How to Not Get an IT Job: 10 Tips

Tuesday Sep 16th 2008 by James Maguire
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A survey of classic mistakes made by job hunters in the tech job market.

Also see: IT Salary Survey, January 2009 (gives comparative numbers between '08 and '09.)

You have IT skills and you have experience as a tech professional. You’re even willing to take a shower and dress nicely for an interview. But you’ve seen some big fish slip away. Other candidates scored the IT positions you were after.

Or, you’re sitting in your current tech job seriously thinking about switching employers, and you want to shape up your approach. You want to boost your chances that the phone will ring with a lucrative offer. Ring, baby, ring.

In either case, the following guide to tech job-hunting faux pas can help. By avoiding these mistakes, you increase your chances of increasing your salary. And that’s a good thing.

So stop scouring the job boards for a moment and take a gander:

1) Put a generic objective at the top of your resume.

On a daily basis, hiring reps in Human Resources departments see about 10,000 resumes with an Objective or Goal at the top that is mind-bogglingly generic.

For instance:

“OBJECTIVE: To work for a dynamic IT company where I can experience career growth and work with a highly qualified tech team.”

That piece of boilerplate says absolutely nothing about you specifically. Worse, it encourages bored, overworked hiring reps to place your resume in the dreaded discard pile.

“Having a very generic resume basically reveals that you’ll take any kind of IT job that comes along,” says Nick Corcodilos, a veteran IT headhunter and owner of AskTheHeadhunter. “You’re applying for almost anything in IT you might be remotely qualified for.”

To better romance an employer, your Objective should be tailored specifically for them. Naturally this requires you to research your prospective employer’s business niche. Then write your Objective with them in mind.

Such as:

“OBJECTIVE: To leverage my database programming skills to enable a growing IT firm to better target the small and mid-sized database application market.”

Bingo! That’s an arrow sent right to heart. Here are more IT resume tips.

2) Make it Clear You’re Unconcerned with the Company’s Bottom Line.

You’re in deep danger of getting an IT job if, in the interview or cover letter, you emphasize your focus on company revenues. To avoid getting hired, pay no attention to business concerns whatsoever. Make it clear you’re an IT expert – business is a subject you have only shuddering disdain for.

In many companies, the business dweebs exist in a separate armed camp from the tech geeks. Both sides glare at either other uncomprehendingly. Letting the hiring rep know you’ll stand on one side only is a sure way to miss the job offer.

Or, if you want to get hired, Corcodilos reveals one of his secrets:

“One of the most successful techniques that I teach to candidates is to go into the interview and talk about profitability of the department and company for the manager. Managers never get people any people coming in and talking about that stuff. Managers are usually startled when somebody comes in, a technologist, and says ‘there’s a profit component here – and I’m concerned about that.’”

3) Let the manager know how fed up your are with your prior employer’s technology.

This one is a classic for IT staffers, given that the quality of an employer’s technical infrastructure so affects their daily life. If the servers are semi-ancient, or the IT budget is doled out grudgingly (a constant), the tech staff grumbles. Sometimes loudly.

Expressing these emotions in a job interview is a mistake, Corcodilos notes. “Tell the manager that you’re applying with how much you’re fed up with your old company because the technology sucks.” Then forget about the job offer.

“Every company you talk to might look like they’ve got new, golden technology,” he says. “But what any CTO will tell you is that our technology is probably as far behind as the last guy’s.”

It’s a case of the grass looking greener. “If you’re the manager on the receiving end of this stuff and you know better, it kind of makes you realize you’re talking to someone who’s not very sophisticated.”

4) Project a sense of the lone individual.

IT staffers are famously perceived as techie geeks whose heads are buried in arcane tech knowledge. The stereotype says they have compensated for lack of social skills by becoming experts in an absurdly complex area. Consequently, they’re glint-eyed loners who know only how to twist the dials.

If you actually talk with tech professionals you realize this isn’t true. (Well, it’s true sometimes but not often.) But HR people, in interview situations and as they scan a resume or talk with recommenders, look for signs that you’re unable to play well with others.

So if you want to avoid getting the job, demonstrate that you’re unwilling to compromise. Interpersonal flexibility must be avoided. Let them know you take amusement in the sheer idiocy of non-technical people.

The key here is to be passive. Don’t take the lead and volunteer information or ask questions. “Go into an interview and just answer questions,” Corcodilos says. “Don’t ask about what problems and challenges the organization is facing, because you’re afraid you can’t provide ideas.” Of course, if you can’t provide ideas about improving systems (bonus points: trimming costs), you probably shouldn’t be there – and you probably won’t be.

Here are tips about surviving the IT interview.

5) Send in a resume and wait for HR to process you.

Simply sending in a resume and sitting back and waiting for the phone to ring is a great way to avoid employment. You’re jumping in with a big pool of fish and it’s likely you’ll remain unnoticed.

Those candidates who truly want to be hired do everything possible to get an inside track. Submitting their resume is step one, followed by some downright Machiavellian maneuvering. “Spend a little time and find who the manager is and who knows the manager,” Corcodilos says. “The way to get a job is to act like an insider. If you’re not an insider, make an effort to becoming an insider – develop some contacts.”

“Work backwards: go talk to people who can influence the manager about bringing you in.”

The point is to vault yourself from the also-rans to the finalist rank. “What you need to be doing is competing with the candidate that the headhunter is bringing in or the candidate who’s actually got a contact with the manager.”

Ideally – and it’s not always possible – you should even attempt to control which company rep you interview with. Avoid the idiot at all costs.

“Interview as intelligently as possible with a naïve manager, but you’re totally wasting your time. I’ve known lots of talented guys who go into an interview, and the reason they blow it: they’re interviewing with a dope.”

“If you know you’re going to meet with a turkey, you’ve got to figure out how to meet with somebody else. If you have a contact within a company, you might be able to wrangle a different kind of interview.” But, he concedes, “I’m not saying it’s easy.”

6) Do all your searching online. (Never pick up the phone!)

Tech job boards are numerous online – here’s a list of the best IT job boards.

But to actually land of these jobs, you need to take action beyond the Internet. Networking on the phone is “absolutely,” one of the most effective job hunting techniques, says John Estes, a VP with Robert Half Technology.

“The best way to find a job, whether you’re out of a job or just looking for a better one, is just good old-fashioned networking.”

Experts estimate that well over half – as much as 70 percent by one count – of all jobs are filled by personal contact. So get out there: professional organizations, old coworkers, friends, trade shows. Maximize the element of human contact as you let the world know you’re job hunting.

7) Make a whole lot of noise about all your certifications.

IT certifications are often a valuable way to boost your attractiveness in the marketplace. Plenty of tech pros have a heaping handful of certs.

But going into an interview and loudly trumpeting your certs can send a red flag to a hiring rep.

“What that tells the manager is that you’re tying to impress him with all the certifications – and you really don’t have the skills,” Corcodilos says.

“What I find is that managers distinguish candidates one of two ways. One is the person how can really walk the walk – and they may or may not have certifications. But then there are the ones who lean so hard on the certifications, they’re compensating for the fact that they really don’t know how to use the technology.”

So yes, mention your certs. But making them the centerpiece of your sales pitch might help someone else get hired.

8) Don’t learn new skills – especially in the growing areas.

There are as many opinions about the future shape of the IT industry as there are players. Given the massive changes riling the market – as cloud computing emerges, as outsourcing continues – who’s to say exactly what the ideal IT career strategy is?

But a common belief among IT futurists is that tech professionals will need to wear a variety of hats. Versatility is essential. The highly specialized niche expert, of course, will likely never fade. But for many IT workers, having a broad basket of skills is probably the best way to avoid outsourced replacement.

As noted in How to Survive the Outsourcing Boom, the IT generalist is on the rise. An individual who knows not only technology but also business (again, business – it just won’t go away) will be in demand.

Also, keep on eye on emerging new technologies; here’s a guide to growing job areas, focusing on virtualization. And while you’re researching, take a glimpse at this list of current hot IT jobs, which notes that application developer, data modeler and IT auditor are desired skills.

9) Don’t live (or consider moving to) the best cities for IT job growth.

Which begs the question: what are the best cities for IT job growth? Well, that depends on how you define it.

If you’re talking of jobs, the leaders (in this order) are: 1) New York/New Jersey, 2) Washington DC/Baltimore, 3) Silicon Valley, 4) Boston, 5) Chicago, 6) Los Angeles, 7) Dallas, 8) Philadelphia, 9) Atlanta, 10) Seattle.

(Yes, there are more tech jobs in Washington/Baltimore than Silicon Valley – by a wide margin. And you thought you were cool because you pay $3,000 for a one-bedroom apartment in the Valley.)

But if you’re talking growth in jobs, the order is as follows (the accompanying number states year-to-date job growth vs. same period in 2007): 1) Hartford, CT (30%), 2) Cincinnati (28%), 3) Miami (23%), 4) Pittsburgh (22%), 5) Charlotte (21%), 6) Cleveland (14%), 7) Detroit (12%), 8) Minneapolis (12%), 9) Denver (9%), 10) Seattle (9%).

Of course some of these smaller locales are seeing high percentage growth because the base of IT jobs is small, so any increase gives a major percentage boost.

Note that Seattle is on both lists.

10) Bonus point for older workers: focus on age discrimination to the exclusion of all else.

In a tech landscape that changes faster than you can say Twitter, older workers need to make sure their outlook is as fresh as that perky 31-year-old’s. Or they at least need to fake it.

“If you go into an interview and you’re worried about being discriminated against because of your age, most managers can smell it,” Corcodilos says.

“They can tell you’re worried about being discriminated against. There are bigots out there who are going to discriminate against you, and you have to decide if you want to sue them or just walk away.

On the other hand, “there are managers who don’t have a problem with age – unless they can smell your concern about it. Then what they’re worried about it is, they’re going to hire somebody with attitude who’s always looking for age discrimination, and it’s going to distract them from their work.”

Bottom line: In the interview, focus on the company’s bottom line instead of your age, and it’ll help you as much as anything.

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