How to get a new IT job in 2021: 8 ways to prepare

If you're job hunting now or preparing to make a move, consider this expert advice from CIOs and recruiting experts on how to land a new IT job, even during a pandemic
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After a long winter break, it’s not uncommon for professionals to emerge with a resolution to make their next career move in the year ahead. What is uncommon this year is that they’ll have to do so amidst a global pandemic. How will that change the game for IT professionals beginning their search in the months ahead? What classic steps remain the same? And what should soon-to-be job seekers do now – before they begin their hunt – to get a leg up?

Read on for advice from career experts and IT leaders, including insights into job searching during a pandemic and specific actions that can help you make a successful career move in 2021. 

[ Want more advice? Read also: How to get a job during COVID-19: 9 smart tips. ]

1. Be realistic about your options

This year is unlike any other. If you are accustomed to aiming high and going for a major leap in your career, consider whether your goals are realistic given the current environment, says Fahim Sheikh, owner of Trellis.

“During the pandemic, it’s paramount to be realistic and knowledgeable about your career options,” says Sheikh. “Understand what positions you are skilled in and the different functional areas that can make it possible for your transition to be smooth. Before making any significant move, do your research, and be open to the possibility of not getting the job you intended to have.”

If you do go for your dream job, make sure you have the skills to back up your resume, says Sheikh. “Remember, it is not only you who has these skills. How you specialize and build up your skills can prepare you for what’s coming.”

[ Which IT jobs will position you well for the future? Read also: 5 flourishing and 5 fading IT careers and 8 IT jobs in flux. ]

2. Ensure you are emotionally ready

Given the added hurdles this year, you might be thinking, “Maybe next year…” But remember, job hunting typically includes some level of discomfort – pandemic or not. The more you can emotionally prepare, the better, says Andrew Taylor, director for Net Lawman.

“If you’re ready for a move, there are a few steps you should take to ensure you’re ready for the moment when it comes or to make the moment happen, because sometimes, you’ll never feel ready,” says Taylor. “Separate your work from your position. You can take pride in what you do, but if you’re planning on making a move, you’ve got to release ties emotionally. Make yourself restless in your current position. You’re probably comfortable – get uncomfortable.”

3. Tap your network…remotely

Remember other people? You used to see them around the office or at conferences. It’s time to re-establish those old connections – especially if the pandemic has kept you out of touch for a while.

“This is a time to draw on your network and on your networking skills. Make sure you’re keeping in touch with people you used to see every day but no longer interact with in your remote setting. Ask them how they’re doing. Find out about any job opportunities,” says Andrei Kurtuy, co-founder and CCO of Novoresume.

If your current network lacks the connections you need for your next career move, focus on growing your network – something that is still possible despite social distancing, says Kurtuy.

“You can start a side project with some friends or former colleagues. If you record the process and post it online, you could connect with people you’ve never even met. Are there any competitions or certifications you could go for? Now is a great time to engage in distance learning and solo projects for submission into competitions that could get you some recognition outside your usual circles. Think about your personal and professional development, and go for that idea that’s been sitting on the shelf for too long,” he says.

4. Look for stepping stone opportunities

Now that most jobs are remote-friendly, job hunters have more opportunities than ever. Consider how you can use this time to gain the experience you’ll eventually need for your dream job, says Steve Cochran, CTO of ConnectWise.

"Anyone looking for employment right now needs to be flexible in their job search and willing to go into a role to learn something new. Tech professionals should always be forward-thinking and constantly researching new technologies and concepts,” says Cochran. “Technology is one of the fastest-moving industries and if you don’t stay up to date, you risk falling behind in the market and losing out on skills that add value to your organization.”

With more applications being built on cloud providers, Cochran suggests pursuing certifications in public cloud solutions, as well as security related certifications for developers.

[ Read also: 10 valuable cloud computing certifications. ]

“The current job market has changed how we seek employment and gain work experience. Adapting and being proactive are the keys to success in this environment. Taking advantage of the virtualized job market over the next few months will leave job seekers better prepared for the post-pandemic economy," he says.

5. Get comfortable with virtual tools

Job hunters will have to get used to the fact that nothing will be what they are used to. Not only will the entire interview process happen virtually, but new hires may not get to meet any of their co-workers face-to-face for months after they are onboarded. Hiring teams will be looking for candidates who are comfortable using virtual tools and communicating effectively while remote, says Chris Bedi, CIO of ServiceNow.

“Given many hiring processes have shifted to a 100 percent virtual experience, candidates should prepare for the emergence of new virtual tools to conduct technical interviews, allowing them to show their acumen and work through challenges on the fly,” says Bedi. “At ServiceNow, this type of interview experience is being done in a comfortable environment and enables us to see the applicant’s best version of themselves.”

“However, everyone will need to adjust and acknowledge that at times our circumstances can be unpredictable. Technology doesn’t always cooperate, and there can be hiccups on both ends during the process,” he adds.

Learning to use these new tools to their fullest can help you after you’re hired as well, Bedi points out: “A critical part of every career move is learning the culture and ramping up in your new job. It will be important for anyone making a career move to be more intentional about learning the culture, forming informal relationships, and learning the business. IT professionals should create a robust relationship plan that they execute within the first 90 days of joining as they won’t have the opportunity to do build relationships in person.”

[ For more advice on nailing the interview, read: IT job interviews: Try the behavioral approach for a win-win ]

6. Build your personal brand

Your resume is less important than your network, says Thomas Phelps, CIO at Laserfiche. As you prepare for your next career move, focus on building your personal brand and influence in your circle of professional peers, he suggests.

“The immediate reaction to a pending job loss is to update your resume. To me, what’s more important – while you have a job – is to make sure you build a network of people who know you and the great things you are capable of doing to solve their business problems,” says Phelps.

Actionable steps Phelps recommends include: volunteering for a nonprofit IT leadership organization, creating a compelling online presence that reflects your personal brand, or speaking at virtual webinar.

“I’m the marketing chair for Southern California chapter of the Society for Information Management (SIM) that’s comprised of over 300 IT leaders, and on the National Tech Committee for SIM,” says Phelps. “It’s helped me to dramatically expand my network, and I’ve provided mentoring and career coaching to other IT leaders. It’s easier to build a network when you have a job, and people are interested in connecting with you.”

7. Know what skills are in high demand

Researching in-demand skills is classic job-hunt advice, but if it’s been a while, you might be surprised by how the pandemic has shifted priorities for hiring managers.

“The pandemic has certainly put a dent in the labor market and the tech field hasn’t been spared,” says Darrell Rosenstein, founder of The Rosenstein Group. “Be careful with the direction you plan to pivot into. Tech jobs that were hot just a few months ago are now no longer in high demand. Before changing gears, be prepared with enough information about the future of the tech field you want to get into.”

Rosenstein suggests upskilling or tapping into transferrable skills in these areas: cloud infrastructure, cybersecurity, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and agile.

“Going forward, technical skills alone will not be enough to flourish in the post-Covid19 labor market,” says Rosenstein. “It took a pandemic to emphasize the importance of key soft skills, which many IT professionals never considered pivotal. As remote work becomes the norm, those who sharpen their leadership, collaboration, innovation, and organizational skills will come out winners.”

8. Have a plan – but be patient

“Now is a great time for technology executives to get ready for their next position,” says Somer Hackley CEO of Distinguished Search.

Since many positions aren’t advertised, Hackley suggests making a plan: “This isn’t just about applying to jobs, it’s about driving your search. Who is in your fan club? Who do you want to reconnect with? What companies are on your target list? What recruiters do you know? Make sure your LinkedIn tells a succinct story for the job you’re going after and portrays you at the right level. Practice your elevator pitch. You want to be armed and ready with an answer to ‘Tell me about yourself.’ This should be two minutes, and talk about your holistic self and where you add value, not a chat through your entire career,” she says.

Even with a plan in place, know that job hunting in 2021 may be a slower process, says Hackley. “Be prepared for some ‘hurry up and wait.’ A lot of companies are just now starting to open budgets up, and while they may have good intentions to hire, I have heard from job seekers that weeks go by with no news,” she says.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.