IT professionals looking for work should be tapping social networking sites, using interactive online career tools and joining community-driven organizations.
It's all about who you know when it comes to looking for IT work, and with social networking technologies gaining popularity, today the number of people you know can grow exponentially online.
Sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Ryze draw volumes of professionals looking to maintain contact with former classmates and colleagues, and hiring companies today are exploiting such sites to find and attract IT talent. According to Forrester Research, some 61% of 25- to 34-year-olds rely primarily on the Internet for job information.
"Traditional sites are becoming less relevant to job seekers, and employers are getting savvy enough to know they have to go to the candidates' turf if they want to pick from the best available applicants," says Zach Thomas, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. Thomas reported in a Forrester paper earlier this year that most career Web sites fail job seekers in areas such as usability and privacy, but hiring managers are also turning elsewhere to find potential employees.
"Recruiters would rather search LinkedIn or Facebook than go out to Monster because they find more active candidates and less stale information," Thomas says.
That means well-known sites such as CareerBuilder, HotJobs and Monster could become secondary to upstarts such as Doostang, Jobs in Pods and Smuz that aggregate listings from such job boards and provide additional value for job seekers. For instance, Jobs in Pods posts podcast interviews with hiring managers and front-line employees at companies seeking candidates to give applicants more information on job requirements and company culture. Add to that the ability to build relationships online, to stay current on industry issues and to maintain contact with peers and job seekers can create a virtual career network working toward finding the ideal job.
"The Internet has made us much more collaborative by nature, which helps in networking with former and future colleagues," says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology, a technology consultant and IT staffing firm. "People realize the value of a referral or recommendation, a process that can be sped up significantly with social networking sites."
Working the job-search system
The IT job-search game may not have changed entirely, but job seekers realize they must revamp how they play to get ahead.
Networking has always been a staple in career building, but now the Internet enables networking on steroids. Expanding the job search beyond career sites could also help IT professionals find more postings relevant to their skill set. Nina Buik, senior vice president of MindIQ, an e-learning and IT training company, says joining user groups for specific technologies such as those from Cisco, HP or Microsoft could help IT professionals identify more jobs suited to them and companies looking for such talent.
"Joining an association targeted at specific technologies puts IT professionals in touch with peers at companies that might be looking for their skills. These associations are like fraternities, it is a brotherhood of sorts, and people will help each other if they have established that relationship," says Buik, who also serves as president of Connect, the newly named independent HP user group.
Even with sites such as Twitter and Friendster, for instance, members can pose questions to the community at large, track other members' activities and learn more about events they may find of interest, such as job fairs in a particular industry. Also the 24-7 nature of today's career sites can give members an edge when looking for work.
"Check all of the job sites you are looking at at least once per day. With companies posting new jobs different times of day, getting your hat in the ring earlier might help in getting selected for an interview instead of hoping that you stand out from the crowd when the rest of the heard has applied for the same job," says Ron Nutter, Network World Help Desk Editor and an IT professional who blogged about his experience looking for full-time work in the Kansas City, Mo., area.
Some sites such as Dice will allow candidates to pick and choose the resume they want to submit for a particular position without much effort, according to job seekers. For instance, Monster requires users to create a new profile for each resume, a time-consuming process that negates the added speed applying online offers.
"The only way I can change the resume is to go back to my profile page and upload the one I want to use -- replacing whatever was there," reports Terri Morgan, a principal at Wudang Research Association. With Dice, "Whatever resume you want can be used," she says. "And they have a pretty good tracking system for who's looked at your profile and which jobs you've applied for."
Others have embraced the process of targeting their resume for specific positions online. David Currier, a member of the infrastructure team for Perot Systems/Owen & Minor Medical in Richmond, Va., says typically his experience with online sites is disappointing. For one, he finds that he gets too few responses -- "like none usually" -- to applications, and the postings on the sites often seem stale. But when he ventured beyond the standard job boards, he had a better experience.
"I did hear that posting on Dice got more attention so I revamped my resume to provide more detail [not less like usual], a motto [some said they really like my motto] and I also indicated what languages I used during development and the phone started ringing off the hook," Currier says. "I got more contacts in three days than I had previously gotten in six years."
Avoiding potential pitfalls
Despite the advantages the Internet affords job seekers, IT professionals need to be strategic in the sites they visit, smart in how they present themselves online, ready to maintain their profiles and careful not to share too much information.
"When looking for online, you have to think big but go small. Never discount the niche sites. Dice, Juju and Monster may have a higher volume of postings but a regional Craigslist may have the most relevant postings for you," says Robert Half Technology's Lee.
"While people are looking for a permanent position, these sites offer good resources for contract work, which can help IT professionals bring in income but also make connections while they are looking for a full-time position," MindIQ's Buik says.
Another pitfall could come in how job seekers use social networking sites. While Forrester's Thomas explains that employers are embracing social networking sites in their candidate searches to learn more about a potential employee's likes, dislikes, hobbies and location, he warns IT professionals need to keep that information up-to-date and relevant.
"As much as stale information on career sites upsets job seekers, the same can be said for potential employers finding out-of-date resumes when they go looking," he says. "Paper resumes could be a thing of the past so the online profile needs to be the best representation of the candidate it can be."
That also means limiting the amount and type of information included on social networking sites. Job seekers should list hobbies that could be viewed as complementary or relevant to a potential job, not likes that may be more personal in nature.
"Use social networking sites intelligently. Don't put anything up there you don't want potential employers to see," Lee says. And don't tweak the resume in such a way that it provides a fabricated representation of experience or skills. Updates to career sites are designed to help candidates accentuate the skills they have to offer, not mislead potential employers.
"IT professionals know they need to be savvy with social networking in the workplace and looking for work, but you walk down a dangerous road when you start looking to present yourself or your resume in a specific way," Lee says. "Don't do anything that would make a potential employee question the validity of the information in your profile."