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3 Pro Tips to Potentially Move Past Entry-Level IT

Every tech role is typically going to demand specific technical skills, but an entry-level hire won't move very far up the organizational chart if they don't also pay attention to the soft skills that contribute to the chances of career advancement.

You're an IT professional who wants to move up, climb the career ladder and, when the opportunity arises, advance into a new role that matches your qualifications and experience level. But how does one go about preparing to be in the right position when that role opens up and comes within reach?

The reality is that a candidate may already have the needed mindset to advance their career when they're thinking clearly about that next job and career aspirations. The challenge is learning to take the proactive steps to determine the necessary skills for the role in question and how to shore up current skills to remain relevant in your chosen job field.

The IT pro tips

Embrace networking

If you ask an IT career expert -- and we have -- one of the very first, if not the first, bit of advice is to embrace career networking. Networking is a powerful tool to learn about a specific role, discover what the job requires in terms of skills and for forging relationships with those working in the role.

"I encourage IT professionals to engage with their industry outside of the workplace," said Jed Pillion, managing director of The Execu|Search Group's IT division. He suggested joining and participating in industry-related groups on professional sites such as LinkedIn, attending networking events and taking accelerated classes to advance skills.

"All three of these options not only allow professionals to gain more industry exposure and access to a network of like-minded professionals, but also offer them the opportunity to position themselves as a thought leader," Pillion said.

While nearly every IT role has specific, sometimes niche, tech skills and IT certifications, every IT role requires a wide range of so-called "soft skills," which includes everything from strong verbal and written communication abilities to a basic understanding of business principles.

"In order to advance their career, some practical skills or soft skills that IT professionals should possess include an openness to being mentored and the ability to work well on a team," said Pillion.

"As a result, I typically find that professionals who possess these qualities are generally more proactive about their career and advance more quickly than others," he added.

Assess skills

Dana Manciagli, a recruiting expert and author of "Cut the Crap, Get a Job," recommends starting with a true assessment of one's current skills and weaknesses. This shouldn't only be done by the IT professional alone, but with the assistance of someone familiar with the role being targeted and ask for their objective assessment as well.

The reason, Manciagli explained, is that oftentimes professionals embark on the wrong road even if they're taking a proactive approach to building a career path.

"They are not self-aware, and even if they have gotten feedback many have not accepted their areas for improvement," Manciagli said. She emphasized that employees need to learn what the market wants and expects. Her recommendation is to read the listed job descriptions and talk with hiring managers to ensure ongoing skill building efforts are on track.

"I recommend clients to 'window shop' and research those jobs they hope to move into down the road. I tell them to dissect them and learn the certifications required, the soft skills employers are looking for and the day-to-day functions of the particular job," she said.

Manciagli said a great exercise for assessing skills is to ask a few senior leaders at the current job to share insight and share knowledge of how they moved up the career ladder, lessons learned and what they did right.

Explore sub-fields

"Since IT is a huge space and there are so many diverse roles, there's no one set of skills that everyone needs to develop. Instead, employees need to learn what the market needs within their sub-field," she said.

An example of one such "sub field" may be a job move into the field of virtualization, a job sector growing just as fast as mobile and application development.

As Chris McCain, director of technical certification at VMware, explains, there is a need for a multi-level career path in virtualization technology. The emerging job opportunities are tied to the transformation of the network.

"By adding certification to a career path, IT professionals can greatly advance careers and boost in-demand skills," he said.

McCain's insight ties back to the initial advice Jed Pillion offered up when discussing job mobility and advancing the IT career.

"You need a willingness to learn and experiment with different technologies, and it's especially important in today's digital world where technology is advancing faster than ever, so every opportunity to learn something new should be taken," he said.

Stats on virtualization

A 2012 study from the International Data Corporation (IDC) found virtual machines and cloud software to be the fastest growing software market, having had 17.8-percent growth in 2012. A separate IDC report from 2010 predicted the server virtualization market would reach $19.3 billion in value by 2014.

Sources:
"IDC: Virtualization software growth outpaces other software market segments," Fierce Enterprise Communications, July 21, 2014, http://www.fierceenterprisecommunications.com/story/idc-virtualization-software-growth-outpaces-other-software-market-segments/2012-11-07
"Worldwide Market for Enterprise Server Virtualization to Reach $19.3 Billion by 2014," IDC, July 21, 2014, http://www.idc.com/about/viewpressrelease.jsp?containerId=prUS22605110
Chris McCain, VMware; interview with Judy Mottl
Dana Manciagli, recruiting expert/author; interview with Judy Mottl
Jed Pillion, Managing Director, Execu|Search Group, IT division; interview with Judy Mottl

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