Right Path, Going Nowhere
A reader who "followed the rules" is still having a tough time finding a job.
I’m a career-changer. I went to school at night and, eventually, found
a job as a tech support specialist. The dot-com company I worked for in
New York City liked my work and promoted me to data center manager. Unfortunately,
I was laid off in July, along with 100 other co-workers.
- By Greg Neilson
This market is really tough. Where recruiters used to
call me, now they won't even accept my calls. Realizing a potential weakness,
I went back to school. First it was MCP, then MCSE, then CCNA. Next week
I'm taking the Citrix CCA exam.
Much to my disappointment, my situation hasn’t improved.
You should hear some of the questions I’m asked: "Do you know Unix/Linux?"
"Do you have experience with PBX phone systems?" "Do you know firewalls?"
"Do you know Citrix?" What am I doing wrong? Is the market that bad? Have
I missed the boat? Should I start practicing air conditioning designs
Bloomfield, New Jersey
I really feel for you. Many of us still employed have a fear that we
could easily find ourselves in your position. Steve makes some excellent
points in his response, and there are a few areas I’d like to expand upon.
Recently I wrote a column (“The
Good Ol’ Days”) for MCP Magazine’s sister site CertCities.com.
The article touched on many of your concerns. In the long term, things
will pick up in IT, but I don’t think we’ll get back to the unsustainable
levels of activity we had in the late ’90s. This reduced demand means
lower salaries, as well as employers enjoying greater choice—which explains
why you were asked about your PBX and Cisco experience.
However, being asked about Linux and Citrix skills seems logical to me,
as they’re related to your current skills. When I’m hiring, I ask about
these, too. In days gone by, senior technical people were expected to
be familiar with both NetWare and Windows NT technologies; at the moment,
those two areas are Windows 2000 and Linux. Along with these, Citrix builds
on your Win2K knowledge, and the TCO of thin-client technology is currently
exciting a lot of technology managers.
It sounds to me like you’re already doing all the right things. I’m afraid
I don’t have a magic spell to give you that will quickly and easily resolve
your situation. All you can do is keep your existing skills fresh, keep
up-to-date on the latest technologies like Windows XP and Windows .NET
Server beta, and—most important—keep plugging away day after day to find
that next job. I’ve interviewed a number of people recently, and when
I asked some basic technical questions I found that many had been out
of work for more than a few months and have forgotten things that they
probably would or should know. As a hiring manager, I need someone who
can jump in and be productive the first day; I can’t afford to take a
chance on how I hope someone might perform once they get back up to speed.
I can’t say whether this is a problem for you, but it’s something to be
aware of. It’s imperative you find ways to keep up your technical knowledge.
For example, you might read the Windows 2000 Server Resource Kit from
cover to cover (you’d be surprised what you learn and might have forgotten!)
and, perhaps, experiment at home with some of the components within Win2K
that you don’t know as well as you’d like. Make sure you keep up to date
with the latest Microsoft security advisories and hot fixes.
Also, make sure your salary expectations are realistic with the current
state of the job market. It’s likely you’ll need to accept less than you
were making before, so don’t let this stop you from being considered for
open positions. All too often we carry a mental picture of “I’m worth
$80,000,” and expect that this salary will keep continuing to increase
as we progress in our career. However, as hot skills become commodities
or as the total demand drops, remember that we live in a market-based
economy; we’re only worth what someone’s prepared to pay us. We shouldn’t
get hung up on feeling that we have some intrinsic worth and believing
anything less is an insult. I don’t think that this view is very palatable
in the IT community right now, but the sooner we get over these barriers,
the better for all. Of course I believe we’ll continue to do well in IT
relative to other professions, but we probably won’t get back to the salary
levels we became used to in the late ’90s.
Greg Neilson is a manager at a large IT services firm in Australia and has been a frequent contributor to MCPmag.com and CertCities.com.