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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, May 19, 2009

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 5, Issue 10, May 19, 2009




Contract Jobs, Self-Employment Way Up for Tech
eWeek, May 5

According to the monthly Dice Report on technology jobs, contracting and self-employment is on the rise. Based on Dice's assessment of its technology job postings and a poll of job seekers, working on hourly or project work seems to be one of the most significant trends in technology jobs right now. In May 2009, there were approximately 30,000 full-time positions and 22,000 contract positions available. That means contractor positions now constitute 44% of the job market, compared to 40% 12 months ago. As more tech professionals take on contracting assignments as a way to make some money while they look for full time jobs, many are realizing that self-employment is their next logical career move.

The decision to embrace self-employment can be a daunting prospect for a number of reasons: developing clients; having to bill hourly; deciding whether to incorporate; dealing with tax and accounting issues; tracking invoices; and the general uncertainty that comes from being an independent contractor. Certainly, the security and stability created by a steady, predictable wage and solid benefits cannot be overlooked. On the other hand, the uncertainty in today’s job market and the growing number of companies shedding jobs is leading many IT professionals to consider launching small contracting businesses. According to the Dice report, 40% of respondents would consider starting a small business if they were laid off, while another 23% would venture into self-employment if the economy improves.


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Market for Executive Jobs Loosens Up in April
CIO.com, April 29

In April 2009, ExecuNet's Recruiter Confidence Index improved slightly, indicating that the market for executive jobs may be showing signs of growth after bottoming out last November. Approximately 40% of executive recruiters polled by ExecuNet said they're "confident or very confident" that the executive job market will improve in the next six months, while only 15% of search professionals say they're pessimistic about the future of the market for executive jobs. In March, only 38% of recruiters were confident or very confident that the executive job market would improve. In the recent past, the Recruiter Confidence Index has been a leading indicator of hiring activity, so the improving confidence numbers bode well for an improving employment market for executives by year-end.

Recruiters are becoming optimistic about the executive job market because they see small signs of economic improvement. Specifically, consumer confidence is on the rise and the stock market is much less volatile. Recruiters are also hearing from companies that are looking to take advantage of the downturn by upgrading their management teams. Executive search firms, particularly those that specialize in high-growth industries, have seen a clear improvement in assignment growth in recent weeks. The Recruiter Confidence Index suggests that the search market will be much stronger at the end of the year, when companies that have held off on hiring new CIOs may decide it's time for them to find replacements.


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Some IT Skills See Pay Hikes During Downturn
Network World, April 23

According to the latest research from Foote Partners, some certified and noncertified IT skills continue to pay well, despite the recession. The research firm’s data showed that pay for 46 skills and certifications experienced increases in pay during the first quarter of 2009. On the other hand, 60 skills and certifications experienced decreases in pay. The mixed results are not unexpected, according to Foote Partners. By their very nature, skills and certifications will command different pay rates depending on the economic outlook as employers use pay rates tactically and strategically to attract and retain talent.

According to the first quarter results from Foote Partners, pay for noncertified skills in Linux rose by more than 28%, while Apache and Sybase noncertified skills saw 25% increases in pay. Pay for Java and HTTP skills increased by 20%, while IT professionals with PHP, SAP and Unix noncertified skills experienced a more than 14% pay increase. Certified IT skills that saw pay increases include HP/Certified Systems Engineer with a 14.3% increase in pay, and Sun Certified Programmer for Java Platform, which experienced an increase of 13.5% in pay. IT professionals with EMC Proven Professional certifications experienced a 12.5% increase in pay, as did IBM Certified Specialists. Systems Security Certified Practitioner pay increased in the first quarter by 12.5%.


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Negotiating the Freelance Economy
Wall Street Journal, May 6

A growing number of tech professionals are making ends meet by working on a project-by-project contract basis. In some cases, these Web freelancers are working more hours per week and earning more money than they did before they lost their jobs during the recession. Even as permanent- and temp-job opportunities are shrinking, the amount of contract work to be found on freelance-jobs sites is expanding. In the first quarter of 2009, employers posted 70,500 of these work-for-hire positions on Elance.com and 43,000 on Odesk.com, which represents increases of 35% and 105%, respectively, from the same period in 2008. Other freelance sites are also experiencing sharp spikes in membership and activity.

As the recession deepens, more employers are using freelance workers to avoid the expenses associated with hiring permanent staff. Indeed, freelance workers are often cheaper and more flexible than temp workers, whose jobs, though short-term, tend to be full-time, subject to temp-agency fees, and bound by agency restrictions, such as limits on the permanent hiring of temps. While many tech workers never planned to turn to freelance positions after layoffs, they are finding that many companies are offering fulfilling work assignments that pay well and leverage their existing IT skill sets. Many laid-off professionals appear to be taking up freelancing, either as a new career or as a way to weather the downturn. Freelance-job sites say membership among individuals, which is free in many cases, has risen sharply.


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IT Pros Get Meager Raises As Median Pay Hits $80,000
TechCareers.com (via Information Week), April 28

According to the annual U.S. IT Salary Survey, salaries and raises can vary widely, based on the industries and geographic regions in which IT pros work. For example, in Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York, the typical IT staffer didn't receive any raise, while in Washington the median increase was a solid 2.9%. Across the country, IT staffers report a median increase in total compensation (salary and cash bonuses) of just 0.7%, with IT managers receiving a 1.6% increase. Last year, raises were almost 3% and 4%, respectively. Median compensation reported by IT staffers is $80,000; for IT managers, it's $105,000.

The top-paying staff functions include data mining, integration, security, ERP, and Web infrastructure, all of which have median compensation of more than $90,000. By title, IT architects top the list again this year, the only staff job with median pay above $100,000. While experts agree that IT is a safer profession than most, the economy is again testing IT pros' faith in this career path. ago. Even so, about nine out of 10 regard their own career paths as being as secure or more secure than most other professions. In the last recession, many tech pros were forced to retrain away from programming and support tasks to ones tied more closely to business functions and industry knowledge. That approach presents its own challenges in this downturn, as people feel more tightly tied to industries that are experiencing difficulties.


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Tactics for Today’s Job Market
Computerworld, May 12

Dave Willmer, executive director of Robert Half Technology, shares his suggestions for negotiating a rapidly changing job market for IT professionals. As he explains, many IT professionals still cling to outdated job-seeking habits that can undermine their efforts. With that in mind, Willmer offers advice on how to target new potential employers, how to patch over possible employment gaps on a resume, how to tell a convincing story to recruiters and how to take advantage of Internet resources to meet new employers.

First of all, target each employer carefully. In any hiring environment, a generic résumé won't hold a hiring manager's attention. It's important to customize all of your application materials, not just the cover letter, for each job opening. In your communication with employers, use natural, direct prose that provides a good sense of your personality. During an interview, use authentic answers rather than canned responses. It's not unusual to have a break in your work history, given today's labor market. So you don't have to go to extreme lengths to hide periods of unemployment, such as by forgoing the classic chronological résumé in favor of a functional one. To demonstrate that you've remained professionally engaged while searching for a new position, list volunteer or consulting work you've taken on, as well as any professional development courses you've completed.


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Five Steps to Make Yourself Great
Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist, May 7

Career expert Penelope Trunk weighs in on five ways to make a real impact in your chosen career. As she explains, the best way to get control of your career and stability in your life is to be great at what you do. After all, during a recession, companies do not layoff superstars: if you have an amazing track record in your field of work, you’ll have a job. At the same time, if you need to change jobs, or adjust what you’re doing, you’ll be able to do it if you’re great at what you do.

First and foremost, advises Penelope Trunk, aim to be great at something that matters in the world. Since the process of becoming great at what you do is often long and hard, it helps if you have a skill that the world will pay for and that you are excited about. In short, greatness needs context that has value. At the same time, expect that becoming great will entail many levels of disappointment. Working for a Fortune 100 company, while impressive on a certain level, may not accommodate what you really need or want to do, meaning that you may need to search out non-traditional career paths.


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Job Seekers: How to Tell Stories to Stand Out
CIO.com, May 5

One way job seekers can stand out from the job search competition is to tell stories that illustrate their professional experience. According to Katharine Hansen, the creative director and associate publisher of the website Quintessential Careers, story-telling, when done right, reveals a job seeker's personality, makes him or her more memorable, and helps a job seeker establish an emotional connection with hiring managers. At the end of the day, hiring managers really want to learn about job seekers' personalities and their communication skills. By spinning compelling stories about their experience, qualifications and fit for a company, job seekers can demonstrate their uniqueness and ability to engage people during every aspect of the job search.

First of all, every job-related story must have a structure. The best narrative structures have an introduction, confrontation and conclusion that effectively bring out the conflicts, tension and drama of a professional IT career. For jobseekers, a situation-action-result structure can be an effective method to describe professional challenges and accomplishments. Moreover, this same structure can be applied to everything from résumés to job interviews. Job seekers can switch around the elements of the situation-action-result formula as necessary. For example, for résumés, job seekers should start with the result and explain how their action led to it.


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Learning Goes Global
Communications of the ACM, Vol. 52, No. 5, May 2009

For years, students have traveled abroad for exchange programs, usually to gain exposure to another culture or learn a language. However, in a world that's increasingly global and interconnected, international education is growing, changing, and evolving. According to the Institute of International Education, the number of U.S. students studying abroad in 2008 grew by about 8% to a total of more than 241,791. Thanks to a diversity of program formats, a growing number of these students are from fields such as mathematics, computer science, and natural sciences. Moreover, technology and communication are changing the way people think about education and making international studies more accessible and popular.

Students in disciplines such as mathematics, computer science, or engineering usually found it difficult, if not impossible, to leave their home institution's program without risking falling behind or veering off track. What's more, most universities weren't inclined to develop exchange programs for those majoring in the sciences. The situation is changing, however. Thanks to computers, the Internet, and other communication and collaboration tools, the ability to link people and course content is entirely viable. For example, technology and collaboration software have made it possible for schools to link programs to one another and create a seamless learning experience. Increasingly, these programs include master's degrees and doctorate degrees. Looking ahead, an increasingly competitive recruiting environment and a shrinking globe will continue to boost international studies. Schools are looking to become world-class institutions or boost their stature in the research arena by attracting international students for full degree programs.


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I’m a Mentor! (Or Maybe It Isn’t That Easy)
MentorNet News, May 2009

David Porush, the President and CEO of MentorNet, shares his experiences of being a mentor while a faculty member at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. As he explains, being a mentor requires more than just signing up for a mentoring program and a general desire to improve the careers of others. Mentoring is a serious skill that requires training. The article first examines the mandate by the U.S. federal government to provide mentoring assistance at the graduate and undergraduate level and then provides insights into what works – and what doesn’t – for mentoring both undergraduate and graduate students.

In 2007, Congress passed an omnibus bill, the America Competes Act, allocating funds to, among others, the National Science Foundation, to stimulate America's competitiveness in fields related to science and basic research. The bill also included a three-year mandate to provide mentoring of postdocs by senior researchers. Yet, many of these institutions that received federal funding did not have prescriptive details on how to satisfy this mandate. What is the appropriate curriculum for career counseling – and how do we know it works? Is this just a matter of communicating a set of rules and regulations that the mentor will communicate to the mentee, or will the relationship require a dialogue, an engagement, something personal and nuanced and mindfully adapted to the individual needs of the protégé?


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