How to find -- and keep -- a good job in IT, even today

Know how to invest in yourself and show what you've got.

This isn't going to be one of those "how to write a résume" articles we see so often today. But let's be honest: These past five years or so have been tough on IT experts looking to find and keep a job, and I've seen many IT pros dusting off and updating their résumés recently, whereas they felt completely secure in their positions in times past.

So what are the keys to finding and keeping a job these days? If you have a position and want to maintain your relevance, there are several important hoops you might want to jump through for the sake of keeping that job. And for those of you seeking employment, you're in the unique position of going up against your peers (who are unemployed), as well as competing with existing employees who feel it isn't necessary to work hard to maintain relevance -- a foolhardy assumption on their part that may help you.

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Expand your scope of knowledge: UCC, virtualization, and the cloud

In the past, the expression "jack-of-all-trades, master of none" was considered a bad thing because it was better to be an expert in one field than to know just bits and pieces about everything. Today, neither the "jack of all trades" nor the "master of one" concepts are accurate. Instead, you practically need to be a master of all trades. You'll hear people pigeonhole themselves into their specialty and say, "I'm an Exchange guy," or "I'm an Active Directory expert." Well, it's time to broaden that scope to include other avenues of technology. 

Some of the hottest trends today include unified communications and collaboration (UCC). This category is broad in Microsoft's definition and includes Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync. Within Exchange, you have unified messaging to allow for a unified voicemail/email inbox. Add SharePoint for greater collaboration and Lync for in-house presence and telephony to get a full solution set to offer a company. You want to find and keep a job in this economy? Don't just be "an Exchange guy" -- be a UCC expert.

Virtualization is another important avenue to pursue. And versatility is key. Hyper-V, vSphere, and XenServer, as well as others, are all equally important in the modern job search. Don't find yourself on an interview and be able to cite just one of these when asked, "What virtualization platforms are you comfortable with?" The person coming in after you will have some experience with the three major ones and, thus, nab that job. If you cannot obtain hands-on experience with them all, consider video-based training to get you started.

Cloud-based services are worth your time as well. You may not have a need in your current environment to play with Windows Azure or other cloud-based infrastructure or platform offerings, but you need to be at least familiar with the concepts involved, such as the pricing plans and features. Knowing how software solutions like Office 365 work and being able to provide intelligent pros and cons to solutions of that sort will make you invaluable to any employer (existing or future).

Prove your knowledge to an employer

Years back, the certification craze hit a wall. The term "paper MCSE" became a major negative in referring to those people with minimal to no experience but nonetheless took and passed the Microsoft exams and got their "engineer" title. Such certifications became something for experienced IT pros to mock.

But today? A certification might be the thing that distinguishes you from the next guy. Taking a certification exam doesn't guarantee you know how to perform each and every last task with the product you're certified in, but it does ensure you are up to date on that product's major topics. It certainly gives you a leg up on someone with no experience whatsoever. Take SharePoint 2010, for example. The certification exam doesn't ask you for the nitty-gritty how-to or step-by-step aspects of SharePoint, but it does ensure you have a solid foundation in all the primary elements available. That's more knowledge than most would have -- and with the cert, you can prove it.

Key certs to consider today include Comptia's A+, Network+, and Security+. Microsoft's certification programs have many branches, so you should target the specific field you want to pursue. You might also consider vSphere certification, XenServer certification, or Cisco's CCNA certification to show your versatility with different products and vendor environments.

A certification won't trump actual experience, but it sure gives an extra boost to a résumé if you're up against people with an otherwise similar background.

You might also consider taking online courses to pursue a degree. Even a single class in computer science is a plus in continuing your education and gaining you knowledge you may not have through pure job experience. In addition, it gives you the ability to honestly say on your résumé "currently pursuing my bachelors" (or masters). Knowing you are proactive about your own personal education makes an employer feel comfortable that you aren't a "sit back, do my job, take a class only if you pay for it" kind of employee. In other words, it makes you a keeper.

Make a good impression on the interview -- and at your current job

When you land an interview, it's important to be able to clearly state what you've done in other environments. It is not a time to be modest, nor is it wise to overembellish. Remember, telling an employer that you led a team of 20 that designed and deployed Exchange 2007 in an existing environment using high availability and unified messaging sounds a lot better than merely saying you headed a team that deployed Exchange 2007. Be as detailed as possible in your description, while remaining truthful.

In your current employment, be eager to pursue any opportunity that will add to your résumé. Don't beg off the tough stuff. Get your hands dirty again. You might just find that by being eager to work harder where you are, you won't even need to seek employment elsewhere (unless you choose to).

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. It's a tough economy and a competitive job market. But whereas many of your peers may be blind in seeing the need to up their game, learn more technologies, prove it through certifications, and enhance both their résumé and their interview skills, you can be that one-eyed man. Better yet, open both eyes to stay relevant -- and well employed.

This article, "How to find -- and keep -- a good job in IT, even today," was originally published at Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.