Avoid a Layoff: Take Control of Your IT Career

If you work in IT at a financial services company-or any organization reeling from the country's economic woes-you're probably feeling insecure about your job not-not to mention powerless over market forces beyond your control.

Management consulting firm Janco Associates reported on Sept. 15 that the financial industry turmoil, along with HP's announcement that it would lay off 24,600 employees over three years, would "glut" the IT job market. (For more on the recent fallout, see "Financial Industry Mergers, Acquisitions and Meltdowns: What's in Store for IT Execs and Staffers?")

But, in fact, there's quite a bit you can do right now to quell your anxieties and take control of your career.

John Estes, a vice president at staffing firm Robert Half International, and John Baschab, a senior vice president at Technisource, a staffing and IT managed services provider, offer these nine tips for those IT workers who are concerned about losing their jobs due to the economic turmoil on Wall Street and across the U.S. economy.

1. Ask the Right Questions. If you are concerned about layoffs or the effect of a potential merger, Estes advises that IT workers ask their managers some key questions: How will this affect my job? Are there other opportunities within the company that I could apply for? If I am laid off, will the company offer outplacement services or some type of severance pay?

2. Remember: You've Got Skills. Financial services IT people happen to have the most in-demand skillsets right now, especially security and compliance, notes Baschab. "This, combined with a blue-chip name on the resume, should ease the job search," he adds. (For more on this topic, see "30 Skills Every IT Person Needs.")

3. Dust Off Your Resume. It's always a good idea to be prepared with an updated resume, Estes notes. "You never know when an opportunity may present itself, or when an unexpected change may occur in your organization," he says. "The early bird gets the worm, so the sooner you get your resume posted, the better your odds of beating out your competition." (For more on this see "Your Resume Is Mission Critical.")

4. Tap into Your Network. Estes advises IT people to write a list of everyone they know who may be in a position to help them uncover a new job opportunity. And consider everybody: family, friends, business associates, clients or vendors, alumni groups, professional or social networking groups, and church or community members. "Your contacts can be an invaluable source of job leads," he adds, "so don't leave any stone unturned." (If you're a little reluctant to network, read "How to Network: 12 Tips for Shy People.")

5. Meet with an IT Recruiter. A recruiter who specializes in information technology "not only can help you find a job-he or she also can provide useful feedback on your resume and how you present yourself in an interview," Estes says.

6. Think Outside Your Industry. Baschab says that operations and infrastructure (O&I) experience is portable to nearly any industry-for instance, e-mail servers are pretty much the same everywhere. "This means that people with O&I experience can conduct the broadest possible job search," he says.

7. Don't Overlook Smaller Companies with Bigger Opportunities. Now might be a good time to take a chance on a more senior position at a smaller company, Baschab says, such as a regional or local retail bank. It could be a "good opportunity to help them build an IT department using the skills learned in a large enterprise environment," he adds.

8. Broaden Your Functional Skills. "Applications and business analysts can also often make a lateral move into the finance and accounting area, thus broadening their job search to other functional areas within a company," Baschab notes.

9. Maybe It's Time to Move. "If you feel your opportunities truly are limited in your local market, ask yourself if a move to another city or state is a viable option," Estes says. "All factors considered, it could pan out to be a welcome change."

Baschab points out that finance industry IT salaries have historically been higher than IT salaries in other industries; but they also come with a higher cost of living. "This could be just the right opportunity to make a move to a different geography," he adds, "and take a somewhat lower salary but also a considerably lower cost of living."

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