In today's challenging economic climate, the lucky IT professionals who still have a job are sitting tight and hoping the axe doesn’t fall on them.
While sometimes there is no way to avoid redundancy - if your company has a last in, first out policy, for example - there are often steps you can take to make yourself indispensable to the company.
Financial directors are looking for return on investment from every aspect of the business - and IT is no exception. "It’s becoming more and more critical to understand the business you work for and the factors that are affecting it," says Peter Linas, European development director at IT services company Parity. "Without that knowledge, it’s hard to have a positive input into the business."
Understanding the business means having a businesslike attitude to what you do. "Whatever you're doing, make sure you deliver on time and to budget," Linas advises.
Customer-facing staff - and, these days, that means almost everyone - need to make sure they understand and acknowledge the values and priorities of their customers.
Finally, try to proactively suggest solutions for the business. "Never say ‘we've always done it that way’," Linas says. "Think in terms of, ‘how can we make what we do better and deliver more back to the business?’"
Hone your skills
The technology landscape is constantly changing, so make sure that you are up to speed with the current hot skills. If you get a chance to learn something new, grab it with both hands; remember, it is much easier to get experience of new technologies while you are still employed.
"Make sure you keep your skill set up to date," advises Matthew Rodger, business development director with Alexander Mann. "You don’t have to completely re-invent yourself, but be aware of whatever is out there that complements what you already do. Is there a new methodology you should be exploring or a toolset that’s like what you currently use, only better?"
Performance appraisals are the ideal opportunity to make sure your employer knows what you can already do, and what you would like to be doing. But first, make sure you think hard about how you are going to sell it.
"Smart employees will use their regular appraisals to suggest, in as non-threatening a way as possible, that as part of their personal development plan this is what they'd like to be doing and this is why it’s good for the business," Rodger says.
He suggests putting yourself in your employer’s shoes and asking yourself some questions:
- What is the business benefit of my work?
- What competitive advantage does the company gain from it?
- What's the return on investment?
- How will this prepare the company for the challenges of the future?
- Will it solve an immediate issue?
"We encourage people to continue to network while in employment to keep a high profile and make sure they're in a position to hear about new opportunities," says Diana Westlake, managing consultant in the Reading office of outplacement specialist DBM.
The whole idea of networking may sound appalling to those who like nothing better than to sit in their cubicle crafting code all day. It does not have to be that way, Westlake says.
"We're not trying to turn the entire population into people who are always e-mailing and going to cocktail parties," she says. "What I'm talking about is more of a subtle mind-shift towards proactively making connections with other people in other bits of the company; things like having innocuous conversations at the coffee machine."
"Relationships are critical," agrees Linas. "The days of the technical guy sat in the corner, not communicating with anyone, have very much gone. IT staff have to deliver real benefits. Getting to know people in sales and marketing, order processing and admin helps you do a better job."
As well as making the effort to chat while your cappuccino with extra sugar is perking, there are other easy steps you can take, Westlake advises. "See if there are any local networking or special interest groups you could become involved in. Keep a record of people’s business cards and make sure you review it on a regular basis.
"Take the opportunity to send them an item of interest you’ve seen in the newspaper, or a bit of gossip you feel they'd be interested in," she says.
Polish up your attitude
An enthusiastic, can-do attitude can make you stand out as an employee worth hanging on to. "Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm," says Linas. "No one wants to hear ‘sorry, that can't be done’. If you say ‘let me think about that and come back to you in a week’, that’s far more impressive."
Iain Simmons, regional director of recruitment consultancy Elan, agrees, "You need to be seen to add value to the team. Take two people of equal ability and output, one who sits quietly in the corner getting on with his work while the other is a dynamic and valued member of the team. When it comes to redundancy, who do you think will go first?"
Share your employer’s pain - up to a point
With many companies facing falling profits, now is not the time to be demanding hefty pay increases. As part of a business-focused attitude, consultants advise, you need to be realistic about the problems facing your employer and be prepared to share some of the pain.
"Permanent staff should be showing they understand the business issues," says Linas. "If your employer is going through a tough time, consider volunteering for a pay freeze maybe or offering to do free overtime."
Kevin Barrow, joint managing partner and employment law expert at Tarlo Lyons, has a more radical proposal. "Become less expensive to engage: cease to be an employee and offer your services on a self-employed contractor basis, thereby reducing your own tax and avoiding employers' national insurance contributions," he suggests.
"This exposes you to a little more risk but, for more take-home pay and an overall much lower cost to the employer, then maybe the risk is worthwhile."
Should you actually offer to take a pay cut? Consultants reckon that is a definite no-no. "It smacks of being too desperate, too over-willing. You're diminishing your self-worth," says Westlake. "It may look like a good idea on paper, but in my experience employers feel the price tag says a lot about what they're getting."
"If you're streets ahead of your colleagues in terms of skills and ability, then your pay should reflect that, and taking a salary cut won't necessarily protect your position in the next round of redundancies anyway," agrees Simmons.
In other words, we all love a bargain, but presenting yourself as an end-of-line sale item is probably the wrong message - even in a recession.