1. Get the right certification
Uncertain economic times have many IT employees nervous about how to stay relevant and valued in their companies — or at future employers if they're forced to leave. One IT manager and infrastructure project leader, who asked that his name not be used, wonders whether it's time to earn a certification that might get him premium pay or at least an edge over other applicants for a new job.
"Do I try to enhance my management skills, or do I dig deeper into the technology?" he asks.
What's more, on his own tight budget, the manager is concerned that the cost of a certification will outweigh the benefits. "[Certification] really doesn't strike me as being beneficial," he says. "A lot of people I've seen with certifications frankly don't know what they're doing."
David Foote, president of IT recruitment researcher Foote Partners, says "It's no longer about certification, except in deeply technical areas like security and networking.
"Employers want skills any way they can get them, in the right combination, and not simply tech skills, but hard and soft skills," he says.
CIOs and senior managers are now looking for certification programmes "that are going to help classify and categorise the value of people for things that matter to the business at hand," says Diane Morello, an analyst at Gartner. "So we're going to see more education and training in financial regulations for people in the financial industry," for example, she says.
IT leaders are also looking at larger-scale educational programmes or management disciplines that will yield longer-term value. "Six Sigma, process design and project management discipline issues are going to be where a lot of CIOs and IT leaders are actually focusing," says Morello.
However, there still are a few technical areas in which a certification could yield premium pay, especially network security, project management and systems architecture, according to Foote. Depending on corporate compensation policies, IT skills premiums are typically incorporated into base salary or paid out as a cash bonus that can be adjusted annually, he says.
The CISSP certification from the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium continues to be the gold standard, Foote adds. The (ISC) 2 now offers three areas of specialisation within its security certification — architecture, engineering and management.
IT professionals with systems architecture certifications are also seeing increases in pay or bonuses.
"Companies are realising that they need, at least in the short term, many different kinds of architects — from the extremely technical to the extremely business-oriented," says Foote, whose firm tracks 20 types of IT architects. "They're the people who really understand what the business needs and how we can use technology to advance or enable that need. Those people are extremely valuable."
If you're still uncertain about the right certification for your career, "follow the money," suggests David Van De Voort, an IT workforce specialist at firm Mercer.
"Find out where your employer is spending money," he says. "Know the business strategy. Know the technology strategy."
2. Squeeze more from your perk package
Making the most of the benefits your company offers is a great way to earn what some human resources professionals call a "hidden paycheck". By taking advantage of benefits such as tuition reimbursement, employee discount programmes and flexible spending accounts, you can boost your total compensation package.
In fact, with bonuses and pay raises diminishing, some people are putting more stock in benefits. In a recent survey by Capital One Financial in the US, recent university graduates ranked benefits slightly ahead of pay when it comes to job-hunting priorities. Sixty-six percent said that comprehensive benefits packages are the most important factor in their search for employment, while 60% named salary as the top priority. According to the survey, valued benefits include healthcare, superannuation plans, child care and domestic partnership benefits.
Some benefits are more valuable than others, says Michael Marcus, an advanced capacity/performance analyst at Atos Origin. He recently cashed in on a benefit that enables Atos employees to buy computers and software at a discount, which amounted to about US$200 (NZ$367) in savings.
There's real gold in tuition reimbursement benefits, according to Michael Godin, a professional services consultant at Ecora Software. Godin took advantage of a former employer's tuition reimbursement benefit to get a master's in Computer Science. The employer paid for half the cost of the degree, and with his resulting salary increase, Godin was able to earn back his investment in his education in just one year. "If you can get the employer to pay for your education, that's a real cost-benefit win," he says.