How to get a job when you're past entry level and have minimal contacts.
October 19, 2007 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm an IT professional who is having a very hard time finding a job. What am I doing wrong?

I'm a 25 year old university graduate (Class of '04, so 3 years this past spring I've been out) living in New Jersey who is unemployed for the 3rd time since graduation. I majored in Information Technology and Management.

I worked an internship from my sophmore year of college every summer until graduation. When I graduated spent 9 months full time in that position, and was laid off due to no room in the budget for me to be taken on. (Downsizing in the branch). From there I worked for Nokia/Pfizer as a full-time analyst. That lasted for over a year until my position was outsourced. Then I worked a year at Merck pharmaceuticals on a change control analyst contract. Now I'm out of work for about 3 months and it feels like there's no end in sight.

All of my previous job contacts have dried up, and my father has been retired for years so any contacts he knew are either retired or long gone as well. I feel like it's so much more about who you know then what you apply to. I've been doing the standard Monster, CareerBuilder, Dice, Craigslist and HotJobs boards but not much luck. I have 3 headhunting agencies looking for placements for me but they are not much help this time around. I've even tried sending personalized letters/emails to district managers of companies of note to try and get some kind of "in." My resume is top notch, and I often include a cover letter as well. I've read "What Color Is Your Parachute?" many times and have been trying to take their advice as well.

My experience has been based in help desk support, management of help desks, minor networking, project management, training, technical writing, documentation, some SOX compliance, minor DBA work, server admin, technical support and change control.

My question is what can I be doing better, or what am I doing wrong? I'm trying not to rely on online job boards solely and to supplement my search by other means, but I feel like nothing much is turning up. What kinds of positions or career paths could I be qualified for? What avenues of job-searching could I also try?

I have been considering going back to school for an MBA either tech specialized or business/management. I feel like my job search is almost becoming wasted time when I could be picking up certifications or the like. While I enjoy technology I've never wanted to be a programmer or a DBA. I enjoy working on projects, planning things and most of all working with people. I'm a very social person.

I have considered working in NYC and have been applying to positions there, as being able to move into a very affordable apartment in Hoboken, NJ will be an opportunity by end of year. Are there any other job boards, headhunter services, (free preferably), or contacts I can utilize to get more exposure? I'm really looking for a full-time positions as opposed to contract work at this point.

Thanks in advance to all who offer their insights.
posted by PetiePal to Work & Money (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience these types of jobs are often filled from contractor positions. So I would call the HR dept. of the company you are interested in. Ask them who their approved contractor placement firms are, then apply with them, mentioning specifically that you know that so and so company uses them as a preferred vendor.
posted by Gungho at 12:10 PM on October 19, 2007

Speaking as a fellow IT worker, I have to say, in the kindest possible way, that you still look like an entry-level employee to me.

Are your aspirations too high for your resume right now? If you are getting no replies to your applications, consider looking down the ladder a notch.
posted by rachelpapers at 12:37 PM on October 19, 2007

Your first couple of technology jobs are going to be not-so-great and tough to find. There are just so many people willing to work these jobs and lots of them only got into the field because of the promise of big money in the late 90s and early 2000s. There's no shortage of people who really dont have much talent but fill out the lower and entry-level positions. THey have a huge experience advantage on you, even though you sound like you'd be a better employee than some of these people (some of whome ive worked with). Many of these people are permanent contracters because no one wants to give them full employment.

I would suggest getting those certs. They really do make a different with HR. I'm currently working on a couple myself even though I have years of experience, but in the world of HR that's almost meaningless. I would also highly suggest to learn some kind of basic programming and put it on your resume. Did you take any programming classes? Can you do any scripting?

In the meantime keep looking. Assume the job hunt will take much longer than you think. Perhaps get a PT job somewhere to hold you over. Its a tough field nowadays and the opportunities are not there. Its basic supply and demand. There's currently too much supply and not enough demand. Perhaps in the long run grad school is the best bet.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:40 PM on October 19, 2007

IT Research? Gartner in Stamford is a really good place to work for. I did a 2 year tour there before moving.

I know CT is aways off but there are some good companies there.

Good Luck!
posted by doorsfan at 12:43 PM on October 19, 2007


Please contact me off-site. I may have something for you.


mikew at thecomputervalet . com
posted by tcv at 1:05 PM on October 19, 2007

And, no, it's not a job shooting a porn production. ;-)
posted by tcv at 1:06 PM on October 19, 2007

I don't know where the ape is but here in the DC area "too much supply" couldn't be farther from the truth.

I'm with rachelpapers. You're young and new and consequently there's a lot of alternatives to you out there. So, while you may in fact be doing something wrong (we can't tell from here) you may not be doing anything wrong - there may just be a large number of people vying for the positions you're going after and they may not be positions where there are a lot of ways you can differentiate yourself.

Giving you my reaction based on your selling yourself here:

Totaling up your indicated career history I come up with 33 months. Then you relate this:

My experience has been based in help desk support, management of help desks, minor networking, project management, training, technical writing, documentation, some SOX compliance, minor DBA work, server admin, technical support and change control.

That's 12 things, 11 if we combine the help desk bits. Divided equally, you've spend 3 professional months on any given activity. To bastardize an old Dennis Miller joke, I've never worked in SOX compliance and you've only got 3 months more experience than me.

SO, without seeing your resume (and thus shooting in the dark), I'd suggest that you make sure it's laser-focused in the area that applies to the job you're pursuing. Those other items can be there, but should be dropped into a narrative form in your history. Don't come across as someone who has had a short and varied career where you mastered nothing.

Beyond that, have you worked any contacts at the jobs that have shown you the door, up to and including the most recent? If there was anyone you had at all of a relationship with, pick up the phone and have a brief, courteous call where you say you're looking for work, remember working on XYZ with them back at PDQ and particularly enjoyed it. "Do you have any suggestions of places or people I could contact where I could get back to doing that?"
posted by phearlez at 1:12 PM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

A few pieces of advice, in no particular order:

- Advertise yourself as an IT handyman in the local area. Go out and do onsite desktop support & small projects for home users and small offices (Target accountants, law firms -- small companies too big to support themselves, but too small to afford a full time IT person.) In this way, not only will you pick up cash and make contacts, you will also expose yourself to many phases of the IT project world, from doing small networks, adds moves and changes, putting out fires, wipes and reinstalls, etc. Bill hourly and don't sell yourself short -- you should charge at least what a plumber does. There are other factors to this -- advertising, purchasing, etc...but at the lowest levels you need a business entity of some sort, a name, a phone, a car, a checking account and a state tax ID. This got many an IT person through the downturn, while keeping them fresh.

-To improve your shot at corporate / enterprise opportunities, pick a discipline and work towards mastery. Take something you know and like (and preferably something that's hands on and hard to outsource), like network engineering, storage engineering, systems engineering, etc and immerse yourself in it. Persue certifications and challenge yourself. Before long, you'll have enough of a background to get interviews and impress some people, and one of them will give you a shot. Then you can gain access to good mentors, and one day you'll find yourself mentoring some noob who reminds you of yourself when you were young and hungry.

- Work all the time. Do not stop doing projects, whether they be paid or unpaid. There are a lot of open source packages (in other words: free) WHICH you can work on to challenge yourself -- Linux, Apache, Perl, etc. Hack your router firmware and create a transparent Squid proxy. Install VMWare or XenSource and make it hum. Do performance monitoring in Windows and learn PerfMon. Tweak things and see how they affect performance.

A good IT person doesn't know everything. No one does, and the pace of change means today's skills have a very short shelf life. However, a good IT person has attributes that make them a good candidate -- they are quick studies, problem solvers and troubleshooters, good at research. They do the diligence and apply themselves to be thorough in execution. These are attributes that can apply to any IT discipline. And if you're that rare IT person who has above average communications skills, or sales background, you can write your own ticket with IT consulting firms (look for OEM partners, you'll find names in CRN and the like.)

In the meanwhile -- pick a specialization that's hard to outsource and focus on it. Cisco. VMWare. Storage fabrics. Systems management. Disaster recovery. Whatever. Just realize that although it's being a generalist that will serve you well in professional IT, that it's specialization which opens doors.

Targeting management/HR people is good, but hanging out with other techs is better. Go to local user groups and network yourself that way. Get on some mailing lists and attend local events. You'll get better recommendations from ground floor influencers that way than you ever will with sending customized letters.

Challenge yourself, get outside your comfort zone. Hustle.

E-mail in profile if you'd like to chat.
posted by edverb at 1:18 PM on October 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

Have you tried looking for positions at university computer centers? the pay may not be as high (I don't know) but it might be a way to get the kind of experience others seem to think you need.
posted by bluesky43 at 1:45 PM on October 19, 2007

When we hire we are looking for people who have actually read our job description. We get tons of terrible applications which are completely generic, with no letter highlighting how the applicant fits the job we're advertising.

We have a checklist based on the criteria in the job advertisement. We go down the list. If you don't meet the "required", we won't consider interviewing you.


1. Tailor your resume to the specifics of the job application. Treat the job description as a checklist. The checklist items should stand out in your application materials.

2. Include a shortish letter highlighting how you fit the organization--i.e. you actually know something about what we do and care about it.

Our first interview question is typically along the lines of "Why do you want to work for our organization?". Too many interviewees answer with "I'm looking for a job in IT and this seemed like a good fit". We do NOT want to hear that. We want to know that you understand what the organization does and to at least some extent buy into it.
posted by idb at 1:51 PM on October 19, 2007 [5 favorites]

I absolutely agree with idb. I know you say your resume is top-notch, but the most common way candidates shoot themselves in the foot is by making their job skills and cover letter too general.

Do make a checklist. Spend a few minutes thinking about what skills this position would require. What needs are they trying to fill? What problems are they likely to face?
Your cover letter should hit each item point by point.

For example, if you said 'email server administration,' it could mean anything from "I logged onto our web hosting provider's website and clicked on the new email address button" to "I researched and bought the servers, installed everything, secured it, then created and maintained 50,000 user accounts... " I also wouldn't assume that you had the relevant skills to walk someone through setting up an email client.

The cover letter is your chance to use those awesome technical writing skills! Relate your experience back to the job in a specific, pointed, and concrete way. Did you work solo? On a team where you all shared responsibility? In a call center? Did you manage 2 people? 10? 150?

I encourage you to apply for entry-level positions. If you're a smart, ambitious, quick-learner in a huge call center or cube farm, you're in a great position to move through the ranks. Go in with a good attitude and use the opportunity to TALK to your supervisors and employees in other departments. Learn the company's software/infrastructure from the inside, understand the company culture, and get a better sense of what direction you'd like to target.
posted by Gable Oak at 3:51 PM on October 19, 2007

There are two types of contractor: the type who does the work nobody in a full time job would do, and the other is they type who does the work nobody in a full time job would do :)

Let me clarify: the first type is the menial work that nobody would do for more than 3 months without going insane. I.e. stuff that anybody could do.

The second type is that "oh shit there is no way we can do this in X months" work. This is where contractors get overpaid because they can (hopefully) deliver something the normal 9-5 IT staff can't.

Unfortunately it sounds like you are in the first group.

Also, when people say "IT contractor" their first assumption is that you are in the 2nd group of high value professionals, where really you are in the 1st. If you aren't making more than 3-6x the salary you could make in full time employment, you are in the 1st group of underpaid "helpers" -- what people used to call temp jobs. Check the job websites against what you are earning. Contract work has an aura of megabucks but too many people are getting exploited over it.
posted by jon4009 at 5:07 PM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Step 1 - finding the jobs - look for specialist IT recruitment agencies - either for contract work (which can often lead to permanent positions, and if not, often leads to long term contract work). You can get their details from the ads in etc and also by ringing organisations you might like to work for and asking which agencies they use to recruit IT staff. Go direct to the agencies rather than applying for specific jobs they advertise, and develop relationships with the recruiters you deal with so that you are the first person they think about when a new job comes in. (And stay in touch after you get a job - you never know what might come up!)

Step 2 - Resume and cover letter

phearlez and idb have it spot on. You say that your resume is top notch - but you're not looking at it from the point of view of the people shortlisting, and you need to. They are looking for a resume that meets the particular needs of their particular job. Tailor your resume for every job you apply for (and if you're going via an agency, ask them to allow you to tweak the resume they have on file before they send it off). Given your generalist background, this is essential, otherwise you look like a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none. The exception to this is positions at small companies where this is a distinct advantage! Focus on the experience you have that meets the needs of the job, and downplay things that are not relevant to the job they are hiring to. Cover letters are important, but they're not always read. So make sure you have a short personal statement at the start of your resume, which uses the sort of words people like to read - eg: "I am a proactive / committed / customer focused XXX... I have a track record of delivering XXX on time and to specification... I thrive on the challenges of meeting tight deadlines / working with new technology..." you get the picture... It sets your resume up so that it is read with those statements ringing in the ears of the shortlister)

Step 3 - interview. Do your research - how do your skills and experience fit their organisation in general and their job in particular? Ask relevant questions about the particular projects you'll be working on, the working culture and opportunities to progress your career with the organisation. Make it clear that you want to work for them, rather than that you just want a job (any job).

Good luck!
posted by finding.perdita at 5:41 PM on October 19, 2007

I've even tried sending personalized letters/emails to district managers of companies of note to try and get some kind of "in."

Have you tried companies "not of note"?

It sounds like you're used to work in large companies, and it sounds like you haven't had loads of high-level experience. It's generally easier to get a job at a smaller company (expect perhaps to be paid a little less than you might expect) and you will learn a bucketload of excellent skills.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:27 AM on October 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

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