Job seekers need to get smart in a tough market

There is no prospect of a major rise in demand for IT skills, and job hunters must work hard to present themselves to employers...

There is no prospect of a major rise in demand for IT skills, and job hunters must work hard to present themselves to employers in the best possible light, recruitment experts told a packed BCS meeting last month, writes John Kavanagh.

There are no big new things, as there were in the 1990s," Carole Hepburn, a director at Computer People, told the London North Branch meeting. "Then there were new versions of Windows, and the emergence of mobile phones and e-mail. The emphasis now is on controlling costs and getting more out of existing systems."

This has led to falling demand in previous boom areas, such as consultancy, e-commerce and networking, Hepburn said.

"Companies only recruit now if it is absolutely vital," she said. "Contractors are especially affected: 30% are 'resting', and the number of contractor business closures has doubled to 16%.

"It is a buyer's market. Companies get hundreds of CVs. They are renegotiating contractor rates and shifting contractor headcount to permanent staff to cut costs."

Contractors in particular need to be flexible. "Be realistic about rates, compared with your previous expectations. Do not try to negotiate a contract: agencies will avoid trouble and go to the next person," said Hepburn. "Take on board constructive criticism, for example about your CV and your appearance at interviews.

"Don't spread your skills too thinly. Say what you can do: don't say you can do everything."

Permanent staff should apply for as many relevant jobs as possible, Hepburn said. This means applying for fresh jobs every day. And they should follow up applications with a telephone call. "Recruitment consultancies get hundreds of CVs every day, so the ones they are likely to give priority to are the ones that people phone up about. Establish rapport with consultants and push them to work for you."

Both permanent and contract staff need to adapt their CVs to different job applications, Hepburn said. This does not mean changing the detail but bringing out relevant skills.

Phil Redding from recruitment agency Reed Technology Group endorsed much of Hepburn's advice and underlined the need to work at getting a job.

"Develop first-class communication skills," he said. "We get people who mumble into the phone and don't even know which advert they are responding to. Treat the agent with professionalism - just as the agent treats the client.

"Keep your CV concise but get across your personality. Make it enjoyable: it is your marketing document. Bring out your strongest attributes, with brief examples of how you have applied them.

"Prove your determination by showing how you have kept up-to-date, and ensure your technical skills can be assessed easily. Outline your skills, the level you have reached, when you last used each one, and your experience. Don't be embarrassed about saying you have only used it at home: at least it shows you have used it."

Hepburn summed up the presentations, "There are jobs out there, but you must be smart and push to get them," she said.

Job hunting tips

  • Establish rapport with job agents
  • Adapt your CV to different job applications
  • Make sure your CV is a good marketing document
  • Be flexible
  • Be realistic about contractor rates
  • Don't try to negotiate contracts
  • Take on constructive criticism
  • Don't say you can do everything
  • Apply for lots of relevant jobs
  • Make follow-up calls
  • Work hard at getting a job




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