The overall unemployment rate may still be higher than pre-pandemic, but opportunities in IT are skyrocketing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for computer and IT-related roles is expected to grow 11 percent from 2019 to 2029 — much faster than the average for all occupations.
With many organizations still working remotely, hiring managers want candidates who demonstrate a strong likelihood for long-term success — setting the bar higher than ever for potential applicants regardless of industry or role.
A year in review: What's changed in hiring
When the pandemic and economic downturn hit, many organizations implemented layoffs and froze hiring. For those that resumed (or never paused) talent acquisition, the majority of recruiting, interviewing, and hiring pivoted from in-person to virtual.
For the first time, many employers embraced the idea of having entirely remote workers. And as hiring activities moved online, applying, hiring, and onboarding became accessible to more candidates. This increased flexibility, along with higher unemployment rates, has expanded the talent pool.
[ Want advice on virtual interviews? Read also: How to get a job during COVID-19: 9 smart tips.]
However, a higher volume of applicants can make it more challenging for a single candidate to differentiate themselves. For IT job seekers looking for a competitive advantage, these tips can help you stand out in a crowded job market.
Make the most of job platforms and your network
While this may seem obvious, it’s still worth stating. Lean on your network and job search platforms. Hiring managers rely on employee referrals to find quality candidates since they tend to provide an initial layer of vetting. Recruiters and talent acquisition professionals also look to job boards and platforms like LinkedIn to identify potential candidates, making them a crucial asset to anyone seeking new job opportunities.
1. Post regularly
The LinkedIn algorithm prioritizes job seekers who are active on their platform. Additionally, your activity gives employers insight into your personality and interests, helping create that human connection.
[ Read also: LinkedIn tips: 10 ways to improve your profile. ]
2. Pursue informational interviews
Early in your job hunt, reach out to your network and mutual connections. You can do this whether there’s a job opportunity currently available or you’re just interested in learning more about the organization or industry. Talking face-to-face (even over a video call) can provide a unique insight into a potential employer and may even give you a competitive edge like a referral or getting on a hiring short-list.
Use soft skills to make a good first impression
The first conversation you have with a potential employer is meant to get your foot in the door; it often involves meeting with a hiring manager, recruiter, or a member of the HR team. We use this preliminary interview to gauge your interest in the role and learn more about who you are. Soft skills like attitude, emotional intelligence, and sociability go a long way at this stage of the process.
3. Avoid getting too technical (at first)
While we may have some technical knowledge, remember that an HR team member or recruiter doesn’t actually work in IT. Give an overview of your background and expertise, but keep the tech jargon to a minimum. Remember, this isn’t your final interview — there’s a time and a place to get more technical.
4. Be responsive
The more responsive you are, the stronger your soft skills shine and the more interested in the role you appear to be. This gives the recruiter or hiring manager more confidence in you as a candidate. Be sure to establish your preferred form of communication early in the process, especially in the case of a fast-moving hiring process where quicker responses are necessary.
Don't cast too wide a net
The biggest mistake I see candidates make is pursuing too many opportunities at once. While you might want to get yourself out there and find a job quickly, juggling several opportunities limits your ability to invest deeply in any particular one. This often leads to preventable mistakes, awkward mix-ups, and ill-preparedness that reflect poorly on you as a candidate.
5. Limit your active opportunities
Focus on interviewing for only two or three opportunities at a time. When one wraps up, add another one to your backlog. If a recruiter you’re working with calls you but needs to clarify their organization or the role, it can signal you’re not invested in the opportunity.
6. Identify "why"
Understanding why you’re interested in the role and the organization will help you narrow down potential leads. Be honest if you’d like to end the process rather than “ghosting” — this will ensure you still have a good relationship with the recruiter or organization in the future.
Highlight what makes you unique
When job searching, know what makes you stand out as a candidate and use it to your advantage. Are you mission-driven? Self-motivated? Have relevant experience? Reflect on why an employer should hire you and make sure that’s reflected in your LinkedIn bio, resume, cover letter, and 30-second elevator pitch.
7. Feature core competencies
Some candidates list every technology they’ve ever used since high school on their resume — but that makes it difficult to distinguish what you excel in. Consider having both a primary and secondary skills/expertise section on your LinkedIn and resume.
8. Prepare real-life examples
Your resume already lists previous employment and responsibilities, so think about how you can add something unique to interviews. Face-to-face or video conversations offer a chance to showcase individual attributes and qualities, like a time you dealt with adversity or exhibited resiliency, which can help interviewers gain a better understanding of what you bring to the table.
Prepare, prepare, and – you guessed it – prepare
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Hiring managers and recruiters can quickly tell if an applicant has invested time and effort into preparing for an interview.
9. Learn industry-specific vocabulary
Some industries have more barriers to entry than others, like healthcare or pharmaceuticals. If you’re interested in pivoting sectors, do some initial research. This will help you articulate how your skill sets and expertise can apply to the specific job role.
[ Check out our primer on 10 key artificial intelligence terms for IT and business leaders: Cheat sheet: AI glossary. ]
10. Dress for success
Last but not least, dress professionally. For added bonus points, make sure your background is neat and tidy for any video calls. A messy appearance or cluttered room can be a red flag, prompting hiring professionals to think, “If they don’t take the interview seriously, how seriously will they take the job?”
Whether you’re an experienced IT candidate or just starting out, follow these tips to help set yourself up for success in a competitive market. With limited opportunities to make an impression in our increasingly virtual world, it’s important to make every interaction count.
[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]
What to read next
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Keep up with the latest advice and insights from CIOs and IT leaders.