Since the recruitment market went into freefall last year, ITers who once were fending off job offers every day are now struggling to find work.
With contracts drying up and permanent staff being made redundant, there is a lot of competition for not very many jobs. So anyone who finds themselves unemployed needs to take a good look at what they have to offer and what employers want.
"What you should really be doing is thinking about what skills you have and how marketable they are," says John Eary, head of the National Computing Centre's Skill Source. Do you need to update your skills? Is now the ideal opportunity to get some training in and move your career forwards? "If you have the time and the money and some of your skills are not in line with market demands, then you should probably think about training," says Eary.
However, one of the most common complaints from Xtra! readers is that they have invested large sums of money in being trained in the latest skills only to find that they still cannot find a job. "This is why you must make sure they are the skills the market needs," says Eary.
Employers often put less emphasis on people having the latest version of a particular skill because they know they can send them on a course to learn it. It is other, personal skills, that will make you stand out.
Paul Butler, chief executive at training company KnowledgePool, says he has noticed that courses in "soft skills" are becoming more popular. "Individuals should not focus solely on IT skills. They should broaden their appeal by increasing their skill set to include communication skills, leadership and project management," he says.
Owupele Orupabo, a quality assurance analyst who was recently made redundant, has already signed up for some training programmes. "I have booked myself in for a software testing exam and I am thinking about completing my CPS and upgrading to an MCPS."
More importantly, Orupabo has been calling industry contacts to see if they know of any vacancies and to get a more informed view of market conditions. "I have started initiating contacts and explaining who I am," he says. "Also, I called my former manager, who is starting up a company, and he wants me to join him, so I might do that.
"Whereas last year we were beating off job offers with a stick, the situation is pretty dire at the moment. You have to do a lot more legwork now."
If you know redundancy is on the cards, ask managers and colleagues for advice and contacts. Research your area of expertise thoroughly by reading industry journals and keep an eye out for any trends or gaps in the market.
And don't dismiss the much-maligned recruitment agencies. Ask colleagues to recommend a couple and look for any that specialise in your skill set. Even ITers who swore they would never use an agency are so desperate for work they have found themselves swallowing their pride and finding out what is on offer.
Mark Braund, director of agency Technical Aid International, thinks IT professionals need to come back down to earth now that the boom days are over and use whatever resources are available to them. "Because they have had it so good for the past few years, IT professionals haven't had to sell themselves into jobs," he says.
Braund says his company has been inundated with calls and CVs from jobseekers, most of which miss the mark. "When we put out for a position, we might get 100 CVs from people who are not relevant, with only four or five quality ones. People need to be more selective about what they go after and focus properly, rather than using a scattergun approach - there is so much supply and so little demand that they will not get anywhere near roles that they are not suited to."
Braund is appalled by the state of some of the CVs his agents receive and says they have to put in a lot of time correcting spelling and grammatical mistakes and improving the presentation. "IT professionals need to be able to take constructive criticism and put more effort in to the quality of their applications," he says.
Another big problem Braund is encountering is that cash-hungry ITers still think they can call the shots over rates and are pricing themselves out of the market. "Keep an eye on what the market is currently paying and look at your expectations," he warns.
Some IT professionals are doing what they can to make themselves more marketable and biding their time until the market picks up. "I have enough money to last three months, so I am training myself up, getting myself ready and hoping that there will be better news soon," says Orupabo.
The worst thing to do is sit around feeling despondent. Use the time to do something you have always wanted to do, be it travelling or a new hobby. It may be something you could put on your CV to make you stand out from the crowd. Volunteer work, for example, often impresses employers and may teach you new skills. If you can deploy your IT skills in some way, even better.
For anyone who wants to move into project management but lacks experience, managing a project as a volunteer could be the chance to show what you are capable of. "See where your skills can be transferred," says Sally Dench, senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies. "Think about what would impress employers about what you have done."
It might also be a cheaper, more fulfilling way of gaining experience than paying to go on a course.
Lost your job? Don't just sit there
- Think hard about what job you would really like
- Devise a plan of action to get yourself that job
- Network. Speak to colleagues, friends and industry acquaintances to see if they know of any opportunities
- Think about training - do you need to update your skills?
- Make contact with good agencies that specialise in your field
- Overhaul your CV and brush up on interview techniques.