Want a new IT job? Now’s your chance

It's time for a change. Across the board, the IT job market is showing promising signs of life, and IT pros who stayed in less-than-ideal jobs during the recession are jumping at a chance to move their careers forward.

"The IT employment market has definitely improved and is continuing to improve every month and every quarter," says John Reed, executive director of Robert Half Technology. Of CIOs surveyed by the staffing firm, 11 per cent said they plan to add IT staff in the current quarter, up from nine per cent in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Likewise, CareerBuilder reports in its annual job forecast that 24 per cent of employers plan to hire full-time, permanent employees in 2011, up from 20 per cent in 2010. Among those companies in hiring mode, 26 per cent plan to add IT jobs (second only to sales jobs, cited by 27 per cent).

IN DEPTH: IT job prospects are better than you think, recruiters say

The number of job listings at Dice.com, a career site for technology and engineering professionals, is another positive indicator. "The job count on Dice.com, which is at roughly 72,000 jobs right now, is up about 40 per cent from where it was a year ago. That's a pretty good indication that employer confidence is up," says Tom Silver, senior vice president at Dice.

While these estimates don't presage dramatic hiring sprees, the trend is enough to spur the unhappily employed to take action. Across all industries, workers are becoming more optimistic about their job prospects. CareerBuilder reports that 15 per cent of full-time, employed workers are actively seeking a new job. Another 76 per cent aren't actively looking, but said they would change jobs in 2011 for the right opportunity.

That's a big shift from recent years, when employed workers were content to stay put. During the recession, employees accepted heftier workloads and put in longer hours, grateful to have a job. Many stayed on despite pay cuts and decreases in benefits. These concessions have taken a toll on worker morale, however, and restless workers are preparing to take action.

"There was a 'safe harbor' mentality previously. People stayed where they were because it was a secure situation. But now they're going to be more aggressive about looking for new opportunities," Reed says.

One obvious driver is the desire to make more money. IT salaries have been flat for the last two years, stalled at an average of about $79,000, Dice reports. Roughly 40 per cent of tech professionals believe they can make more money if they change jobs, Silver says.

To help prevent an exodus of talent, 61 per cent of companies plan to increase compensation for their existing staff, up from 57 per cent in 2010, CareerBuilder reports. In addition, 31 per cent will provide higher initial job offers to job candidates, up from 29 per cent last year.

"Some companies have come out of the gate and immediately begun to address pent-up demand for additional compensation for their staff. They're being proactive to try to retain their teams," says Robert Half's Reed.

On the flip side, companies that are playing things conservatively and aren't ready to raise salaries should be prepared for IT turnover. "They're basically sending a message to their teams that if you want to improve your financial situation, you're going to have to go elsewhere to do it," Reed says.

For employed IT pros who are undercompensated in their current jobs and being denied raises, switching to an employer that pays the going market rate can mean a significant jump in pay.

One tactic is to go bigger: Last year, tech pros on average earned $88,075 working for companies in excess of 5,000 employees, while the smallest companies (50 or fewer employees) paid $69,658 on average to their technology workers, Dice reports.

What's more, the biggest companies have more catch-up hiring to do. During the past year, a lot of new jobs came from small and midsize employers, which were hiring more aggressively than large enterprises. This year, Silver expects the biggest companies to start filling open jobs that they hesitated to fill in the last year or two.

"We'll continue to see relatively strong hiring in the small to midsize employer segment, but I think we'll also see more strength in the large corporate, Fortune 500/Fortune 1000 market, which should translate into higher salaries going forward," Silver says.

Competition for candidates

Another sign of an improving job market is that recruiting is getting tougher: 54 per cent of CIOs said it's challenging to find skilled IT professionals today, according to Robert Half Technology.

Skilled networking professionals are the toughest to find, cited by 17 per cent of CIOs surveyed by Robert Half. The next most challenging positions to fill are in security and software development, cited by 16 per cent and 11 per cent of respondents, respectively.

When asked which skills are most in demand within IT departments, 65 per cent of CIOs said network administration. Windows administration ranked second (61 per cent), followed by desktop support (59 per cent) and database management (54 per cent).

Some of the highest-paid tech pros, according to Dice, have these skills: advanced business application programming ($105,887), Informatica ($101,898), extract transform and load ($100,983) and service oriented architecture ($101,827).

Dice also singled out demand for experienced Oracle pros, which is up 57 per cent year over year. The national average salary for technology pros with experience in Oracle Database is $90,914, and for Oracle Application Server is $88,063.

Faced with recruiting challenges, it becomes all the more important for companies to hold onto the teams they have. While money is an issue, it's not the only thing driving IT pros to look elsewhere for new work.

Companies need to pay attention to the type of projects and skills they're giving their tech pros a chance to work on, Silver says. "In technology, there's a much greater fear of becoming obsolete than in pretty much any other industry. Tech pros are always interested in working on the types of projects that will help them keep their skills up to date."

IT pros are looking for assurances that they're in a job that has a future, adds Reed. "If you can show your employees new opportunities for advancement and show that you're going to invest in training and mentoring to make them qualified for a new position, for example, then they're more likely to stay."

For IT pros who've made the decision to move on, it makes sense to sharpen and add to your IT skills before departing, if possible.

"Sometimes the best advice is to stay where you are and volunteer for opportunities in the areas you're interested in," Reed says. "If your company has a cloud computing initiative, can you get involved in that? Can you volunteer to do some work, after hours if need be, to be a part of it and gain exposure to it? Down the road, that's something you can add to your resume."

The more technical experience an IT pro can accumulate, coupled with business and communication skills, the more sought-after he or she will be, Reed says. "The people who will continue to be in high demand are the people who bring a multitude of skills to the table."

Follow Ann Bednarz on Twitter: http://twitter.com/annbednarz

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Ann Bednarz

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