Now more than ever, career experts say, it is vital to take a strategic approach to the job search and application process. And you have to pursue that strategy all the time, not just when you're in the market for new opportunities. The best candidates are always taking steps to manage their careers, assess the market and build relationships to keep them employed during good times and bad. Companies in this modern global economy will create or tailor jobs for top-notch workers, if you know how to look for such opportunities, says Sindell, co-author of The End of Work As You Know It. "Sometimes jobs are created for certain people, so that means talking to a former colleague about current initiatives and then saying, 'That sounds very exciting, and here's how I can help,' " she says. But because most people don't get hired that way, Sindell says savvy job seekers pursue all channels to find positions that could be good matches for them. They check in with current and former colleagues, recruiters and search firms, visit job sites and attend career fairs. Adam Alexander, vice president at career consultancy MasteryWorks, says IT professionals are generally open to switching industries, but many are reluctant to move to new regions. While Alexander says staying put can be detrimental to career growth, he and others acknowledge that the decision to relocate is a personal matter. Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, says the key is to be flexible. "Today's economy demands flexibility to a certain extent," he says. If you're not willing to move, you might have to be more flexible on, say, the industry you work in or your salary. However, while flexibility is still important, Willmer says it's not as crucial as it was just several months ago, particularly for those who have in-demand skills, such as business intelligence expertise. Résumés still matter, says Ryan Erving, a director of business development. He points to one quality assurance tester who was perfect for two recent job openings but didn't initially attract the attention of potential employers. Erving says the tester's CV was too generic, so he pushed him to write up a few points on his deep experience in performance- and load-balancing web servers. The hiring managers took a closer look, and one quickly extended an offer. "This is a worker who thought his résumé was good enough and didn't spend time to articulate what set him apart," Erving says. To make sure you don't get lost in a pile of CVs, it's important to translate your tech skills into top- and bottom-line business values, says Robert Half's Willmer. "You have to be able to speak to what the business impact was in terms of your responsibilities," says Willmer. Hiring managers want to know that your skills can deliver business results, whether it's reducing downtime because you resolve help desk calls quickly or because you can deliver a web product that will help generate more sales. But getting the right job means more than knowing what you offer. You should also know what to expect when you get there. You need to make sure your next employer isn't going bankrupt or planning to offshore its IT services. You want to ask about managers' styles and company culture, so you don't end up in an unsuitable environment. You can get much of this information in advance, Sindell says. Financial statements, industry reports and news stories provide insight into the stability and structure of the company. Your network can help, too, Sindell notes. Chances are you know someone who can connect you with a current or past employee who can get you the inside scoop. From there, be sure to ask pointed questions during your interviews so you can get information on the things that matter most to you. Continually managing your career will give you a better shot of securing the right job when you need or want it, says Adam Alexander, vice president at MasteryWorks, a career consultancy. "A career plan should be an ongoing process so you're always in a good situation or trying to improve your situation," he says. That means thinking about what positions you want next, determining whether you can find them at your current company, getting the skills you need to move into those positions, and building relationships with people who can get you there. "Everyone has to take an active role in their careers, whether they're looking or not," Alexander says. That approach paid off for Luis Illanas, a 20-year IT veteran who was unexpectedly laid off in November from his job as a systems administrator. He quickly contacted more than two-dozen former colleagues to let them know he was in the job market. As a result of his solid network, he landed a position as a senior IT consultant within two weeks. "I can't say enough about having someone who knows how you work and how much that helped," he says. "That's why, when you're working with anyone, you have to make a good impression. You never know when you might call that person for a job," Illianas says.
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