Advice for the jobless

Over the past few months, a few readers have sent in requests for help in finding an IT job. These aren’t the just-out-of-school trolls I wrote about at Comdex Canada this year, who blanket everyone and their dog with resumes, but are people with a few years’ experience who are looking for greener

pastures. They want to know what sectors of the industry are doing well, and which companies are looking for staff with their types of skills.

It’s a reasonable request, so, at the risk of sounding like Dear Abby, I’ve put together a few suggestions. I’ve tried most of them first-hand during my own job searches, with varying results. At the very least, they’re a good way to start.

First of all, read. Don’t just skim press releases or news briefs about aggregate trends, but go out and look for hard stats, the more local the better. Put your tax dollars to work by checking out online government sources, such as Human Resources Development Canada’s Job Futures 2000 Web site, which provides some basic information on specific job categories, including salary levels, and makes rudimentary predictions for the near future. For instance, Job Futures gives computer programmers a “”fair”” chance of finding work in their field through to 2004. For their part, systems analysts face “”good”” prospects, but need to continually retool their technical and people skills. It’s a bit obvious, but no more so the tripe research firms usually sell for hundreds of dollars.

Other HRDC tools let you see what people earn in your city. For instance, systems analysts in Toronto earn just under $26 an hour on average, which may or may not help you decide to relocate.

Keep tabs on the companies you’d like to work for, too. You don’t necessarily need an MBA to understand how earnings warnings and executive turnovers may indicate signs of trouble, or alternately, how new rounds of investment may lead to growth.

Get out of the house. Go to local IT seminars, meetings and industry hoe-downs to help familiarize yourself with people in your area. Be warned, though: many events (especially freebies) tend to draw the same sorry crew of job-seekers, private investors and trade journalists. Try to stick to the area you know, or one that appeals to you, if you’re considering changing horses. Making contact with others is an essential morale-booster during any job search, and people may remember your face if they hear of positions opening up. Really. It happened to me twice.

Of course, this means holding off on begging for leads. While odds are everyone else you meet is scouting out a better job, you don’t want to appear desperate or tacky. I once asked an editor what sort of freelance ideas he wanted, only to be told to read the magazine (duh). I think it’s safe to say that no one with any real hiring power these days wants to feel schmoozed.

Unless you’ve got a lot of experience or very specific (and in-demand) skills, you may not have much luck with recruiters. Still, it may be worth a meeting to learn more about your prospects.

Not all companies are using online services for hiring, if they’re hiring at all, but try out different Web sites to see what works best. My favourite site is specific to my field and doesn’t make you register.

All this may seem pretty basic, but it’s also easy to forget when you can just e-mail employers your resume, sit back and expect the phone to ring. That approach may work, but doing your homework can also pay off by giving you a chance to show off your knowledge of the industry, not just your IT abilities.

johnsaunders@sympatico.ca

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