Strategies for higher pay in today's job market

The best certifications, the fastest way to the CIO role, the hottest IT skills - national IT recruiter Matt Colarusso answers readers' questions about today's job market.

The best certifications, the fastest way to the CIO role, the hottest IT skills - national IT recruiter Matt Colarusso, branch manager of the Sapphire National Recruiting & Strategic Accounts Team, answers readers' questions about today's job market.

Moderator-Julie: Welcome to today's chat. Our guest is Matt Colarusso, IT recruiting expert and branch manager of the Sapphire National Recruiting & Strategic Accounts Team. He will be answering your questions on the IT job market or anything else you want to talk about.

Matt_Colarusso: Welcome and good afternoon everyone. I'm looking forward to today's discussion on today's IT job market....fire away when ready!

Education, certifications and degrees

Djstorm: Hi Matt. I am A+, N+ certified and working towards my CCNA certification. I am currently a CAT Scan Engineer for Siemens, looking for work in networking with a strong interest in Cisco. What qualifications do I need, to break into the networking field? What kind of salary should I expect with the certifications I have so far? I would really appreciate your advice. Thank you.

Matt_Colarusso: Hey dj. Great groundwork so far for where you want to go and anything in telecom/communications is hot right now. CCNA is a great start. Certifications add spice to the resume but an employer wants to see real-world experience. Compensation will be based on location. Research your market and you will get a great idea as to where the salary packages are at.

Moderator-Julie: You can find regional information about salaries through Network World's 2007 Salary Survey. Also, check out our salary calculator. It will give you a more personal view of what you could be earning.

Djstorm: How can I get real world experience and keep my salary competitive with a CCNA and minimal experience? How would I go about doing that while changing careers? I live in NYC.

Matt_Colarusso: Your example doesn't have a simple answer and I would be more than happy to follow up with you. I suggest you focus on where you want to get to. I always also suggest for people to NETWORK. This means with everyone neighbors, online user groups, friends, alumni. Get your foot in the door. You'll be surprised how many opportunities you will uncover that are not posted on a web site anywhere.

Bryan:  I’ve been in IT going on 5 years. I’ve been debating the idea of going back to school. I currently have two associate degrees and a bachelor of arts in corporate communications. If I wanted to get out of the trenches of IT and go towards the consulting or management side of IT is it necessary to have a masters degree in business? What masters programs are well respected in the IT world?

Matt_Colarusso: Another great question. But remember – do your best not to get out of the trenches all together. Like no other profession it is imperative to stay fresh and show continued employment in IT. Masters degrees again are a great way to attract people to your resume but a lot of people can practically convince an employer that they have a masters degree based on previous employment. As far as what schools have the best programs. You should decide what area of consulting you want to get into and research from there. Too many great schools for a general answer.

Alice: Have you seen much recognition/understanding yet of Microsoft's new certification lines (MCTS/MCITP), compared to MCSE etc?

Matt_Colarusso: Just based on requirements that we see from our clients, we haven't seen demand/misunderstanding of it.

WayneW: What is up with employers asking for everything -- giving titles like "network administrator" but requiring a MCSE?

Matt_Colarusso: That's the biggest complaint I hear from job seekers. It's mostly because there are no rules or guidelines for how people write, post or advertise a job opening. You need to look at "required skills" and read between the lines on the posting.  Sell where your strengths are.  If you think you are a fit, submit your resume or work with a recruiter who can sell your skills for you.

WayneW: Do you recommend multiple higher level certifications, i.e. CCNP and MCSE?

Matt_Colarusso: Higher level certs will always catch the eye of the person reviewing your resume but it's how you relate your real-world experience that will get you the job. Especially in networking or tech support. For those of you in other areas like project manager or business administration type roles, some certs will get you the first interview slot if the cert methodology is in line with what the employer is seeking.

Default User:  Matt, how do you balance business experience and IT certifications? I have a CISA, ITIL, SIX Six Sigma and would like to transition back from my business role into a security/IT role.

Matt_Colarusso: It's all how you connect your experience back to the role that you want to be in. Did any of those certs come into play when you were previously doing security work? The skills you have would get interest from my employers. It's all about proving your desire and energy level for the field that you want to get into. I'm confident you will open some eyes with the background you already have.

Landing the CIO title

Mike: I have been the IT manager of a successful hedge fund for eight years and I was an IT consultant for three years prior to that (which included clients in the finance industry as well as others). I was passed over for the CIO/CTO position in my current firm when they hired from outside. I always got good reviews. The hire was a friend of another officer's so I didn't have a chance. I have a BS in EE, a minor in computer science.

Matt_Colarusso: Hi Mike. The good news is you have a great background and marketable skills. Seems like you've been affected by politics which happens. I would start a passive search if you are unhappy and work to uncover other potential opportunities.

Mike: Any suggestions on how to make myself a better CIO candidate?

Matt_Colarusso: CIO is a title that is getting more vague. More and more C-level positions are popping up.  Make sure it's a CIO position you want and not a CTO or CSO. The best way to sell CIO skills is to show your accomplishments in getting multiple divisions to work together in harmony, after all the CIO is that mystical figure that helps every unit work together.

George What is the probability, if there is any, to get a managerial (CIO) job if your native language is not English?

Matt_Colarusso: English doesn't have to be your native language but you do need to be able to communicate effectively. Honestly if that is a desire of yours and you think it might be a roadblock, practice getting better with the language skills. A CIO has to communicate with all levels of management. If you think it's a weakness then there are ways to make yourself better.

Moderator-Beth Pre-submitted question: CIO, CTO, CSO -- seems like there are more C-level jobs being created in IT. How common is it for companies to have multiple C-level IT professionals?

Matt_Colarusso: Size of the company makes a difference. IT is an extremely vast realm that affects every part of an organization. Most eCommerce and/or global companies will have multiple C-level positions, while smaller companies might have one or none. As businesses continue to evolve in a global economy you might even see more titles.

Hot skills

Wannabetechie: Hi Matt: It appears that today's IT market's emphasis is on networking and security. Would you agree and what would you recommend for someone to improve their skills in those fields?

Matt_Colarusso: I absolutely agree. Think about global eCommerce and the issues it faces with security.  It's in the news everyday. If you are still in school, find an internship where you can get technical experience and let your employer know that your focus is on security. (I have a friend that did this and is already being given technical training and certification classes which his employer is paying for.)

aelroy: What area of IT management seems to be more in demand or is expected to be more in demand in the foreseeable future?

Matt_Colarusso: Any management area that is tied to mandated programs -- think Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA. If you have solid IT management skills you will find opportunities. There is just a greater need for people in areas where employers have to follow mandates.

Moderator-Beth:  Pre-submitted question: What "traditional" skills command high salaries?

Matt_Colarusso: I still see high salaries in the software development area, but specifically in developers who also have business acumen. These are IT pros who can see things from a business analysts perspective but also understand the development behind it and can communicate with both parties and provide visions for the future.

Slick: Is there any market for someone who's been out of the IT field for approx 15 years?

Matt_Colarusso: I don't want to be a pessimist but you face an uphill battle. At Sapphire we don't like to see anyone out of the IT market for more than 6 months. You will probably have to realize that you might have to go back to square one and build a new career.

Sunspec:  Do you see job postings with required experience in many different software packages as a scare tactic to weed out unqualified applicants? There is no way someone could have experience with every piece of software some of these ads have.

Matt_Colarusso: Not as much a scare tactic as probably just a poorly written job description. This is one area where a recruiter can help you out. They might be able to weed out what the desired skills are from the required ones. If you feel strongly that your skills are a good fit, submit your resume and follow-up with the submittal.

RickB: Matt, as a consultant I'm always balancing engagements with the potential for future revenue opportunities. Can you discuss the demand for a security consultants, and specifically what area of focus might be most lucrative and in demand?

Matt_Colarusso: Hey Rick, security is without a doubt one of the hotter markets today. We have learned that the landscape of the IT worker is forever changing. But today to be skilled in IT security will no doubt enhance your future earning potential. One focus would be anything on the eCommerce side.

Resumes, references and interviewing

Sam: I started career as computer teacher and since then been an IT manager and for the last few years, other than IT manager, I wear the hat of Internet marketing, Internet strategist. Since last few years my stronghold was on Internet strategist/marketing/cpc/google adwords, yahoo marketing, an employer might get confuse with what I am focusing on. Should I make my resume to specific to a job market?  And, what is ideal size of a resume? Mine is five pages. I get feeling it gets rejected because of the length – or is it because I've been wearing 20 different hats? Is that what makes employers/recruiters confused?

Matt_Colarusso: Love how you covered different areas in your career. Don't underestimate how marketable you are. Focus on accomplishments that are related to the job you are going after. But yes, five pages is too long. I like to see a maximum of two pages. Remember, the first person seeing your resume is probably not the hiring manager but a support person who is not going to read through five pages.

Brian: I've been working in an IT department of one and would like to get on in a larger company. Any tips for writing the perfect resume? How important are objectives, as opposed to just listing job experience?

Matt_Colarusso: Great question Brian...there's an old saying when it comes to writing resumes: brevity is beauty. Concentrate on the accomplishments of your current position and not necessarily the objectives. Highlight everything and cross-reference where your experience as a one man gang will work in a larger organization.

SA: I have two questions. I'm completing my M.S. in healthcare IT from a respected public university. What are my prospects for landing a high-paying job in the next year? Secondly, what would the situation be for international students for work in IT with the whole sponsorship/work visa mess in the next year or two? Do organizations like yours differentiate between local and international students while recruiting fresh hires?

Matt_Colarusso: SA, great news. Healthcare is probably one of the hottest segments in the market, so your prospects are excellent. In terms of international students, I have three working for me right now. It's a matter of finding someone to sponsor your work visa after your student visa expires and that will take some work. That's part of the reason why companies like Sapphire have business lines to help people like yourself out. At the same time, you need to stay on top of all the immigration issues. It's very important to know what changes in the laws are going on so you can be out in front of any potential roadblocks.

Shop: As a potential hiring manager and also a potential job seeker, what method(s) are best for getting good candidates and getting jobs that really fit you. Is it best to go through a recruiter or do the job websites have benefits as well? (I know I'm asking this of a recruiter, but thought I would see what you have to say anyway.)

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