5 ways for IT pros to become indispensable

Jack Cullen, president of IT staffing and recruiting firm Modis, talks about how IT pros can maximize their value

Tech is faring better than most industries on the jobs front. Unemployment is hovering around 4% compared to a national unemployment average of about 9% across all industries. Nonetheless, job security still feels elusive for many.

I spoke recently with Jack Cullen, president of IT staffing and recruiting firm Modis, about what IT pros can do to maximize the value they bring to organizations. Modis had come up with a list of five ways to be an indispensable IT professional in any economic climate, and Cullen elaborated on the topic.

But first the Modis list:

1. Know how and when to be thrifty;

2. Pay attention to preventative maintenance;

3. Be a jack of all trades;

4. Leverage IT to increase office productivity and demonstrate the benefits; and

5. Build relationships with coworkers.

In general, the pointers emphasize how IT pros need to think beyond the technical task at hand and use their expertise to help business leaders make strategic tech investments. CEOs and CFOs want to know how their investment in IT is translating into profits for the company, Cullen says, and that means IT workers need to learn everything they can about the business.

"Try to look at the business you're in, and how the work you do in IT could augment the return-on-investment for IT in that particular business," Cullen says. "Don't just sit back and focus on your work. Really understand your environment."

Oftentimes when a Modis client wants to retain a contract worker at the end of an assignment and use that worker for a new project, it's not just because of the person's tech skills, Cullen says. It's also because of the worker's understanding of the environment and willingness to bring ideas to the table.

Sometimes that means questioning a planned project, rather than simply doing the task someone tells you to do. If you're brought on to help with an ERP upgrade, for instance, "maybe you should ask: 'What do you want to accomplish? Why are we upgrading now? Have we looked at other platforms?'" Cullen says. "If you have an opinion, it's of value to speak up. People are looking for informed opinions."

Building relationships with coworkers and end users is also important. "Get to know other people in the work environment, particularly users of IT," Cullen says. "We want people to realize the importance of speaking up, letting people know who you are and what you do, and expanding your horizons."

A little self-promotion can help at a time when hiring managers are being extremely selective about the people they hire.

"I don't want to say they're looking for the purple squirrel, but they're coming close," Cullen says. "Companies have budget for IT staff, but they're being very picky, very demanding about who they're going to bring on."

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