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Survive The HeadHunters

If you’re looking to advance your IT career, turning to a recruitment firm is one option – but it won’t help without the right qualifications or attitude.

The average tenure of an IT professional in Canada is now 18 months. If someone doesn’t like their current job, they just look for a new one. But that attitude is a double-edged sword because often IT executives won’t hire someone who hasn’t proven their ability to do a job in another company, says Mark Stevenson, director of national resourcing with CNC Global.

“Ironically, the mindset of an IT professional is they often look more toward their employer or future employer to provide them with management experience and training,” he says. But those who are able to advance themselves are typically the ones who take management training and certification just as seriously as they would IT.

For an IT professional starting out in the banking industry with a few years’ experience, the best way to quickly move up the ranks is to pursue designations like CSC, CFA or FRM. “If you’re working for one bank and they’re not willing to move you up, then there’s a line-up of other banks that will,” says James Liberi, vice-president of recruitment for MIS Consultants, a recruitment firm that’s been in the business of finding IT talent since 1978.

Most candidates are shy, and generally contact the firm through e-mail or get referred. In some cases, the firm contacts candidates directly.

As a recruiter, he finds that most candidates tell him they’re just looking for a job, and that doesn’t send the right message, he said. If, however, an individual feels they’re being under-utilized and could be doing much more, that’s the kind of attitude most employers are looking for.

While there’s an oversupply of IT skills in the market, that tends to be at the lower end, says Hassan Deeb, project manager of recruitment firm BizNets.com. When an employer uses the services of a head-hunter, there’s a fee to the employer. So if they can get the right candidate by placing an advertisement somewhere, they’ll tend to go that route. A recruitment firm generally gets involved when the skill set is not an easy one to find.

But when a candidate marries technology skills with management skills, that person becomes much more marketable – and is no longer pigeon-holed. Project management, for example, requires a different set of skills, such as managing people or timelines.

“By far the most important personality trait that all employers want to see, that all recruiters search day in and day out for, is a true positive attitude,” says Deeb. “Sometimes people think that’s a cliché saying. It’s not. A positive attitude far outweighs certain credentials.”

IT professionals are often highly intelligent and highly motivated, says Michael Bloom, vice-president of organizational effectiveness and learning with The Conference Board of Canada. But they may not have the communications skills or be as attuned to customer relationship management as senior management might want.

“Our research indicates that IT companies spend a little bit more than average on training,” he says. “When we asked them about leadership development, this sector scored itself a little bit worse than average – it’s not a case [where] they feel they’re doing a great job.” Expect that the organization you’re going into or want to go into may not offer you the range of training and development you need, he added. “Take personal responsibility and fill in the gaps yourself.”

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