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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, September 9, 2008

ACM CareerNews is intended as an objective career news digest for busy IT professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of ACM. To send comments, please write to careernews-request@acm.org

Volume 4, Issue 17, September 9, 2008




30 Skills Every IT Person Needs
CIO.com (via InfoWorld), August 13

For any technology professional, there are 30 “must-have” skills that are crucial to long-term career success. Some of these skills are based on technical proficiency, while others are related to management experience and an overall knowledge of how IT fits into the underlying business of the organization. The article concludes with some general advice for IT managers about how to allocate workloads, how to manage expectations, and how to work with other professionals of varying experience levels. At the end of the day, a tech-savvy IT professional needs the right mix of technical, management and business skills.

Technical knowledge is an important component of the overall skills package that any IT professional needs. In addition to being able to fix basic PC issues, an IT professional should be able to work the help desk. Basic networking skills are also essential. Whether you are a network engineer, a help desk technician, a business analyst, or a system administrator, you need to understand how networks work and how to troubleshoot them. You should understand DNS and how to check it, as well as how to ping and trace-route machines. In addition, you need to know basic system administration, how to write a basic script, how to back up files, and how to document all work.


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Four Ways to Use Your IT Degree in a Job Search
Computerworld, August 18

While advanced degrees and expert certifications play a role in any hiring decision, the major focus for many IT recruiters is still a strong track record. With that in mind, technology professionals must position their experience and education so that hiring managers see them, first and foremost, as a solution to important business questions. Graduate degrees can help candidates stand out by highlighting how they combine their knowledge of advanced theories or new technologies with experience gained through early jobs, internships or contracting work. To leverage your graduate work most effectively, you will need strong networking skills, an up-to-date resume, and the ability to explain clearly and concisely what you can offer employers.

By networking with others within the IT profession, you'll meet hiring managers, or you'll make contacts who can introduce you to those hiring managers. You'll also find out who's hiring, what they're paying and which firms have the best work environments. Choose networking activities that ensure you're meeting people who can help you attain your goals. Learning to interview effectively is also important. Research the company, and review your own work history with an eye toward anticipating questions you might be asked. Emphasize your prowess with as many specific skills as possible, but don't forget to tout your soft skills, like communication, teamwork and leadership. Look for ways to demonstrate your understanding of the prospective employer's business and the technology it uses.


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The Best Places to Launch a Career
Business Week, September 4

To attract and retain young talent during a time of economic uncertainty, companies are creating new perks and opportunities that supplement the paychecks of members of Generation Y. While traditional perks such as pensions and health insurance still have their place, more companies are finding inventive ways to attract, retain, and motivate their youngest employees - using everything from work-from-home programs to faster promotions to accelerated financial benefits. They are also ramping up their training and mentoring programs, adding new performance bonuses and creating new opportunities to meet with top executives. With that in mind, the article profiles the types of steps that some technology and consulting companies are taking to find and retain the best entry-level workers.

Amid all the economic uncertainty, companies are seeking new ways to find and retain new college grads. For many, the effort starts with campus recruiting, a hugely expensive undertaking that, for companies with high turnover, often has a very poor return. In addition to re-tooling their campus recruitment programs, companies are finding new ways to guarantee the loyalty of Gen Y workers that don’t involve compensation. For these younger workers, issues such as community service and serving the greater good are among the most important. That's an inversion of the baby boomer priorities, and particularly good news for nonprofit and government employers.


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Flexibility, New Technology Key To Attracting Young IT Workers
Tech Careers, August 18

The IT recruiting issues faced by the insurance industry reflect the types of IT talent issues faced by other companies in a wide variety of industries. According to some industry executives and observers, the insurance industry is headed toward a major shortage of IT talent as a result of an aging workforce and competition from other industries for the best and the brightest. The article takes a look at the type of IT workers needed to run massive legacy systems, analyzes the proactive steps that insurance companies are taking to recruit and retain talented IT people, and provides real-world examples from insurance companies that are already grappling with IT talent issues and changing workforce expectations.

When it comes to recruiting younger IT workers, there is a balancing act between focusing on new technologies and legacy technologies. On one hand, an insurance company needs to recruit younger workers to support legacy systems previously run by retiring baby boomers. On the other hand, a company will be hard-pressed to recruit and retain young IT professionals simply to support outdated technologies. If young IT professionals enter into an insurance company environment that is full of legacy technology, they don't really get to apply the skills that they've learned in their education or the skills that they know are going to keep them relevant in the job market. By some measures, 91% of Millennials surveyed said they would be more likely to consider job opportunities that provide greater access to newer and more innovative technologies.


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Five Ways to Drive Your Best Workers Out the Door
InfoWorld (via ComputerWorld), August 22

Any manager needs to realize that his or her top IT workers can almost always get another job, even in a less than robust economy. The best employees are being recruited at any given time, so managers need to make that assumption and create an environment that's going to make them want to stay. The article takes a closer look at five steps that managers can take to avoid pushing their top talent out the door in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

The first mistake employers make is keeping the creativity of their programmers and developers bottled up. Managers need to balance employees' creative ideas against corporate policies and programs. The organization has to create a culture from the top management down that gives people an opportunity to be creative, such as letting them pursue their own projects on company time. The second mistake is to micromanage your staff. Such micromanagement leads people to feel there is a lack of trust in their abilities. This problem is tough because the tendency to micromanage is more a personality trait than a policy decision. However, if you solicit honest feedback from close associates, you can recognize and curtail micromanaging behavior in yourself.


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Working with Subcontractors
Web Worker Daily, August 24

For IT contractors who have reached the point of having more work than they can handle, there are several ways to handle the overflow. One of the easiest is to hire subcontractors to do part of the work for you. However, before you offer additional work to any contractor you might already know, there are a few things that you need to consider. For example, you need to understand the contractual responsibilities between you and the subcontractor, have a firm handle on the tax implications of any subcontracting work, create the proper incentives for the new subcontractors to do their work, and move forward with a structured hiring process rather than just selecting friends and acquaintances.

If you’re going to bring on a subcontractor, make sure you both sign a contract laying out what the job is and how much you’ll be paying. A contract won’t prevent all possible disagreements, but it will eliminate many and give you a basis for resolving the rest. If you ever have a job go completely sour on you, to the point where your client won’t pay, then you’ll be happy to have a contract spelling out your responsibilities in place. Also, take your tax situation seriously, especially when you are dealing with multiple people. In the worst case, you might end up owing money because of what you’ve paid to contractors, as well as what you kept for yourself. You also need to ensure that you don’t accidentally treat them as full-time employees, or pay the price in increased paperwork and liability.


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Twenty Ways to Survive a Layoff
Network World, August 25

An IT manager who recently overcame a surprise layoff to find a new job within the technology sector offers twenty tips for getting back on your feet and into the IT job market. Once the initial shock wears off, it is important to hit the ground running in an aggressive search for new employment. In the case highlighted in the article, the IT manager applied for 85 jobs over a 76-day period, and had 16 interviews before landing a new position. The article concludes with helpful advice on how to deal with recruiters and IT job boards.

While everything is still fresh in your mind, write down all the details that you can remember about the terms of your employment. After you take time to get over the initial shock, you need to take care of several important things rather quickly, especially updating your resume. Spend time preparing for your interviews by researching companies and entire sectors or industries. It generally makes a good impression when you show interest in finding out about the company when going to interview with them. Learn to deal with recruiters and how identify the same job when it comes from different recruiters. One situation that you want to avoid is to not have more than one recruiter pitching you to the same client.


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Applicants' Personalities Put to the Test
Career Journal, August 26

Even if you have the right skills and experience for the job, you might not have the right type of personality to succeed long-term in a certain career. The common mistake is thinking that a certain degree or certification automatically prepares you for a certain career path. However, by using simple tools to identify your work style and behavior, such as a standard Birkman Method personality assessment test, you can find the type of job that best matches your skills and experience. Currently, more than 80% of midsize and large companies use personality and ability assessments for entry and midlevel positions as either pre-employment or new-employee orientation tools.

Ultimately, these personality tests aim to help a company hire a specific type of person for a job that might require particular traits. Conversely, they can be used to rule out traits that are likely to lead to job failure. Companies understand that the right personality fit is a critical criteria for good performance. Getting that fit right reduces turnover costs required to recruit and train each professional. It is possible to reduce turnover up to 50% with the right pre-employment assessment. As a result, companies are using them to screen candidates as they apply; candidates won't even get an interview unless they reach a certain score or result.


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Can Big Company Executives Succeed in a Start-Up?
Management Issues, August 20

Even candidates with a stellar track record at large and highly respected companies may flounder once they move to a smaller start-up company. While the pedigree and high profile of an established industry veteran could give a young company instant credibility and help open doors with potential clients and partners, this is not always the case. Some executives struggle without support around them. They add unnecessary bureaucracy, spend too much money, and avoid getting involved in the details. In short, many star players at big companies wilt in a small company where they have finite resources and little or no supporting infrastructure. With that in mind, the article outlines the positive and negative traits to keep any eye on when hiring top candidates from big companies for smaller start-up roles.

Positive traits to look for in big company executives include passion, an ability to overcome failure, and being a team player. These candidates should also be frustrated by bureaucracy and the glacial pace of change at big companies. They have high energy and want to work in an innovative environment where they can get something done and create something new. Good start-up executive candidates are comfortable with risk and the threat of failure. They know that if things don't work out they can pick themselves up and move on. The best candidates are team players who don't need perks or lots of subordinates to feel validated. They focus on results and work well with their peers, team leaders and employees. They also understand the business model and how to interact with team members, investors and board members.


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Confidence Gap for New Profs
MentorNet News (via Inside Higher Ed), September 2008

Most new Ph.D.'s arrive at their first faculty jobs with a feeling that they were inadequately prepared in graduate school for teaching undergraduates and conducting research. According to a new national study of faculty members in their first five years on the job, the percentage of recent graduates feeling well prepared rises rapidly as young professors apparently pick up the knowledge on the job. Both straight out of grad school and after a few years on the job, men are more confident of their abilities than women are. Overall, the findings suggest that graduate schools must do more to address issues related to compensation, job satisfaction and academic preparation.

Those responding generally didn't feel very effectively prepared for their first jobs. In fact, many new faculty members appear to be relying on "on the job training" to learn how to be a professor. Some graduate schools have recognized this problem and have put into place specific partnerships with community colleges, four-year undergraduate colleges and other types of institutions so that doctoral students learn how to teach at those institutions. Moreover, the trend of people earning significant dollars from outside sources suggests that nobody is happy with how much they’re being paid. Given the aging demographic patterns, the survey suggests that colleges would do well to focus both on salary issues and on work/life balance issues and re-think outdated stereotypes about faculty teaching.


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