Ways to Lay Groundwork for Your Next IT Job
So you're in career planning mode, trying to figure out where you want to be and what you need to do to get there. There's no single path to success. What you have to do depends on you, your own situation, and the goal that you are setting for yourself.
Do you see yourself remaining in a technical role? Would you like a management role, or perhaps you want to manage projects, or move into a systems planning function? Maybe you want to get closer to the business and its end users? Or perhaps you'd like to remain in a technical role — architecture, security, or similar?
Whatever your own personal goal, the first thing you should do is assess the skills and experiences that the position requires. How do you stack up? Do a personal "'gap analysis"' to see what you have and — importantly — what you are missing.
Regardless of the type of job you are targeting, there are a number of things you should be looking at:
Basic Office Skills: We're not talking about how well you know Microsoft Word. How are you perceived in your office? Are you seen as conscientious? Polite and personable? A gossip or a problem solver? Are you seen as a "'clock watcher,"', or as someone who puts in whatever hours are needed? Make sure that you are seen as positive influence, adding to — not detracting from — team performance.
Soft Skills: Sure, you're a techie, but that doesn't mean that you don't need basic communication and interaction skills. After all, even if you don't aspire to become the Chief Information Officer, you may still have to communicate with users, managers, vendors, and team members. How effective are your writing and presentation skills? What about time management or budgeting? How are your negotiating and conflict management skills? As you attain positions of more responsibility, mastery of these types of skills will be expected. There are tons of training courses for soft skills development. Talk to your supervisor and get him or her to support a development plan for you. If you just need to master an office productivity tools, check out CBT Nuggets offerings for MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more.
Education & Training: Formal education and functional or technology training can be viewed separately. First, let's look at education. Check out job postings for your dream job. Do they specify a Bachelors, or Masters, degree? If so, get ready to "crack those books." If you need to go back to school, ask if your company has any programs for tuition assistance. What about functional or technical skills? Do you want to move into Project Management, IT Operations, or Security? Then you should consider certifications such as the Project Management Professional (PMP), Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), or Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). Or if you're set on a technology path such as networking, then a general certification like CompTIA Network+, or vendor-specific one might be appropriate. You'll be very familiar with CBT Nuggets' certification training for Cisco, Juniper Networks, and others.
Work Experience: Sometimes it's a Catch-22. You aren't given responsibility, because you don't have the experience — but you can't get the experience, because you are not given the responsibility. What experiences do you need for that coveted position? Get to know people in those positions. Look for opportunities to work with them. Work with your managers on a plan to "get your toes wet" — maybe shadowing or assisting them, so you can build up your track record. If you need people management experiences, you can ask to lead a small project team. Put your name forward for additional project or work responsibilities that will add to your portfolio of experiences. It never hurts to be seen as a team player.
Your Network: As we noted in a previous blog post, there's a well-known phrase — It's not what you know. It's who you know! While that's not 100% accurate, it's normally the case that while you need the skills and experience to actually win a position, it's a rich network of contacts that can connect you with the opportunity in the first place.! So take special care to build your network that includes decision makers and influencers in your target field. Be an active participant and contributor to relevant meetups, blogs and groups.
As you lay the groundwork for your next position, remember that managers and recruiters look to hire successful people. So while you plan for your next move, don't take your eye off your current responsibilities.
Strive for excellence at what you're doing today — it's the best indicator for your success at the next level.