4 job hunting tips for tech nerds

March 11, 2011, 6:07 PM UTC

People with superb tech skills are not always adept at marketing themselves. How to build a solid job-seeking profile.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

Dear Annie: I was happy to see your post about signs of a recovery in IT hiring, because I’m just starting to look around for a job after taking a break to raise my kids. During that time, I went back to school and picked up a couple of new certifications, and former colleagues from my old systems analyst job tell me my current skills are “hot.”

The only thing is, I’ve never actually looked for a job before: The Fortune 500 financial services company where I spent 14 years, until 2009, recruited me right out of college, and I worked my way up there (five promotions) without ever having to write a resume or go on an interview. Can you give me any suggestions about how to stand out from the competition and get hired? —Cyber Cynthia

Dear C.C.: No question about it, your timing is terrific. “The doors to employment opportunities for technology and quant analysis positions in the financial services sector are bursting open” right now, says Kathy Harris, managing director of New York City-based tech recruiters Harris Allied.

Moreover, you’re not alone in wondering how to sell your skills. Personal branding — the art of creating a unique professional persona that will wow hiring managers — “is generally not a strong suit for many technology professionals,” Harris observes.

As a rule, she explains, tech nerds “tend to focus too much on their individual roles, project successes, and the operational aspects of their last position.”

All that stuff counts, of course, and it’s unlikely you’d have earned five promotions in 14 years without excelling at it. But you now need to take one step further and “correlate your skills with ideas about the concrete value those skills can add to the organization as a whole,” Harris says.

With that in mind, some suggestions:

1. Research prospective employers thoroughly, paying particular attention to news (online and in the trade press) about what their IT people are doing now and the direction they are likely moving in, whether it’s cloud computing, VOIP, converging technologies, or some other Next Big Thing. “You need the right context for interviews, so you can explain how you see yourself adding value to the business,” Harris says.

2. Be ready to give specifics about how your past accomplishments helped your employer reach quantifiable goals. Prepare for interviews by practicing succinct summaries of your successes, including “the original problem or challenge, your contribution to the solution, and the end result,” Harris says.

If you’re describing a project to a hiring manager with little or no technical expertise, she adds, keep jargon and acronyms to a minimum. Talk instead about the impact of your work in areas of the company beyond the IT department.

3. Don’t forget to polish your image online by making sure your LinkedIn profile is current and complete, casting a critical eye on your Facebook page and deleting any comments or photos that are “unflattering or worse,” Harris advises. These days, all job seekers in any field should “assume that, at some point in your job search, companies will check you out online.” Try to make sure they like what they find.

4. Supercharge your resume. Use bullet points, which Harris says “make a resume easier to scan quickly for relevant skills and experience. Include a separate bullet point for each project –whether it’s enterprise architecture design, a data center move, or a restructuring — that led to greater efficiencies or new cost savings.”

Because employers often search for candidates by keyword, include all keywords for your various skills in both the body of your resume and the technical summary at the top.

Avoid excess verbiage, but forget the conventional wisdom that all resumes must be one page affairs, Harris adds: “Resume length should correlate to your years of professional experience. For a seasoned candidate, a two- or even three-page resume is perfectly acceptable.”

For detailed help with putting together a winning resume, including sample pages for various types of IT jobs, you might want to take a look at a useful guide, published last month, called Expert Resumes for Computer and Web Jobs, by longtime professional resume coaches Wendy Enelow and Louise Kursmark.

Just one more thing: You may be interested to hear that IT trade group CompTIA has launched an industrywide effort to entice more women into tech jobs. Why? A recent study from the National Center for Women and Information Technology shows that the ranks of females in the tech world have been thinning steadily for years. In 2009, only 25% of IT professionals were women, down from 36% in 1991. In 2008, the report says, women made up just 18% of those who earned computer and information science degrees, a striking drop from 37% way back in 1985.

“We’re striving to make IT the career of choice for more women,” says Charles Eaton, executive director of the CompTIA Educational Foundation, which has started a free training and certification program for women called Creating Futures. For information on how to participate, go to www.comptia-ef.org.

Talkback: If you’re in IT, or a manager who hires techies, what advice would you give high-tech job seekers right now? Leave a comment below.