©2008–2016 by Wayne Pollock, Tampa Florida USA
Soft skills are the non-technical skills employers look for. Employees are more likely to be promoted or hired because they “play well with others”, rather than because they have their current job skills down cold. Some of these important soft skills are listed here:
Although most employers prefer employees with degrees rather than certifications, earning a well-recognized certification can't hurt! In some cases a certification may be required, in other cases it may be enough.
Usually you can find out which certifications may be useful to you by joining a professional society and asking other members. Once you know about some certification there is usually a web site for it, or a page on the site for the organization that provides the certification, where you can see the objectives, recommended study materials, certification requirements and fees, and sometimes sample exam questions.
Over time the useful certifications will change. For example in the field of computer security the most widely recognized (and respected) certification is CISSP. The U.S. department of defense has, in the wake of the 9/11/2001 terrorist attack, defined new required certifications for any federal employee handling sensitive information. (See DoD Directive 8140 for more information on this.) Obviously having the required certifications will open many jobs to you.
The top five security certifications with the highest pay premiums today, as reported at education.internet.com (7/30/2010) are (in order):
A Project Management Professional (PMP) certification can equip IT professionals to transition into Project management roles.
Some of Cisco's (for networking) and Microsoft's (for Windows development) most sought-after certification offerings include:
ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) offers a comprehensive approach to IT service management via a series of five core publications outlining best practices and principles in the field. ITIL is already in demand in Europe and Canada, and is the basis for popular commercial management software such as Tivoli or HP OpenView.
There are four IT certification training levels for ITIL:
Some additional developer certifications that may be useful include Java and other certifications from Oracle.
Some Linux System Admin certifications that may be valuable include CompTIA Linux+, the Linux Professional Institute's LPIC-1 (or higher levels for non-entry level positions), and Linux Foundation Certified System Administrator (LFCS) (new since 2014). Note, Linux+ is now identical to LPIC-1, just a different title on the certificate.
Keep in mind most employers know that most certifications can be passed by anyone who buys a practice exam and study book, and works at it for a week or so. This is why many employers prefer to hire those with college degrees or college credit certificates.
Other skills employers will look for include a desire to learn, the ability to follow directions, and analytical skills. Evidence for your curiosity and abilities includes work on open source projects, and/or joining a local group or actively participate in an online forum.
Workers new to the job force don't have much experience to show potential employers. Besides certifications and degrees, you should get involved in your field in a professional way. One good way is to join and be active in a professional society or two. There are large national and international professional societies that relate to most fields. For computer related jobs consider the ACM (association for computing machinery at acm.org), the oldest and second largest computer professional society; and the IEEE/CS (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers / Computer Society at computer.org), the largest and best known internationally. There are well respected professional groups for programmers, system administrators, network professionals, database administrators, website authors and managers, etc. There are also some not well respected groups, and newer groups that are not well known to employers. Some of these have very compelling websites. You must do your homework to pick appropriate affiliations.
Additionally there are groups such as EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation at eff.org) and EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center at epic.org) that perform lobbying, political watchdog activities, or other activities to benefit society. Employers like well-rounded employees, so even non-professional activities show you in a positive light: volunteer work at school, beach or highway cleanup projects, working for blood drives, student clubs etc.
It's not enough to just pay dues to a professional society. Go to meetings (make professional contacts or network). You can meet people that have jobs and ask them about their companies, what they actually do, etc. You can hear about unadvertised job openings. You may get a chance to work on a public project. While just being a member may be useful to list on a resume, most employers will be more impressed if you were active. You can present at conferences or local meetings, review papers for the society's publications, or even write articles. Since many employers look for signs of leadership ability you should consider becoming an officer of a professional society's local chapter, school clubs, and other groups.
Besides the networking opportunities, most professional societies offer many educational and financial benefits. It is often much cheaper to join when you are a still student.
Another way to get involved with your profession is to participate in an open source project. There are lots of such opportunities if you are a programmer, but there are projects relating to all fields that can use volunteer effort.
Besides technical questions, most employers use behavioral interview techniques to get a good sense of the type of employee you'll make. These are designed to make you think on your feet. You should be ready to talk about your experiences that could fit situations your potential employer throws at you. It doesn't matter if what you talk about is from previous job experience or not. The employer wants to get to know about you and then make judgments on how they think you would fit into the job. (For some insights, see this June 2013 New York Times Interview with Laszlo Bock, Google's senior VP of people operations.)
Indeed, most interviewers won't even pretend to understand the technical side of your job and will interview you to find out about your soft skills. (Only after passing your initial interview will another technical interview be scheduled. In some cases you will have an initial interview with a organization's human resources department, then one or more interviews with various managers, and finally a technical interview.)
Here are some questions you might encounter, courtesy of Scott Weighart, author of Find Your First Professional Job: A Guide to Co-ops, Interns and Full-Time Job Seekers: “Tell me about the time you:
Here are some others, from a list called The 25 most difficult questions you'll be asked on a job interview. This article was found on the Internet and claims to be a reprint from FOCUS Magazine — January 5, 1983. (I can't find that magazine to confirm, nor is the original author listed.)
Before an interview, prepare about five stories (if you have that many) that relate to the qualities of an ideal employee for the position you're interested in, and that show off your best qualities. A really good story (of a past experience) can be used to answer three or four different types of questions. Read your scenarios aloud to a family member, friend, faculty member, or adviser, and ask for feedback.
Make sure you prepare your stories. You might be able to wing it, but you won't give the best answers if you do. Make some notes of past achievements, experiences, certifications, and formal education as these relate to perceived responsibilities on the job. Make sure the story proves or shows something positive about you. The best way to do that is making sure your story has the ABC details: Affection (which shows emotion), Behavior (which shows your action), and Cognition (which shows your thoughts).
Do not make up stories. These can be seen through by an experienced interviewer.
Appearance counts! Dress for the job: dress conservatively, avoid trendy clothes, and avoid bright colors. Proper grammar when writing and speaking is also important; avoid slang. Try to control nervous habits such as moving your hand (fidgeting), shaking your foot, using “um” and “and” (when you should silently pause, as between sentences), touching your hair or face, crossing your arms, using too many hand gestures, and failing to look the interviewer in the eye. Do smile (very important!), maintain good posture, and offer firm handshakes. Let the interviewers see you have humor and warmth as part of your personality.
Looking people in the eyes is a cultural issue; in some parts of the world it is considered quite rude. In the U.S. it is generally considered rude to not look people in the eyes when speaking with them. Try to be sensitive to other people's (and especially your interviewer's) culture!
Don't be afraid to admit you don't know something. Take your time to think about what the question is, and what you want to say, to convey the impression you will be a valuable employee. Do not over-explain, especially on questions about why you left your last job.
Have some question of your own for the interviewer. It will look bad if you don't! Do your homework before the interview: check out the company's website and whatever other sources you can to find out about them. You must know something about the company: size, locations, organization, line of business, and details about your job (job titles don't always mean the same thing to different people!) including typical work assignments. You should ask about compensation including time off, overtime, promotion opportunities, etc. Are you expected to be on-call after hours? Work uncompensated overtime if the project is behind schedule? (Don't ask that last question directly; be subtle!)
Consider asking some technical questions as well (in a technical interview; don't ask these of the HR interviewer). The answers can tell you a lot about what it would be like working at that company. For example, some questions you could ask when applying for a job as a programmer might include: What code quality metrics do you use? Will I be mostly maintaining existing code or writing new code? Can you explain briefly how your system works? Do your programmers follow a coding standards document? What quality assurance measures are used (e.g., code reviews, audits, etc.)?
Be careful not to appear arrogant! Make sure you ask questions politely, in a way that shows you are trying to learn about them, rather than in a way that shows you are testing them. While being polite, try to speak in a friendly, confident tone. It is okay to pause to think before answering a question! A few seconds of silence is fine, and much better than the common error of rambling to avoid silence. Do not attempt to appear opinionated, or “cool”: Do not refer to Microsoft as Windoze when interviewing for an open source company, or refer to open source as open sores when interviewing for Oracle.
You can also see if the company passes the Joel Test for programming; some of the questions you can ask include: What source control system do you use? Do you have a bug database and/or trouble-ticketing system? Do programmers have quiet working conditions?
If you don't already know the next steps of the hiring process, ask. You should ask questions such as: Will the most-promising candidates be called back for another interview? Is the company about to make a hiring decision? How soon does the hiring manager expect to move to this next step?
Once the interviewer explains how the hiring process will unfold, you say should say, “Thank you! Is it okay to call you if I haven't heard from you?” Then after you thank the interviewer, briefly summarize why you think you're a good fit for the job.
Some experts suggest asking straight out, “Based on this interview, do you feel that I could be successful in this position? Will you move me forward in the interview process?” A positive response doesn't mean you're guaranteed to get the job, but the interviewer will likely remember you as a stronger candidate. If the interviewer expresses reservations, it may be disappointing, but it's better to find out what their objections are so you can overcome them. For example, if the interviewer says you lack experience in a particular area, you may realize that didn't emphasize your relevant experience enough. You can try to expand on that, either on the spot or in your follow-up letter.
Don't leave the interview without getting the names, titles, and contact information of everyone you met. Then you should follow up the interview later with an email to at least some of those people, thanking them for their time. (Be sure to include specifics on why you'd be such a great fit for their position.) This includes people you may not thought of as important. “You don't know who has pull”, says Laura DeCarlo, president of Career Directors International, a global professional association of resume writers and career coaches.
See also the article on
Top 10 Interview Tips from an Etiquette Professional,
by Nancy R. Mitchell.
One problem when looking for jobs is that different employers use different job titles for the same job. If you don't search for the right title (or use the title an employer is expecting in your resume) you won't find all jobs available. Different titles are used in different industries and sectors: the U.S. government will use one name, the health care industry another, the aviation industry another, telecoms another, and the financial and banking sector yet another.
Here is a list of the names used by companies for those who offer IT training jobs: Trainer, Instructor, Technical Trainer, Technology Trainer, Technical Instructor, Technology Instructor, Training Specialist, Training Analyst, Training Consultant, Learning Analyst, Learning Consultant, Training Consultant, Education Specialist, Education Analyst, Education Consultant, Training Developer, Training Engineer, Education Engineer, and Learning Engineer.
A related job is a manager of trainers/educators, with job titles such as: Training Manager, Training Director, Learning Manager, Learning Director, Director of Technical Training, Director of Training, Director of Education, Director of Learning and Development, Director of Learning, Learning Manager, Education Manager, Education Director, and Technical Training Lead.
Networking jobs use different titles for different types of jobs, such as a LAN, WAN, Cisco certified, etc. Some names used for these jobs include: Network Engineer, System Engineer, Network Specialist, Network Analyst, Systems Specialist, Systems Analyst, Network Administrator, or even Systems Administrator.
For System administration jobs, the list of titles is even larger. Some such jobs will be listed by type of system, by some certification, or by some misfitting human resources job category such as “Member of Technical Staff”.
In addition to the job title, the level of experience desired by an employer may use different terms, such as Entry Level, Intermediate Level, Expert Level, or by some years of experience that are rarely meaningful. (When an organization wishes an expert in a new technology they may advertise for “5+ years of experience”, even if the technology in question is only 1–2 years old!)
The USENIX/Sage (The system administrators guild, recently renamed to “LISA”, after their major annual conference) has carefully defined IT job titles and experience levels, such as “Novice”, “Junior”, “Intermediate/Advanced”, and “Senior” administrators. (See usenix.org Core Job Descriptions (PDF) for more information.)
Without a good cover letter, your resume won't be read. Your cover letter should contain a qualifications summary that highlights how you will make a meaningful contribution to their specific organization. It should also indicate that you are actively engaged in furthering your knowledge, say by pursuing a degree or earning a certification.
Here are some tips on writing good cover letters, adapted from an article by Elizabeth Lions, posted on April 21 2010, at IEEE-USA Today's Engineer (www.TodaysEngineer.org):
Sincerity, even if it speaks with a stutter, will sound eloquent when inspired. — Eiji Yoshikawa (Japanese historical novelist 1892 - 1962)
The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made. — Jean Giraudoux (French diplomat, dramatist, & novelist, 1882 - 1944)
Here's a sample cover letter stolen copied from the article by Elizabeth Lions. Note this goes into the body of the e-mail itself, and not as an attachment:
Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to read my resume.
I noticed you had an ad for a (insert job title here), and wanted to reach out to you directly. Currently I am a working candidate and am looking at very select opportunities. Your organization, with its values and beliefs caught my attention.
Perhaps my background in (add a broad skill statement here) would be of value to you. At this point in my career, I'm looking for an organization that values its employees, where I can contribute immediately and be a respected team member.
I'll leave this in your capable hands and thank you for your consideration.
To determine what jobs are available you need to search the popular job boards on the web. However the listings change frequently, in some cases several times a day. When thinking of possible careers you should spend 10 minutes or so, several days a week, searching the various job postings. Do your searching on different days, and at different times, and examine several job boards using different job titles. If you keep this up for a month or so you will learn more about the job market than any instructor can tell you!
The number of available technology jobs as of Sept. 1 2011 stood at 82,836, with 50,659 full-time positions, 35,378 contract positions, and 1,565 part-time positions, according to a report from Dice.com, that appeared in eweek magazine. Mobile app development, especially for the Android platform, is “hot” now.
Many job postings are “fake”. This happens because head hunters (a.k.a. employment firms, employee placement firms, recruiters, etc.) get paid more for finding employees when they have more resumes to show. So they post enticing job ads. Learn to spot the fakes! They tend to list every popular buzz-word to describe the “position”. They also have long lists of certifications desired, many of which won't relate to a single type of job. When unsure of a posting, research it: check that company's website and see if they are head hunters or not.
Be aware that if your current boss is planning on hiring new personnel, and you've submitted your resume to some recruiter or on-line service, your resume may end up on your boss' desk. Unless your boss already knew you were looking for a new job, this could get you fired. Keep in mind recruiters don't work for you.
Some of the better-known job boards (there are others) include:
Dice.com (one of the most popular for IT related jobs)
Many additional websites have useful information for job-seekers. Some of these are:
Salary and unemployment data for various computer related careers (from Georgia State University CIS department)