7 Essential Steps To START an IT Career in a Recession

Estimated reading time: 7 mins

I wouldn’t want you to start your career off on the wrong foot, especially now the market is so damn tough. Too many opportunities in starting a career in IT are lost because of a lack of understanding of the market and the belief that your first job must be the ‘right job’. If Mr X over there wants to wait for the ‘right job’ then let him – I’d take any job that pays and has prospects to accelerate upwards quickly!

Here are 7 essential steps for starting an IT career in a recession.

1. Get to Grips With The Current Situation

Knowing the state of the market is real important if you’re going to enter it. Truth is: it’s grim out there. Jobs in the industry are in decline, primarily due to recession and also the shift of labor to developing countries. The recession is the current killer. It’s not simply a situation of people being laid off; this is happening, but it’s also a case that ad-hoc projects are not being started due to funding, so the contract/freelance market is stale. This has three consequences:

a) Freelancers are looking for permanent positions

b) Permanent staff are camping out in their current jobs

c) The turnover of jobs has vastly reduced

This leaves a helluvva challenge for anyone entering the market. It’s not been so tough since the dotcom bust back in the early ‘00s. There are too many candidates for too few jobs.

So for any job posting, recruiters will see many applicants, often in the 1,000s. There are ways to raise your shoulders above the crowd so you will be noticed first, so I suggest you look at my previous posts on how you can do this:

A Killer Interview Tactic Revealed…

How To Land Top Jobs by Distinguishing Yourself

Great Resumes Arrive With Even Greater Cover Letters

9 Highly Effective Habits of Great Technical Resume Writers

What is the Best Way to Prepare for an Interview? (Part One)

Five Self-Marketing Tips for Information Technology Employees

The simple fact is that, right now, getting any job is a great achievement (well it always was, I guess, but more so now)… but that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to build your career.

2. Know Your Challenge

Your challenge, then, is to enter the market to start your career. But start it in the right place. I think the ‘Challenge’ needs further definition though, as there is an interesting way of looking at it that I want to share with you.

I don’t think the Challenge is simply starting a career in IT. If it was just that, I think you are setting off on the wrong foot. The method I advocate is to start anywhere and climb as quickly as you can towards the type of job that fulfils your potential. I say get your foot in the door in almost any job and show how great you are.

Does this go against contemporary wisdom? Does it go against the advice elsewhere on this site? Probably. But times have changed. We can’t pussyfoot around anymore and be too picky to start – our time is running out.

Your challenge, should you wish to accept it, is to enter the market at whatever level you can, and then accelerate upwards.

3. Set Your Goals

It’s important to set goals, or this strategy won’t pay off. I always set myself goals when I employ methods like these. These are the outcomes that you believe you need or strongly desire; I’d leave out anything that isn’t vital. Draw your list from the bare essentials!

You might choose these goals, for example:

  • Work for employers that I have affinity with their values
  • Get a job quickly
  • Progress based on networking
  • Achieve professional status

4. Create Your Plan

Next, you need a plan. This is different from having a list of goals as you’ll be creating an order in which your goals will be achieved, sometimes by adding new actions. The plan should paint a roadmap for your early career, say 1-2 years. These will serve you in two ways:

  1. You’ll know what decisions and actions you need to take
  2. Goals can be articulated to potential employers, demonstrating your commitment to your career

My advice is strong and clear here:

Career LadderGet in a job. Use it as a platform to find the work that excites you. Don’t bother with training courses, or certification BEFORE you begin your career.

The sooner you can get working, the sooner you can …

…begin building experience,

… networking inside and outside of your organization,

… identify what jobs you really want to do, once you’ve discovered how IT organizations really work

… build confidence in yourself

… spot the next developmental opportunities for you

Your plan will look something like this:

  1. Draw up a list of organizations you would like to work for (1 month)
  2. Apply for vacancies (2 months)
  3. Accept an offer (4 months)
  4. Begin your new job (4 months)
  5. Build relationships with key influencers (6 months)
  6. Achieve excellent scores in First Performance Appraisal (12 months)
  7. Select opportunities to progress and be promoted (15 months)
  8. Achieve one professional certification (18 months)
  9. Achieve first promotion (24 months)

5. Get Going

Once you’ve got your plan – get on with it. Don’t procrastinate. I’ve known a number of people who find excuses for not taking action and in every case, they took a job they didn’t like because they didn’t have a plan and acted against it.

You can lose a lot of momentum in career building if you wait until all seems perfect, i.e. the perfect resume, certification, etc. Just get going and take a job that gets you inside an IT department.

6. Begin Networking

Once you’ve got a job, it’s essential that (to get off the bottom rung on which you entered your career) you begin networking. In other words, building relationships with your peers, managers, leaders, everyone in fact. The more people that know you, the better. Talk to them about your aspirations, and of course, listen to them more.

The more you can understand the roles and responsibilities of other people, the more you can help them and be helped. I don’t underestimate the power of a network, as this is what has created pretty much all the opportunities I’ve had to progress and rise in the organizations I’ve worked for. Hard work is just what you do to keep your job – it’s networking that creates new opportunities. And this is done by relationships based on equity and mutual benefit.

7. Promote Yourself

You’ve entered at the bottom rung, but you don’t need to stay there.

‘Promote Yourself’ works on two levels.

The first level is publicizing yourself. If your new employer has a company newsletter, find a way of being features on it. Get your LinkedIn profile up to date (or registered if you don’t have one). Join groups about your job family (e.g. web development, IT ops, Project Management), both internally and externally.

One other interpretation is to literally assume you have been promoted. That is, take on new responsibilities until told otherwise (it’s essential that you can actually honor them!). Assume authority until otherwise too. Think Big – but Act Small. What I mean by that is by assuming new responsibilities, don’t expect everyone else to know you have done so – so don’t throw your weight around!

Both of these interpretations are valid! Use these tactics to build yourself a profile of someone who gets involved and gets the job done, and is prepared to above and beyond your role, and take a few risks too.

Some last thoughts…

  • Scour the market for jobs that you can do with confidence.
    • Use all your contacts and raise awareness in your network that you’re looking for work
    • Don’t be afraid to take jobs that are not your ‘dream jobs’
    • Look for organizations that have a variety of roles already filled within their IT department
    • Filter out any organizations that don’t fit you (but not the vacancies)
  • Apply for these jobs using all the tools to stand out you can get hold of
  • Confidently go for interviews with full preparation
    • Ask questions in your interview about progression
    • Ask to see an org-chart of the organization or have it described to you
    • Don’t take the first job offered to you necessarily, but don’t wait around too long. Remember, you need to get your foot in the door.
  • It’s not what you know. It’s not even who you know. It’s who knows you. Once you’ve got a job, begin building profile. Network. Find sponsors who can support you in progressing. Take every opportunity to get yourself off that bottom rung.

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4 thoughts on “7 Essential Steps To START an IT Career in a Recession”

  1. I’m a freelancer and I haven’t noticed a drop in opportunities yet. There was a lull in the December – early January period, which is typical, but otherwise I get pinged for potential projects a few times a week on average.

    That’s a nice list of steps/goals that you presented. I would stress that if someone isn’t currently working in the field that they desire then they try to get anything at all – as you suggested. It’s so hard to pick something up in your spare time. But once a person is coding or designing 40+ hours a week their skills and experience grow rapidly.

    The only thing I can think to add is to blog, blog, blog. All of my projects and job offers have come to me via my blog. Without it I’d be spending lots of time trolling for work – never fun. It’s much better when work comes to you.

  2. @polyGeek – that’s a great story and proof of Step 7, which is essentially what your blog does – promote yourself. Great point you make – once you’re in a job then you can learn the ropes and earn experience. Outside of a job, then it’s amateurville.
    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Your comment of

    “I say get your foot in the door in almost any job and show how great you are.”

    is classic. My mom told me that, ‘way back in ’86, when I began my campaign to get hired at AT&T. She said that if I wasn’t hired as a techie, I should go in as a secretary…in short, get ANY position so long as I could get my foot in the door.

    Brilliant advice, that. I was eventually hired as a data analyst and worked my way up to the lead unix sysadmin position. But yes, getting your foot in the door no matter how…. – it’s critical.

    Great article! Barbara

    1. @Barbara – thanks for sharing this great story. This is testament to the likelihood that once you’re in, you’re able to find the job you’re really after and go for it. Imagine trying to do the same cold? It’s amazing, but not surprising, that you’re able to go from data analyst to unix sysadmin that way. I’ll bet you could have made it too if you did go in as a secretary?

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