Strategies to land an IT job interview in a difficult market

Even when the economy is thriving, landing interviews for IT positions can be daunting. Under today’s challenging conditions, it may feel like a distant possibility. While market realities have indeed made it more difficult to secure job interviews, they don’t affect every job seeker equally.

The fact is that some companies are conducting interviews. The candidates who approach their search in a persistent, strategic and positive way are the ones most likely to be taking advantage of those opportunities.

Challenge your assumptions

The first mistake many job seekers make is to assume that companies aren’t hiring. There’s always a need for skilled IT professionals, even when cutbacks affect other business areas. Keep your eyes and ears open, and don’t discount any possibilities.

Think of past positions you’ve held — did they come about in an orderly, predictable way, or through an unexpected connection or chain of events?

Likewise, you never know which contact will lead to another contact who ultimately leads you to a promising opportunity. Word of mouth is at its most valuable during turbulent times.

Make a list of people in — or near — your network who might be able to provide job leads or move your resume to the top of the pile. Use online tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn to augment your in-person efforts, and bring people on the outskirts of your network inside it.

Also consider expanding your search. If your area of the country has been hit especially hard, are you willing to search for employment elsewhere?

If so, take some time to identify regions where the economy has remained relatively strong. Sources such as the Robert Half Technology Salary Guide can help you identify areas where demand might be higher for your skills and experience.

Do your homework

Especially during difficult economic conditions, hiring managers are likely to favor candidates who have made an effort to learn about the firm’s challenges rather than merely sending out generic pleas for employment.

Before applying for a position, learn about the employer and its needs. Your cover letter and resume should clearly convey how your skills and experience can help meet those needs.

Start by doing some research online about the company’s history, industry, market, chief competitors, and business objectives.

Because most of your competition for a position will also have done at least a little homework about the company, try to find information that isn’t widely available. Use your network to gain a more intimate sense of the business from people who have worked there.

Get face time

IT job candidates who are focused exclusively on quickly landing an offer often neglect informational interviews, which can be set up with a simple call or e-mail.

While you shouldn’t approach such interviews with the express purpose of landing a job, meeting with a hiring manager at a company you’re interested in can provide you with a valuable connection and help you identify skills that you need to improve.

It’s also a relatively nonstressful way to build your confidence and hone your interviewing skills. And even if it does neither of those things, simply making personal contact with employers can prevent feelings of frustration and isolation when you’re unemployed.

An informational interview is one chance to differentiate yourself from the competition — not only with your skills and experience, but also with your attitude. During tight markets, hiring managers meet a lot of candidates who unconsciously exude desperation or resignation — hardly the attributes that help a company weather difficult times.

Why to expect success

A positive outlook doesn’t mean hiding your frustration with a smile and a hearty handshake. Instead, it should inform all your actions. For example, if you submit a resume and don’t hear back promptly, don’t assume that the opportunity is dead.

Follow up to emphasize your continued interest in the position, and reassert how you think you can help the company. This simple step can dramatically increase your chances of being called in for an interview.

Of course, acting as if you expect instant results won’t guarantee you a raft of interview invitations or job offers. But if you persist, it will ultimately give you an edge on the competition.

It will also help you maintain your focus on your long-term career growth, rather than on your immediate desires or fears. That way, when a promising opportunity does arise, you’ll be in the best possible position to seize it.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis.

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