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ACM CareerNews for Tuesday, August 18, 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 16, August 18, 2009




Quick Guide to Contract Work for IT Job Hunters
Network World (via Computerworld Canada), August 5

Given the current state of the economy, a growing number of companies are turning to contract IT workers as they consider contract-to-hire scenarios. According to a recent survey conducted by Robert Half Technology, 82% of CIOs find contract and project work valuable for evaluating prospective employees for full-time roles. For these companies, project-based assignments are also desirable from the standpoint of being able to adjust to the fluctuations in future workloads. Drawing on the experience of career experts and recruiters, the article highlights the pros and cons of contract work, provides advice on how to tailor a resume for project-related work, and offers suggestions for transforming a short-term assignment into a permanent position.

On one hand, contract work is often an opening to full-time work. Employers take on contractors when they are looking for full-time people but they aren't too sure whether they have enough work for somebody full time or they don't want to commit. On the other hand, contract work often means a lack of benefits and the possibility of being released without advance notice. Despite the risks, contract work can prevent extended gaps in your resume and keep your skills up-to-date. If you've been out of work for about six months and still aren't satisfied with what you are seeing on the market, it's a good idea to take on some project work. Over the past 12 months, there have been increasing opportunities for contract work, as companies move to a more flexible workforce model.


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Interest Up in Hi-Tech Careers
Australian IT News, August 4

In Australia and New Zealand, high tech is growing in popularity as a career choice for teenagers. In a recent survey of more than 1800 young people in the teenage virtual world Habbo, "IT and technology professional" was the most popular career choice option. The rise of the Internet and other innovative technologies, which now have a pervasive influence in everyday life, is helping to make tech careers more attractive. The popularity in the survey of technology vendors such as Google, Apple and Nintendo as potential employers is another reflection of this trend. In highlighting the results of the Habbo survey, the article suggests that the growing popularity of everything high tech could eventually be a huge boon for Australian and New Zealand companies as they search for highly-skilled IT talent.

Encouragingly, the survey found that more than 30% of respondents viewed tech careers as being on the cutting-edge, while 20% thought tech careers were "pretty cool". This was in a group that comprised 54% females and 46% males, so the traditional stereotypes of women not being interested in technology do not seem to apply. The growing awareness among Australia's teenagers of the many positive aspects of a technology career is at least partly the result of efforts by the industry, profession, government and academic community to promote tech opportunities. For example, National ICT Careers Week is a new joint initiative by the ACS and the Australian Information Industry Association to encourage young Australians to consider technology as a profession. National ICT Careers Week includes dozens of events around the country, ranging from competitions and exhibitions to workshops in animation, robotics and virtual reality, each showcasing aspects of the many options available in a technology career.


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Games Can Actually Become a Career
The Times (South Africa), August 8

In South Africa, recent university graduates with a background in gaming are landing well-paying jobs, both within the gaming industry and in more traditional fields, such as computer science. For the past three years, students studying for a bachelor’s degree in computer science at the University of Cape Town have been able to specialize in computer gaming. After graduating, they are able to fill regular roles available to computer science graduates such as developers, system designers and programmers. Moreover, they acquire additional skills allowing them to assist in developing games on mobile devices, desktop computers and gaming consoles.

The course content of the three-year degree at the University of Cape Town includes game genres and history, game design and playability, 2D game concepts and development, software engineering for games, 3D graphics techniques for games, and game engine architectures. The course was developed in response to the needs of the small but growing local gaming industry. In South Africa, successful game designers and developers are constantly bemoaning the lack of technically skilled graduates, showing a need for highly-skilled recent graduates if the local industry is to grow to its full potential. With a specific degree in computer gaming, students will be more marketable than their peers when applying for these job opportunities.


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Expect Pay Raises to Return Next Year
Management Issues, July 22

After a year of economic uncertainty, many American workers and managers will be able to look forward to pay increases and bonuses again in 2010, according to new research by consultancy Watson Wyatt. Some firms may even move to bring pay levels back to what workers could have expected if there had been a raise during 2009 as well. Its poll of 235 large American employers has predicted pay will rise on average 3% next year, after a year in which raises were largely put on hold. The number of companies planning no pay raises next year is also expected to drop dramatically, down from 25% of companies this year to 10% in 2010, according to a separate poll of nearly 900 firms by Watson Wyatt Data Services.

After a difficult past 12 months, the good news is that employers plan to give larger raises next year, and many plan to reinstate previously cut pay raises as planning for an eventual economic recovery continues. In return, there will likely be a much closer relationship between performance and pay in the future. Companies in general were already giving smaller raises to employees who did not meet performance expectations. Workers who "exceeded expectations" this year would receive an average of 3.1% increase, while workers who "far exceeded expectations" could expect a 4% increase. With companies operating on limited budgets, employees can expect their performance on the job to come under increased scrutiny.


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How to Address Job Hopping on a Resume
CIO.com, August 6

There are seven steps that IT job candidates who have held multiple jobs during a short span of time can take to avoid being perceived as job hoppers. By some estimates, 40% of recruiters, hiring managers and HR professionals would consider job-hopping as a reason to discard a resume. Because hiring is expensive, time consuming, and a drag on employers' resources, they don't want to risk hiring someone with a questionable employment record and having to go through the recruitment process all over again a few months later. The article provides some specific advice on how to emphasize skills and accomplishments rather than tenure with each job, making it more likely that a hiring manager will call you in for a job interview.

If you've held a number of jobs in a short period of time, your résumé should focus on your value and accomplishments. If you're writing a two or three page résumé, use half or more of the first page to summarize your value proposition to the prospective employer and your relevant accomplishments. If you’re writing a one-page resume, focus on your skills, abilities, and specific projects you've completed. Try to group all of your contract engagements under one heading, such as "Contract Work" or "IT Consultant and Contractor," and then list all of that work during one time period. Doing so makes several short-term projects look more like long-term employment. Also, de-emphasize dates of employment on your resume. Don't draw attention to dates of employment on your résumé by setting them off on the page, putting them in bold text, on a separate line, or as headings above each position you've held. Instead, tuck them at the end of a title or job description.


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Find Which Career Path You Need to Break Into a Targeted Company
Job Mob, August 11

The most effective strategy for getting hired by a specific company, according to Jonathan Degani, is to understand the typical career paths that are available within that company. This strategy is just as true for veteran jobseekers as it is for recent university graduates. By learning the career paths that most employees have taken, you can minimize the number of false leads created by blindly sending out a large batch of resumes via job board sites. Based on his own experience of attempting to land a job after business school, Degani offers a few simple lessons to discover which career paths are most likely to lead to a new job opportunity.

Instead of sending out hundreds of resumes a week and getting no responses, it makes more sense to take a more tactical approach to responding to job openings. One way is to contact alumni from your university, who can help with planning the job search. While they may be limited in what they can do during an economic recession, they can point out potential entry points to their organizations. In order to get a job, you will need to learn the dynamics of each company and find out the career path that people typically take to start working. Once you know the traditional paths, you can focus your networking on finding people who work within specific departments.


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Job Training: Often Misunderstood But Too Important to Dismiss
The Huffington Post, July 21

Public policy experts Brandon Roberts and David Fischer, on behalf of the Working Poor Families Project, weigh in on the increasingly controversial topic of job retraining. They argue that job retraining has developed an undeserved negative reputation in public policy circles. After reviewing the statistical and anecdotal evidence surrounding laid-off workers and government-funded job retraining programs in states such as Michigan, the two experts point out that some government studies have found "positive and statistically significant" wage gains for job program participants in most other states. Based on these promising signs, they offer a number of suggestions about the roles that educational institutions and the public sector must play if they are to take advantage of job creation in the private sector.

To correct misperceptions about the nature of job retraining, the authors point out that as much as 35% of job training in the U.S. occurs through community colleges, which typically offer industry-recognized vocational certifications in fields such as computer network administration. Nearly 80% of community colleges also offer contract training, developing curricula in partnership with employers, industry associations and other outside stakeholders to train incumbent workers and jobseekers. Additionally, much apprenticeship training, which typically leads to high-wage positions, takes place in community colleges. Under the Obama administration, the American Graduation Initiative will expand support to community colleges, pledging $12 billion for new initiatives to improve college completion, modernize facilities, and develop new online learning opportunities. An explicit objective of the plan is to help rebuild the capacity and competitiveness of America's workforce.


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Eight Ways Job Seekers Can Assess a Prospective Employer's Corporate Culture
CIO.com, July 31

Just as hiring managers try to determine whether a job seeker will fit with an organization's culture, job seekers should judge whether a prospective employer's culture is right for them. According to recruiters, curiosity about an employer's corporate culture will impress hiring managers and help them stand out from other candidates. If a job seeker researches a prospective employer's culture and finds an organization that matches his or her personality, work style and values, not only is he or she more likely to be offered the job, the job seeker is also more likely to be successful inside the company. With that in mind, the article provides tips and suggestions for sizing up the corporate culture of a prospective employer.

Before attending the job interview, check out the company's website. Pictures of employees on the website, along with employee testimonials about what it's like to work for the company, can indicate that the employer cares about its employees and wants to be a desirable place to work. Next, consider the employer's hiring process, especially the way that the scheduling of the job interview takes place and the way that you are treated when you arrive at the interview. Job candidates need to be able to discern whether the selection process is meaningful and reflects an organization that really cares about who they hire.


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Elements of a Corporate Telecommuting Program
Web Worker Daily, August 6

Many large corporations, and even federal government agencies, are increasingly interested in launching telecommuting programs as a tool for reducing overhead and for increasing employee retention. However, such programs require a certain amount of infrastructure, planning and strategy in order to be successful. Prior to building, launching and supporting a successful remote work program, companies must consider a number of organizational issues, such as which employee candidates to select and which technologies are necessary to support such a program. These factors become especially important to consider when an organization is not considering seasoned web workers for its telecommuting positions.

Choosing the right employee candidates for the telecommuting program should be the first priority. Knowledge workers, including programmers, are ideal candidates for remote work on a full-time or part-time basis, but companies need to ensure they only select proven performers. Companies taking the first steps for a telecommuting plan should also appoint a project manager, and treat the telecommuting plan just like any other important project or corporate initiative. Next, companies should select the necessary hardware and software required for the telecommuting program. At the very least, employees using their own equipment need to be outfitted with the applications they will need to do their work and company-approved security software.


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Rutgers University to Lead Nine-School Consortium to Double Minority Students Majoring in STEM
Communications of the ACM (via Rutgers University), August 11

Rutgers University in Newark will lead a $5 million, five-year multiple-school program that aims to substantially increase the numbers of minority of students pursuing majors and careers in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. Rutgers University-Newark will lead a consortium of other New Jersey undergraduate institutions in the five-year Garden State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (GS-LSAMP), which is funded by the National Science Foundation. The goal of the multi-million dollar program is to open more opportunities for minority students to pursue careers in STEM fields, while reinforcing New Jersey’s role as a national leader in supporting technology-related career opportunities for minority students.

The Rutgers-led consortium aims to double, in five years, the number of minority students completing undergraduate degrees in the STEM disciplines by providing academic support programs, including tutoring and peer-led team learning. In the peer-led team learning sessions, upperclassmen help younger students through difficult STEM classes that have traditionally been a barrier to success and retention. The goal is to get students beyond the difficult introductory gateway courses that prove troubling to many of them, so as to improve retention of minorities in the STEM fields.


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