How to get an IT job in 2021: 7 essential tips

Ready to take a new step in your IT career? In 2021, interviews present some special challenges. Consider this expert advice
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2020 was a year of interminable disruption, and for many of us, it was a year we’d rather forget. But in 2021 the future looks bright for IT professionals who are considering a job switch.

As the pandemic lingers, IT job seekers will continue to contend with unique circumstances in 2021.

“Technology projects and digital initiatives will continue to be a priority for organizations,” says Thomas Vick, regional VP for recruiting firm Robert Half Technology. “The talent who are able to help them and their leaders push these projects forward will have plenty of opportunities.”

[ What skills are hottest right now? Read also: IT careers: 10 critical skills to master in 2021. ]

However, as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, IT job seekers will continue to contend with unique circumstances in 2021. Here’s a look at what you need to know to get a job in the upcoming year.

1. Expand your IT job search radius

Consider broadening your job search beyond your immediate location, advises Matt Walden, managing partner at recruiting company Infinity Consulting Solutions. While prior to the pandemic many companies preferred local candidates, the past several months proved that remote work can be successful. Not only does this increase access to top talent beyond the company’s own radius, but it also provides job seekers with more options.

“The job search used to be a proximity game based on how long your commute would be," Walden notes. “That’s not the case anymore. If you like the flexibility of working remotely, consider opportunities outside your direct area.”

2. Consider contract positions

More organizations are choosing to hire contract workers over full-time positions, according to a report from McKinsey. About 70 percent of the executives surveyed expect the demand for temporary and contract workers to rise over the next two years compared to levels prior to the pandemic. Reasons for the increase include uncertainty about when economies will regain momentum and cost pressures as companies work to weather the downturn.

"This is a great way for you to acquire new skills and get your foot in the door of a particular company."

Walden says this trend is an opportunity for people searching for new jobs. “Companies, especially in IT, are looking to hire quickly,” he says. “This is a great way for you to acquire new skills and get your foot in the door of a particular company. It lets you test the waters to see if this new position or the company is a good fit for you.”

3. Refresh your resume keywords

When applying for new positions, the keywords you include in your resume are important: Not only do they grab the attention of the hiring manager; they’re also scanned by application tracking systems. These programs search for resumes with certain keywords related to the job’s requirements and rank resumes for factors including keyword frequency, according to resume keyword advice from job site Indeed.

Design your resume for the job you want, not the job you have.

“Think about designing your resume for the job you want, not the job you have,” Walden advises. To do this, he says, review the job post and note important keywords and phrases. Also, look for important keywords on other job listings with the same title and the company’s website. Work these keywords and phrases, as well as variations of them, into your application, cover letter, and resume.

[ Read also: IT careers: How to job hunt during a pandemic. ]

4. Do more research than usual

Job seekers should have a realistic view of the business landscape and over-prepare for every interview, Vick says. In particular, research how the company pivoted or transformed in order to survive and thrive through the challenges during the pandemic.

"Look at their website, newsroom, and social media channels to get the full scope of how they’ve gotten through these past few months,” he says. “No one has made it conducting business as usual, and it’s important to know who the company is at the moment and how you can be a part of their evolution.”

5. Prepare your virtual interview space

Remote interviews are likely to continue through much of 2021, says Seth Harris, principal at recruiting firm ON Partners. For this reason, it’s important to pay extra attention to your space and consider certain factors when you schedule your interviews, Walden adds.

Test the lighting in your room to ensure it’s not too dark or too bright – you don’t want to appear backlit or over-exposed on camera. Plan your interview at a time when you’re able to avoid or minimize interruptions.

“It’s tough because many families are home working or remote schooling,” Walden acknowledges. "Put the dog out during your call, make sure your children understand that it will be a quiet time, and try to avoid any planned lawn maintenance during your call. Remember that you’re welcoming people into your home, so make sure your background is professional.”

Also, while the majority of this year may have been spent in sweatpants, trade them for something more professional.

“In the past, video interviews were the warm-up act to an in-person meeting," Vick says. "Now, they’re the main event, and they should be treated as such.”

[ Want more tips? Read also: Virtual interviews: 6 ways to succeed and Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better. ]

6. Articulate recent wins

When the pandemic struck and employees were sent home, IT was at the heart of every company’s transition to remote work. These circumstances present tremendous opportunities to shine – and it’s important to highlight them both on your resume and during interviews.

“Articulate the problem you have solved during COVID-19, how you did it, and the results and metrics from those changes," Walden says. “Be clear about how this affected your business or end customer, too."

7. Focus on flexibility and communication

Two of the skills hiring managers are most interested in right now are flexibility and communication, Vick says. They’re looking for people who can seamlessly shift from projects to initiatives to tasks while communicating effectively across the business.

“Tech professionals, now probably more than ever, are being called on to correspond and convey information to people throughout the entire organization,” he says. “Soft skills have always been an important factor in hiring tech talent, but they’re really at the forefront right now.”

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

Kristin Burnham is a reporter and editor covering IT leadership, business technology, and online privacy and security. 

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