October 17, 2013, 3:00 PM — Are you an IT professional whose job search doesn't seem to be going anywhere? Looking for a new postion in a competitive tech job market can be frustrating when you aren't achieving your desired results. How do you make yourself stand apart from all the other job seekers?
Part of that equation is preparing a strategy, building a plan and avoiding the common pitfalls. If you're not diligent, patient and careful it's easy for things to fall through the cracks. To help you prevent that from happening, CIO.com spoke with career coaches, resume writers and IT recruiters to shed light on the most commonly seen mistakes IT pros make when conducting their job search.
1. Not Planning and Preparing a Job Search Strategy
Searching for a new position is a full-time job. Many candidates go into the search with little or no preparation. More than that, they don't set aside enough time each week or set the proper expectations in terms of how long the overall process will require.
"Having a focused strategy that makes the best use of whatever time you can commit to the search is imperative. I talk to too many professionals who spend several hours each day or night and all they accomplish is sifting through hundreds of postings listed with online job boards," says Stephen Van Vreede, career strategist and founder of ITTechExec.
2. Not Maintaining and Growing Your Network
According to a 2011 survey from Simplyhired.com, more than half of job seekers had been hired through a friend's referral. If you look around the Web many sites say between 70-80% of jobs are found through networking. With odds like that, you should spend some time growing your professional network.
If people in your network don't know your skillset and what your value is, chances are they can't really help you find a new job. You have to cultivate and grow these relationships.
"Most people who don't fully buy into the concept of networking, whether in-person or online, do not sustain the relationships they have made over the years. They consider themselves too busy to reach out to their network on a periodic basis just to stay in touch. Yet, when they go to launch a job search, they immediately and frantically contact everyone they know. To be honest, this is really annoying. I mean, who wants to have relationships in which a person only contacts you when they need or want something from you? It makes people not want to help you at all," says Van Vreede.
3. Casting Too Wide a Net
Casting a wide net can leave a lot of holes. Many times people get nervous about landing a job, so they figure expanding the scope of the search will yield more opportunities. Wrong answer, according to Van Vreede.
"In most cases, that's 100% incorrect. What it does in reality is dilute your message on the resume, online profile, etc. and spread your time too thin. You end up chasing things on the fringe that you don't really want and are not a great match for." Van Vreede says. "Defining a narrow scope for the search will help you to create content that truly resonates with your target audience and will aid in saving you lots of time by weeding out unsuitable opportunities."
4. Not Researching Prospective Employers
"One of the best - and oldest - pieces of advice is to research the company. Yet it's always at the top of list for biggest mistakes in job searching. People hear it, but they don't do it," says career coach and resume writer Donald Burns.
Although this seems like a no-brainer it apparently happens a lot. Researching the company you are interviewing with will give you insight into what they do, who their customers are and the problems they face. This, in turn, allows you to formulate intelligent questions for your interview.
5. Talking Too Much Tech
Focusing too much on the technical skills in a position is something that's common in IT interviews, according to Jack Cullen, president of Modis, a national IT recruiting firm.
"While these elements are definitely important to the position, companies hire on cultural fit and the person that's interviewing you needs to really get a sense of your personality in a short period of time," says Cullen.
While specific networking or application development skills can make a difference early in your career, its business competencies that will distinguish you. The higher you move up the ladder the more so. You've got to understand and be able to articulate at least one or two stories that highlight your achievements.
Resume strategist Laura Smith-Proulx offers this advice to her clients. "It's important to show how these skills were used to achieve business results. If you don't know how a particular project affected your employer, take some time to find out the results in terms of business efficiency, new revenue, or cost savings. After pulling together a cohesive story, consider listing it in C-A-R format, Challenge-Action-Result, on your resume or LinkedIn Profile; this strategy can help you collect your thoughts on the intensity of the project and its outcome," says Smith-Proulx.
6. Too Much Technical Detail in Your Resume
IT pros typically have longer resumes. It's not easy to effectively document several years of experience within the IT field on one page. "Resumes are typically longer for IT candidates, but anything exceeding three pages can wear out even the most patient recruiter. If you struggle to fit your experience into two-three pages, consider looking at resume samples or working with a professional writer to trim your narrative for readability," says Smith-Proulx.
7. Focusing on the Wrong Part of the Story
"One common mistake is for a job seeker to focus more on the responsibilities in past roles and less on the important facts and real results. Things that were developed, money that was saved and organizational goals that were reached are all good examples of what interviewers want to hear about," says Cullen. A hiring manager wants to know what you did to help your company succeed not a laundry list of duties and responsibilities.
When looking for a position and building a resume, job seekers should be detailed in their descriptions and searches. "A search term like 'software engineer' should be expanded to include software developer, Java developer and similar positions. The same goes for a resume -- ensure that your skills are detailed enough to bring more attention to yourself when recruiters or hiring managers are searching through resumes," says Cullen.
8. Using a Work Email Address
If you are looking for a job while still employed, you can find yourself in hot water with your boss or, worse yet, fired when your boss finds out his investment, you, is getting ready to leave.
"Even if you believe company email isn't monitored, or that your boss won't find out you're looking for a new role, using a work email address shows poor discretion in using company resources," says Smith Proulx. She also cautions that prospective employer might suspect that you're using work time for job hunting activities if they see that you're expecting email messages through your employer's domain.
9. Over-Reliance on the Job Boards and Recruiters
The number 1 issue commonly seen with IT people, according to Burns, is an over-reliance on IT methods to connect with jobs. "Job boards are notoriously ineffective at connecting people with jobs. If you Google this topic you'll find that less than 10% of job seekers actually connect via these job boards, yet typical job seekers spends 80% of their time trying to find jobs this way. Spending 80% of your time on a strategy that is less than 10% effective makes no sense," says Burns. He also points out that IT people are especially prone to this trap because IT is their expertise.
Van Vreede agrees, noting that job boards are the least effective of all the search strategies out there. "I'm not saying you shouldn't use job boards, just that you should have a narrow set of conditions at a few key IT job boards that alert you when a match is posted so that you can spend your valuable time with more productive search strategies," says Stephen Van Vreede.
Van Vreede advises his clients that IT recruiters aren't the only answer; they are simply one part of a multi-pronged attack. "Recruiters are fine, and you should use them if possible in your job search. However, don't pin all of your hopes on them. They don't represent you, the job seeker; they represent the company they are hiring for. They have a very narrow set of criteria they are looking for in a candidate. Also, most recruiters tend operate with the, I'm-only-interested-if-you-don't-want-me mindset, so if you reach out to them, don't expect a whole lot of love from them," says Stephen Van Vreede.
10. Not Following Up
"This is by far what holds most job seekers back in securing a new role. With the use of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and the sheer volume of resumes received for open job postings, there's a good chance your application can be lost in the shuffle," says Smith-Proulx.
Before you even apply make sure you've looked through LinkedIn and company About Us pages to find the most likely hiring manager for the job you're targeting. If you can't find a name, look for contacts within the employer's HR department. Once you've applied to the position then reach out to these contacts through LinkedIn or email to reiterate your interest and ask for verification that your application was received.
"While it's possible that you may still not hear back about your application, there's also a chance that your contact didn't see your resume, and will express interest in interviewing you," says Smith-Proulx.
11. Don't Come off Desperate
Whether it's your personal network or hiring managers, people can smell desperation a mile away. A better way to approach the whole job search is to figure out what you can do for the company and how you can add value. If you can show that you can fill a need or solve a problem that will make people want to hire you. Part of that is, as discussed earlier, researching the company you are interviewing with.
Posting your resume on every job board is another approach that Burns warns against. "It's OK to post your resume on a job board. But posting your resume on too many sites cannot help you. It's as a bad as mass-mailing 400 resumes - you look like you're having a panic attack," says Donald Burns.
12. A Weak Web Presence
You're in IT, people.. You have been and will be judged on what shows up in search rankings for your name. If have incomplete or outdated profiles or, worse yet, no Web profiles at all then you need to get on the ball and take care of that.
"If a recruiter tries to Google your name, can they find you quickly? This is hugely important - if they can't find you quickly on Google, you might as well not exist. This is especially true if you have a common name like, 'Robert Jones,' for example. It's not simply a matter of being visible on Google. What's really important is being known for something. If your special expertise is FEO [front end optimization], you want to show up on the first page when the recruiter Googles 'Robert Jones FEO'," says Burns. If something negative does come up in the search and you can't make it go away be prepared to discuss it at interviews.
LinkedIn and social media have become powerful tools in regards to job search and network building. They help passive job seekers to attract recruiters and recruiters to source new candidates. Don't wait until you're unemployed to dress up your profile.
"It's best to keep it up-to-date with a focused message, a strong value statement, and high-impact achievements listed along with skills endorsements and good recommendations. In addition, you want to be sure that the profile is optimized for search by having it be keyword-rich in the proper places," says Van Vreede.
13. Maintain Your LinkedIn Profile
While this problem occurs among job hunters across all industries, it's particularly damaging to IT workers, whose currency in specific methodologies or technologies can make a huge difference.
"Recruiters are constantly hunting for great talent on LinkedIn, and your Profile updates can mean the difference between receiving calls or being ignored when you apply to hot job postings. Like some IT pros, you may consider yourself an introvert, and therefore be uncomfortable sharing details of your career on LinkedIn. Get over it - otherwise, you'll be passed over when employers come calling," says Smith-Proulx. One tip from Smith-Proulx: When you're updating your online profile or resume keep the descriptions of past projects, but lose the technical skills associated with them. This strategy will allow you to keep the experience on your resume, but remove outdated technologies that can make your skills look old-school.
14. Being Too Over Confident
"We always hear a lot about the importance in confidently projecting yourself in an interview, but it's just as vital to not appear to be overly confident. Take the time to draw on past experiences, challenges and successes to discuss accomplishments. Emphasizing achievements and confidence is key, but make sure it's done it a way that shows your substance," says Cullen.
15. Bad-Mouthing Your Former Co-workers or Employers
Most tech pros can look back upon at least one person or team who made work miserable. Navigating through the waters of work politics can be trying to even the most even-keeled IT pro, but no matter how tempting it may be, talking negatively about your previous boss or company is never a wise thing to do, even if that's the reason you left or are leaving your current position.
"Be careful what you say about past employers, even in situations where you believe you're just telling the truth. Nearly everyone has experienced the challenge of a bad boss or a volatile team; however, it's how you've dealt with problematic situations that show your true value as an employee," says Smith-Proulx.
She advises clients who face this dilemma to be honest about how or why it didn't work out, but be respectful of former colleagues. "Focus on the upside, rather than on situations you couldn't change. No hiring manager wants to hear about impossible deadlines, negative colleagues or demoralizing work environments, but they do want to find out that you're a resilient, proactive resource who is able to get work done despite difficult circumstances," says Smith-Proulx.
Read more about careers in CIO's Careers Drilldown.