How to get an IT job during COVID-19: 8 in-demand traits

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed what IT organizations seek? Hiring managers offer their insight on how to show your strengths and land an IT job now
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how to get an IT job during COVID-19

The world is far from normal these days. Yet many professionals are using the same pre-pandemic strategies to try to land a new job.

On the other side of the hiring desk, things are no less unusual for hiring managers. In the past, we at WP Code Camp hired only people we could talk to in person. We did experiment by hiring a remote marketing person once, and he did a great job. But despite these positive results, we just drifted back to hiring in person.

That’s no longer an option. I have a pile of resumes and cover letters to review, and I’m not sure what I should be looking for. Pre-pandemic, personality and other nonverbal cues were important to me: Did the candidate show up to the interview on time? Did they dress nicely? Do they speak articulately? Were they easy to get along with? Would they mix well with our culture?

[ Networking is still a key job search tool, even in a remote world. Read also How to network during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond – remotely. ]

These days, most of that is either unknowable or moot. How can I tell whether a candidate presents themselves well on a Zoom call? Does it matter how well they’d fit into our culture when we’ll primarily be communicating via email?

IT job seekers, consider how can you demonstrate these qualities.

So, I’ve reprioritized what I look for in a candidate, and I’m not alone. I talked to more than a dozen other employers in the tech industry about what they’re looking for in 2020 that they weren’t in 2019.

One thing was clear: Job seekers need to adjust their strategy. Here are eight qualities hiring managers are looking for in new employees now.

1. Long-term viability

A lot of people are out of work right now, so every job opening is attracting more applicants. Some seem to be overqualified candidates who were laid off and need a job quick, said Claudia Pierson, people operations manager for Swenson He, an LA- and Dallas-based digital product agency.

These are not the applicants she’s looking for. “For us as an organization, it is important to identify top talent and hire candidates who are a long-term fit for our culture,” she says. “Recognizing and identifying this type of talent is key, as is not being blindsided by a great resume from someone who is looking to get a quick opportunity and leave after they find their long-term dream job.”

2. Self-starter 

Being a great cultural fit and working well with others used to be important. But now that everyone’s working from home the importance is greatly diminished, according to Phil Strazzulla, founder of Select Software Reviews.

Now it’s much more important to find people who are self-starters and can get the job done in isolation, he says. “People we hire now need to be able to get started on their own without constant direction and guidance.”

"People we hire now need to be able to get started on their own without constant direction and guidance."

Since SketchDeck has always been an officeless company, co-founder David Mack has long known that being a good self-manager is key. “In the most general terms possible, people need to be able to manage themselves to succeed with less structure,” he says. “I’m looking for people who can be handed something and run with it. A core skill set for self-management is completely necessary for a remote working environment.”

[ Are you focused on the right priorities? Read also: 3 DevOps skills IT leaders need for the next normal. ]

3. Able to think on their feet

New recruits at GetVoIP need to be better at making decisions that might previously have been deferred to a manager, says founder and CEO Reuben Yonatan. “The top quality I am looking for that was not a priority in 2019 is analytical thinking, coupled with a measure of independence,” he says. “A person with these qualities can independently analyze a situation and make the right call when the manager or supervisor is not available.”

Finding someone who is flexible and does not get stuck in a specific routine is important, according to Dennis Vu, CEO and co-founder of Ringblaze.

“If you want to succeed, you need to be willing to adapt, and if you run a startup like we do, pivoting is part of the game,” he explains. “Basically, we want someone who’s strong and flexible at the same time, especially for leadership roles.”

"Basically, we want someone who's strong and flexible at the same time, especially for leadership roles."

This goes hand-in-hand with being adaptable, which is more important now, says Dmytro Okunyev, founder and CEO of Chanty. “We don’t know what will happen next and we want our candidates to be fully aware that this is not a job where you will do the same thing every day.”

4. Tech-savvy

This might be redundant for someone looking for work in the tech field, but being tech-savvy these days is more important than ever. And this isn’t limited to knowing how to write Python – it means being able to set up a meeting in Microsoft Teams, troubleshoot login problems on a VPN, reset your home router, and figure out how to give someone a password securely all in the same day.

“We are now asking for the ability to operate in a fully digital environment from our job candidates,” says Norhanie Pangulima, marketing manager at Traffic Truffle. “Now we operate fully virtually.”

5. Strong communicator

Now that coworkers are no longer able to pop their heads over cubicle walls to get a quick message across, other communication media are more important than ever.

“For the security team, we aim to find someone who will be available more frequently, easily contactable, and quick to respond to these types of threats,” says Will Ellis, founder of Privacy Australia. “These attributes are extremely important in the current environment.”

In fact, written communication skills can be a benefit to the company, notes Maksym Babych, CEO of SpdLoad. “The ability to write eliminates inaccuracies in coordination, saves time, and eliminates unnecessary meetings,” he says. 

Communication is just as important at OM2TECH, says founder Rodrigo Paravella Montagner. “We definitely had to onboard professionals that had both the technical acumen and the communication skills to enhance the delivery quality, as well as make customers properly understand, in a practical and clear way, that they are in good hands.”

6. Work-at-home skills

Remote work presents unique challenges, and people who successfully navigate them have a separate skill set that you don’t develop in an office environment. That’s why Neal Taparia, founder and CEO of Solitaired is looking for people with remote working experience.

“This year, I’m putting a major emphasis on proactive communication and work-from-home experience,” he says. “We are going to be fully remote going forward, and I’ve noticed some people thrive working from home and others don’t.”

"We are going to be fully remote going forward, and I've noticed some people thrive working from home and others don't."

The work-at-home skill set had never been particularly valued at Zety, but COVID-19 changed that, notes Pete Sosnowski, co-founder and VP of human resources. “While before I was indifferent or even a bit skeptical of people with remote working or freelancing experience, I now see that as a praiseworthy quality.”

7. Trustworthy

Since managers can’t supervise employees – they can’t even see them unless they jump onto a video conference – trustworthiness has become vital in the remote work environment, says Chen Guter, vice president, marketing for “Working remotely has made trust an even more critical virtue than ever,” she notes. “Accountable employees that lead their schedules and own their work are priceless in the new environment.”

Making a personal connection – including building trust – is vital to ensure productivity, good performance, and employee retention, says Alisha Wilkins, Ph.D., founder of Hera Hub Temecula. Her doctoral dissertation focused on social presence, a term that refers to the degree to which a person is perceived as real and psychologically connected to their interaction partner.

“My research confirmed that managers who were considered more psychologically connected had employees who reported higher job satisfaction,” she notes. “Higher job satisfaction results in less absenteeism, higher retention rates, and an overall sense of well-being at work. This is crucial now, particularly as we navigate the world of work during and post-COVID.”

8. Solid experience 

These changes don’t necessarily mean that a candidate who is good at working from home is preferable to a candidate with the right skills. Karl Giuseffi, executive vice president of research and innovation at Talent Plus, Inc., looks at the candidate’s skill set first and foremost. “We have always needed people who are resilient and innately curious. While it’s important to select the best employees, the abilities required are the same,” he points out.

For some employers, including Heinrich Long, a privacy expert with Restore Privacy, a solid skill set and experience are more important than ever. “Before, we might have brought in a young, enthusiastic candidate that we would have been able to train. But now we prefer someone who already has a few years under their belt,” Long says. “Because things are uncertain, we can’t afford to invest in someone who may not ‘get it.’”

[ Are you leading through change?  Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Jim Whitehurst. ]

Peter Surowski is a freelance web developer and writer specializing in the technology industry. He's also the cofounder and Outreach Director for WP Code Camp, an online web development bootcamp focusing on WordPress.