It is a good time to be an IT professional looking for a job. The market is at its most buoyant for more than six years, according to the latest quarterly data from the Computer Weekly/SSL Quarterly Survey of Appointments Data and Trends.
However, the same survey shows the trend for management vacancies heading in the opposite direction, with demand for IT directors down by 31% compared with the start of 2007. So, if you feel your career has reached a stage where you are ready to make a step up to management, how do you find one of those elusive senior roles?
Finding management vacancies
"Many jobs at senior level are filled through direct approaches to candidates. A lot more of it is done through networking - face-to-face or online, through Web 2.0 sites such as LinkedIn and Ecademy. You need to make your friends and past colleagues aware that you are looking so they can let you know when opportunities arise," says Geoffrey Morrell, chief executive of IT recruitment company Abraxas.
Online networking sites are also increasingly used by recruiters as a way to identify a pool of potential candidates for senior roles.
Forging relationships with a couple of key recruitment consultants who are focused specifically on recruiting for senior roles and who will work hard for you is also critical, says David Pye, group chief executive at insurance and financial services recruitment firm Highams Recruitment.
IT directors often choose to work with one or two recruiters who they know have a network of suitable contacts. "It becomes about who you know. When you are ready to make your next move, those recruiters will try to place you," says Pye.
Danny James, divisional manager in recruitment firm Volt Europe's IT area, suggests that for your first move you should speak to the peer group you aspire to join to find out which recruiters they use.
The other route to finding vacancies is through job advertisements, although Pye says many senior management positions are never advertised. When ads are posted, they are likely to appear in printed media rather than on internet job boards, on specialist job boards rather than general ones, and in national newspapers rather than the trade press.
Demonstrating your worth
Once you have found a vacancy that appeals, how do you give yourself the best chance of being chosen?
James says, "The first step is to move away from presenting yourself as having particular technical skills, to couching it in terms of what you have achieved for the business: cost savings, streamlining processes, meeting service level agreements, or increasing revenues."
Morrell agrees. "If you talk about your experience in terms of the technologies, you will look lightweight for these roles."
When you do talk technology, he says, "You need to demonstrate that you understand the reasons behind using it, had responsibility for strategic applications of it, drove projects to a conclusion and engaged with stakeholders."
James Howells, managing director of IT recruitment firm Imprint Search & Selection, says, "The skills in demand are commercial awareness, a strategic understanding of the business, relationship-building skills, and the ability to implement at a senior level.
"Your CV needs to show how you have influenced and shaped the business, and your ability to manage and lead teams. In those first senior roles, recruiters are looking for people with stretch potential who can end up on the board."
Pye says that although you do need to get all that information across, your CV needs to be a concise document articulating clearly what you have done.
"Employers are not looking for 10 pages detailing all the excellent work in every project you have ever done because, at this level, they need people who can take decisions quickly and write them up quickly," he says.
The selection process itself will almost certainly require more patience on your part. "It is like running a marathon rather than a sprint: you may be meeting five or six people.
"You will be assessed by both business and technical people, and spend more time meeting stakeholders. It is easy to lose sparkle through that process, and there is a risk that you will go into a pivotal exchange feeling jaded and let yourself down at a key stage in the process," says Morrell.
However, Pye says, as a candidate, you are also likely to want to take more time over the selection process. "That first step to the next level is very important and you want to make sure you get as much out of it as possible.
"You want to ensure that the employer and role are right, and that you will be given the ability to make decisions and execute them. Employers will expect you to have more questions about strategy and the profit and loss impact of the project or role," he says.
The offer: managing expectations
You are also more likely to receive an offer face-to-face. "Senior directors understand that they need to sell the opportunity to a good candidate, and they do not want a recruiter to misread or mistransmit messages," says James.
Offers can be more complex, in terms of hammering out the responsibilities and influence of the role. The rewards and incentives may also be complex, possibly including factors such as share options.
However, Pye warns that candidates should be wary of employers "overpromising" at the offer stage in an attempt to secure a good candidate - a ploy that will ultimately benefit nobody.
"If the candidate finds out things are not as expected, it leaves a sour taste. They will see the job through, but they will not stay and build a career," he says.