The IT Hiring Outlook: Opportunities Still Exist

Today's economic climate and amid high unemployment rates, it's easy to assume difficulties of finding work in any field. But a closer look at information technology (IT) hiring reveals a much brighter picture. By learning about in demand skills and what employers value most, you give yourself the best chance to succeed under challenging conditions.

Many companies are discovering that they can not afford to postpone IT investments. These positions often lead to increased security, greater efficiencies and higher revenues. In fact, seven out of ten chief information officers (CIOs) polled by Robert Half Technology said their companies will invest in IT initiatives over the next 12 months. Organizations are preparing for growth when conditions improve. Enhancing their IT infrastructure is a big part of that process.

This means employers will be looking for talent to support IT projects. What follows are some key employment trends you should be aware of to support your job search or IT hiring initiatives.

Bright Spots in IT Hiring
The third-quarter 2009 Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report found that moderate hiring activity is still taking place. Eight percent of CIOs in the East North Central region plan to add IT staff - unchanged from the previous quarter. The outlook for those in the West North Central states, however, is slightly more conservative, with six percent of CIOs reporting planned IT staff increases. Those who are expanding their IT departments attribute the demand largely to rising workloads.

When hiring full-time staff, a majority of CIOs in both regions plan to recruit IT professionals at the staff level; so job candidates with up to five years of experience will be most sought by employers. In addition, nearly a quarter (24 percent) of CIOs in the East North Central states plan to hire a mix of full-time and project or contract professionals, and another 28 percent of executives said they expect to hire contract workers only. As a result, job candidates may have more opportunities to work on a project basis, which provides a chance to evaluate companies as potential full-time employers.

In the West North Central region, nearly two-thirds of CIOs polled said they plan to hire part-time employees. Technology professionals might want to explore employment opportunities that are not full-time but still allow them to gain work experience, keep their resumes current and sharpen their skills.

Areas of Opportunity
More good news for IT professionals comes in the varied areas of need for hiring companies. Today's online environment requires a multi-tiered approach with multiple skill sets required.

Web Development
Companies continue to increase their online presence and are investing in Web 2.0 initiatives; such as blogging, podcasting and interactive Web functionality. In turn, organizations need skilled Web developers who can seamlessly integrate these new technologies to improve the utility of a company's website, both for employees and customers. Companies seek Web developers with an IT background to focus on server or application programming interface (API) projects, and developers who are design savvy and have a solid understanding of business strategy.

IT professionals skilled in .NET, SharePoint, Java and PHP are being sought across many industries. For example, many companies, large and small, are implementing or converting existing applications to .NET. Analysts are needed for new development, maintenance of existing applications - such as inventory control or reporting systems - and migration work.

Enterprises seeking to control IT costs, especially in today's economy, are embracing the virtualization of servers and storage. Desktop and application virtualization also are hot topics. As this trend continues, there will be a growing need for virtualization-related skills in the marketplace and competition to secure experienced candidates will increase. Strong candidates for virtualization positions include those who bring thorough knowledge of Windows, UNIX and Linux, and of virtualization software (VMware, Citrix, XenServer, Microsoft's Hyper-V) that enables those operating systems to run side-by-side. Professionals with extensive hands-on experience in this area might be scarce, but many workers are able to develop expertise on the job. IT professionals who bring a broad base of data center skills are strong candidates for virtualization roles.

Cloud computing, Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) and Software as a Service (SaaS) have increased the requirements placed on networks. As a result, network professionals remain in demand. In fact, CIOs in both the East North Central and West North Central states said network administration will be the skill set in greatest demand in their IT departments during the third quarter. Many employers seek job candidates with network administration certifications, such as the Cisco Certified Network Associate.

Help Desk and Desktop Support
As companies implement new technologies, customerand end-user-facing roles, such as help desk and desktop support, remain critical. Help desk and technical support was cited by CIOs as a job area experiencing the most growth. In the same survey, desktop support ranked high among the list of in-demand skills by CIOs surveyed in the Midwest. Hiring managers are putting significant emphasis on customer-service skills such as communication and problem-solving abilities. They also look at a person's industry knowledge and experience supporting similarsized environments.

Industries Expecting Increased Hiring
The IT Hiring Index and Skills Report found that transportation, communications and utilities will see the strongest hiring activity in the third quarter, with a net 11 percent projected increase in IT staff. CIOs in this sector said an increased need for customer/end-user support is the reason for heightened demand for IT professionals.

The professional services industry and the finance, insurance and real estate sector also forecast employment growth above the national average, with CIOs citing rising workloads as a primary factor for the need for more IT personnel.

Additionally, greater demand for IT staff is expected in the healthcare sector. The government-supported move to electronic medical records is creating a need for professionals who can manage and implement the conversion process.

While the IT industry has fared better than most during the recession, it has also felt the effects of a weaker economy. Staying abreast of changes in the IT field will help you understand those positions and industries being affected most by the downturn - and those that are proving to be more resilient.

About the Author: Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at