Proactive career management

Wednesday Mar 1st 2000 by Erik Sherman
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Job seekers, and hiring managers, must be knowledgeable about the who, what, and where of the employment market.

Maybe the financial deities have frowned on your current employer, causing a layoff. Although spared, you are certain you could be next--so it's time to find another job. Luckily, being in a booming market with hot skills, getting another position will take less time than saying, "I'm outta here!"

Or perhaps you need to staff up and hire Web developers. Placing ads blindly is as good as wasting money. Instead, try looking at the places such talent seems to congregate and scoop up the people you need.

Whether you want a job or must hire technical personnel, knowing who's hot and where things are happening will make your life easier. Some positions, such as Web development or specialization in finance and accounting, have burned up the online ad boards, racking up huge growth. Meanwhile, regions such as New York and Boston have an insatiable appetite for technical talent of all sorts. In other areas, like San Diego, things may be bleak for even a Web specialist, but an employer is likely to be in dire need of a business analyst or database administrator, suggesting that transitioning employees might be the efficient way to go.

IT jobs on DICE
The number of IT jobs posted at dice.com shows the U.S. employment outlook for IT is rosy. The overall number of dice.com listings grew by 36.8%, and the expansion has been continuous--not the result of a particularly good month. Source: Dice.com, Feb. 7, 2000

It's all valuable information. And that is what you will get from the team of Datamation and dice.com, a Des Moines, Iowa-based EarthWeb company and leading job-listing site for information technology experts. Instead of guessing the state of the current market, we're taking the pain out of the information-gathering process with an analysis of nearly 500,000 job postings from July to December 1999.

As with anything, there are some caveats. Because the data comes only from the dice.com site, it runs the risk of representing only a small portion of the companies actually hiring. Also, as the Security and Exchange Commission reminds investors, previous activity is no guarantee of future performance. Historic information doesn't necessarily predict the future, which is ultimately what you want to know.

Doom and gloom aside, there is plenty to learn from these numbers, as they represent tens of thousands of job postings a month from thousands of companies across the country.

Who's hot--and what's not

From one view, almost everyone in high tech has numerous options on where to call home. The IT-related job market grew by almost 37% from July to December 1999 (see table, "Growing opportunities"). And the national job-growth trend was largely reflected by the major IT markets in the United States (see table, "Key U.S. job markets"). But there are clear leaders in the pack. Web developers and Webmasters saw the most remarkable growth (see table, Hot skills: trendy vs. available on page 4").

Given the rapid growth rate of the new "e-conomy," this shouldn't be surprising. Companies of all types have found themselves plunging into e-commerce, so the demand for experienced people has been strong. And in most cases, employers haven't had the time to build a sufficiently broad base of specialists.

Showing the other side of the same phenomenon, long-established job categories such as systems programmers and application programmers saw the least growth because companies are usually well-staffed in these areas and there are many practitioners. In fact, the growth rates could largely be explained by normal turn-over.

Less obvious is that any rocketing new technology also fuels expansion in other business areas. Look at the growth in communications specialists and network experts. Not only does e-commerce require communications and networks, but "all these e-commerce areas have call centers," notes Elaine Erickson, vice president at New York-based executive search firm Kenzer Corp.

Successful e-commerce also requires new business models and processes that must be integrated with the old, explaining the increased need for business analysts and project managers. Even sales' and marketing's use of technical people has jumped enormously. Both job seekers and employers need to examine this "tag along" effect. Hiring managers with projections in e-commerce, for example, need to know how to make plans for the other positions that such business activity can create. Candidates for positions can think about repositioning themselves to take advantage of such related growth.

E-commerce is not the only factor fueling new IT jobs. In second place are jobs in the finance and accounting areas. This might come as a surprise until one remembers that the category includes enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. ERP software has been a corporate hot button with Y2K issues, and newly installed systems require experienced help as businesses try to wean themselves from consultants.

"We see a lot of these ERP systems," agrees Mark Bradley, a partner in The Landstone Group, a New York affiliate of Management Recruiters International. "Big IT consulting firms have done a lot of the implementation." Indeed, corporations have been leaning on consultants to get their ERP systems up and running. But as the systems have come on line, companies looking to control the applications in-house have phased out consultants and hired experienced help.

Close on the heels of finance and accounting is graphics and CAD/CAM listings, with a 70% increase from July to December 1999. Many manufacturing companies are expanding their use of CAD systems, integrating them with procurement software to let engineers and purchasing personnel review part and component requirements to more effectively order what they need.

In other words, with all of the e-commerce hype, it's easy to forget that businesses have other expanding needs. By moving into one of these quieter areas, smart employees can ride a wave that is noticed by fewer people, thus lessening the competition. Those hiring also have to remember that while e-commerce is in the news, other jobs can be just as important.

Another interesting trend is the drop in recruiter-offered positions. Job sites like dice.com have begun to replace the traditional recruiter; online, companies post ads and workers can post resumes. When employers and IT pros find each other on the Internet, it lowers the costs and increases the efficiency of corporate hiring. However, those who want new employment may lose out on the advice offered by recruiters. That increases the burden of understanding how to present yourself well in a resume, since this representation becomes the first--and often only--communication with a hiring manager.

Location, location, location

No matter what the national trends are, it's important to remember that conditions differ as locations change. Both job applicants and those hiring must be aware of the regional differences. Some areas, such as Boston, New York, and Silicon Valley, have been strong job markets in the past. And the growth of e-commerce has only increased the number of available positions. Venture capital firms, which fund new company growth, tend to settle in areas that are traditionally strong in high-tech employment. Web ventures also require creative services that can be found in the publishing pinnacle of New York or among the broadcast and movie experts in Los Angeles.

Other cities, such as Denver, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., have seen an IT employment renaissance because of local businesses and government working together to increase economic development and, as a result, the number of jobs. As such regions seek to attract technology companies, the number of IT jobs increases. For example, look at the expansion of Web development positions in these cities (see table, "Timing is Everything" on Page 4).

As companies converge on these areas, they draw the employees, investments, and jobs from other parts of the country. Smaller cities not shown in these tables have actually seen significant losses recently. It's likely the 24.3% loss in Harrisburg, Pa., went to Philadelphia, for example.

Regional economic hiccups can affect even those areas that should be strong. Look at San Diego, which saw an overall drop in job postings even though it is near some of the nation's strongest IT job markets. Much of the drop is probably temporary and can be traced to wireless giant Qualcomm, according to Lisa Dowd, CEO of S.Com Inc., a San Francisco staffing and consulting firm that focuses on the wireless communications market.

Qualcomm has seen both some financial set-backs and the acquisition of a competing division of Ericcson Electric. As a result, it started to cut back employment. "They lay off several hundred people at a time," says Dowd. But those affected went to other local area companies, which found themselves filling needs without having to advertise positions.

So, employees may find that locating new positions is easy, but only in certain parts of the country. Hiring managers, meanwhile, can actually use such conditions to their advantage by looking for employees who are focused on a better and slower quality of life or those who have ties to a given area.

Those on both sides of the hiring fence should also keep in mind that quality of life goes only so far when demand is high and supply is limited. According to Kenzer's Erickson, salaries continue to rise. "You cannot assume that [a company] can pay for these people what [they] paid for them a year ago. You are probably looking at a 10% to 20% increase over last year. Companies are desperate," she notes. //

Key U.S. Job Markets


July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec. Change
Atlanta
2,739
2,986
2,894
3,138
3,330
3,466
26.5%
Austin
992
1,020
1,023
1,110
1,206
1,235
24.5%
Boston
2,632
3,100
3,627
4,405
5,060
5,883
123.5%
Chicago
3,808
4,090
4,384
4,714
4,935
5,232
37.4%
Dallas
2,437
2,550
2,798
3,066
3,269
3,571
46.5%
Denver
1,573
1,802
1,816
1,869
2,104
2,350
49.4%
Houston
1,000
1,095
1,030
1,161
1,196
1,274
27.4%
Los Angeles
6,740
7,109
7,517
8,110
8,427
8,932
32.5%
New York
6,684
7,338
7,908
8,973
9,792
10,660
59.5%
Philadelphia
2,862
3,063
3,030
3,482
3,677
3,860
34.9%
Phoenix
1,252
1,307
1,318
1,238
1,275
1,352
8.0%
Raleigh
1,136
1,382
1,429
1,452
1,528
1,525
34.2%
San Diego
1,386
1,481
1,339
1,342
1,209
1,227
-11.5%
San Francisco
4,942
5,160
5,403
5,528
5,772
5,864
18.7%
Seattle
1,810
2,168
2,044
2,244
2,265
2,212
22.2%
Silicon Valley
15,273
15,754
17,086
17,869
18,944
19,555
28.0%
Trenton
2,165
2,404
2,519
2,751
2,914
3,045
40.6%
Washington, D.C.
2,021
2,153
2,386
2,713
2,980
3,265
61.6%
Table 1: Overall, job postings from around the country have been increasing at dice.com, but picking the right areas increases the chance of finding just what you want. Listings in the greater Boston area have more than doubled. Cities like Dallas, Denver, and Trenton, N.J., saw between 40% and 50% growth in dice.com listings. Phoenix, however, saw relatively low growth and San Diego listings actually dropped by close to 12%, although layoffs at wireless vendor Qualcomm were considered a big reason for the plummet.

Hot Skills: Trendy vs. Available
Month Jul. Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec. Change
Applications programmer / Analyst
15,327
16,037
16,270
17,179
17,900
18,468
20.5%
Business analyst / Modeler
5,110
5,508
5,536
6,070
6,535
7,013
37.2%
Communications specialist
730
836
837
901
948
1,033
41.5%
Custom / Tech support
3,253
3,406
3,635
3,791
3,927
3,935
21.0%
Data processing operator
400
408
431
478
502
494
23.5%
Database administrator
3,902
4,221
4,456
4,816
5,093
5,434
39.3%
Finance / Accounting
785
886
888
1,149
1,261
1,462
86.2%
Graphics / CAD/CAM
300
330
370
431
455
510
70.0%
Hardware engineer
1,671
1,752
1,930
2,021
2,166
2,235
33.8%
Instructor / Trainer
330
362
364
410
432
469
42.1%
LAN / Network administrator
2,855
2,941
3,129
3,442
3,588
3,747
31.2%
Manager / Project leader
6,791
7,291
7,588
8,313
8,944
9,602
41.4%
Other types of engineers
3,541
3,800
4,049
4,377
4,774
5,146
45.3%
Quality assurance / Tester
2,879
3,092
3,256
3,415
3,573
3,690
28.2%
Recruiter
358
382
418
432
462
478
33.5%
Sales / Marketing
2,355
2,561
2,752
3,206
3,444
3,839
63.0%
Software engineer
11,654
12,839
13,454
14,314
15,089
15,912
36.5%
Systems programmer / Support
2,721
2,947
2,984
3,050
3,173
3,271
20.2%
Systems administrator
3,775
4,054
4,253
4,594
4,945
5,082
34.6%
Technical writer
826
882
945
1,002
1,049
1,073
29.9%
Web developer / Webmaster
3,105
3,694
4,353
4,933
5,509
6,245
101.1%
Table 2: There are skills, and then there are skills. Ultra-high growth areas are either directly related to the Web or are supporting e-commerce efforts, in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business sites. Solid business skills and knowledge will raise your marketability. But don't ignore traditional roles like programmer/analysts or software engineers. Although the percentage of expansion is far lower, a bottom end of 20.5% is hardly shabby. Given the vast numbers of such people needed by corporations, what these positions lack in trendiness, they make up for in volume.

Timing is Everything
Web developer / Webmaster

July August September October November December Change
Atlanta
113
129
156
182
212
227
100.9%
Austin
58
63
65
74
80
85
46.6%
Boston
114
148
209
292
366
436
282.5%
Chicago
179
215
235
267
290
346
93.3%
Dallas
97
112
143
131
152
178
83.5%
Denver
74
97
117
119
145
184
148.6%
Houston
36
47
47
50
51
60
66.7%
Los Angeles
332
385
489
566
634
712
114.5%
New York
286
364
439
530
622
736
157.3%
Philadelphia
127
159
188
236
246
291
129.1%
Phoenix
42
46
52
45
56
70
66.7%
Raleigh
29
56
52
47
63
80
175.9%
San Antonio
2
4
6
5
4
6
200.0%
San Diego
63
54
42
52
46
50
-20.6%
San Francisco
295
333
363
398
429
484
64.1%
Seattle
150
177
176
185
206
193
28.7%
Silicon Valley
513
596
738
839
903
1,003
95.5%
Trenton
88
104
112
135
153
173
96.6%
Washington, D.C.
104
109
128
154
164
171
64.4%
Table 3: Having a hot skill isn't enough. You need to be in the right place at this right time. Web developers, for example, will have a much easier time finding work in some parts of the country. Boston, Los Angeles, and New York, not surprisingly, are all hotbeds of Web start-ups and activity. Some areas where you might expect much more activity, like Seattle, can surprise. Do some research before job hunting.

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