ask during the interview process! However, they may be as disorganized as a small company, and you may be as anonymous as in a large company. Research who the founders are and where they came from. Did they start their company after a successful run as executives at a Fortune 500 company? Expect them to hire like-minded executives who manage in a more organized manner. Are they serial entrepreneurs or otherwise have a start-up mentality? They may manage more loosely.

Small or Start-up
Small companies have agility. You will have the ability to grow with the company. You may have an opportunity for equity. Long-term compensation can be a considerable upside while short-term, start-up compensation may be lower (or it could be higher if they are well-funded!) Small companies may not have a support network like HR, recruiting, etc., if any. You may have to make lateral moves out of the company to advance if you become stuck. While compensation has a significant upside, job security is always at risk.

Zero in on Your Target
None of my advice is rocket science. You might argue you could have come up with this advice on your own, or that I’m not saying anything new. I won’t argue. However, the difference between being successful and not is putting in the time and energy and effort to complete the task with thoughtful vision. The first thing I determine when someone comes to me and says, “I’m having trouble finding a new job” is how much effort are they actually putting into the process.

Put forth the effort. Do a significant amount of research – as in hours and hours and days. Investigate the industry. Research companies. Thoroughly read their websites and relevant industry organization information. Understand their size, what they do, why they do it and who they are. Join local meetup groups for the technology or industry. Minimal effort while idly posting your resume to Indeed will result in precisely the same type of response. Enthusiastic, well-researched, passionate involvement in your job search will result in the same kind of response to your job inquiries!

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