A perennial question among IT job seekers might be succinctly summarized as “Does certification help?” Anne Martinez and the crew at GoCertify.com posted an interesting set of numbers in January, 2009 that tally the job postings at Dice.com and Monster.com that make mention of specific credentials. These include MCSE, MCITP, CISA, CISM, CISSP, CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE, Citrix CCA, CompTIA A+, RHCE, PMP, and GIAC (which lumps a large number of certs under a single category).
This article is entitled “Job Openings for the Certified,” and offers some interesting opportunities for observation and analysis. Despite its advancing decrepitude, the MCSE still leads the pack (M:839; D:1050, where M = Monster, and D = Dice). Other heavy hitters include the CCNA (M:566; D:751), CISSP (M:496; D:722), and PMP (M:572; D:1106). Of course, it’s not always clear that possessing the certifications in question is all it takes to get a job that asks for such credentials, but it’s at least an indication that some employers find them valuable enough to include them in their required or desired characteristics when describing open positions.
But as the GoCertify article itself concludes “Certification is a capstone to your skill set, not a replacement for skills that you must also have.” As I’ve said in this blog many times, the most important things about finding work include not just your milestone achievements (degrees, certs, honors, and so forth) but what you can do, what problems you can (and have) solved, and what skills you can bring to work with you when you walk in the door.
For a quick take on the US Government’s view of the current employment situation, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary always provides a pretty current view. In reading over the most recent report–for January 2009, dated 2/6/2009–I got a strong sense of where much of the recent doom and gloom in our economic outlook comes from. Baldly over-simplified this report might be summarized as “Jobs are down all over.” Big surprise, right?
Top-line numbers certainly are scary:
- The number of unemployed persons is up to 11.6 million and the unemployment rate is up to 7.6%. This is an increase of 4.1 million unemployed over the last year, and an increase in the rate by 2.7%.
- Long-term unemployed persons count is holding steady at 2.7 million (people who’ve been out of work for 27 weeks or longer), and has gone up by 1.3 million in the last year.
- Unemployment numbers by category are also on the rise: adult men is up to 7.6%, adult women to 6.2%, whites 6.9%, blacks 12.6%, and Hispanics 9.7%; for teenagers that number is unchanged at a whopping 20.8%.
All this said, there is a glimmer of hope in these number for IT professionals. Though many other employment sectors lost significantly more ground in January (retail trade 45,000 jobs; transportation and warehousing 44,000 jobs; financial activities 42,000 jobs) professional and technical jobs were down “only” by 29,000 for the month. We IT geeks may be sucking wind, but at least we’re sucking less wind than some other sectors! On the upside, health care employment is up 19,000 (11,000 less than the average for 2008), and private education is up 33,000.
For another dash of salt on the wounds, nonfarm numbers for November were revised downward from -584,000 to -597,000 for November, 2008, and from -524,000 to -577,000 for December, 2008. All I can say to my fellow IT professionals and colleagues is “Hang in there!”
With somewhat unusual timing, Microsoft announced on Sunday, February 22, a new job training program called “Elevate America” that aims to proffer technical skills training to lots of Americans (as many as two million according to an annoucement-day news posting on CNET) over the next three years. Readers curious about the program can check it out at www.microsoft.com/elevateamerica (the actual URL is linked to this abbreviated “pseudo-URL” here).
The primary components of this program may be described as follows:
- a phased roll-out, starting in Microsoft’s home base in Washington state, that includes free certification and training, with an emphasis on the unemployed, underemployed, and high-school and college level student populations. According to the CNET story, “Microsoft is working with state and local governments and hopes to offer 1 million vouchers for e-learning and certification classes.”
- An online Website that describes basic skills related to crafting a resume, sending e-mail, and computer literacy training of all kinds. Microsoft will offer this material primarily through local partnerships with non-profits and government agencies at all levels, though some free training is also available online as well (for example Computer Basics, a listing of all basic courses is available on the Course Topics page, and instructor manuals and materials are also available).
What’s not yet clear is how much material will be available online and how much will require interaction with the “Unlimited Potential Community Technology Centers” (CTCs) that Microsoft plans to designate as its local training delivery partners all over the country. Of course, the program is one day old as I write this blog, so there are lots of things left that need to be worked and spelled out in more detail. It’s an interesting and promising start for a program that shows uncommon sensitivity to the current economic situation here in the US, even if it is backed up by a shrewd appreciation that training in specific tools is likely to spur their continued use in the workplace thereafter.
“Elevate America” should be an interesting program to watch, though–and watch it I will!
Back when I worked for the Feds in the 1970s, the acronym for layoffs was RIF (reduction in force). These days, the downward spiral in the economy often involves belt-tightening of all kinds. If you’re lucky enough to avoid layoffs, downsizing, right-sizing, or any of the other euphemisms for being let go, you may still have to deal with a pay cut. Hence the title for today’s blog: where less pay beats no pay hands down.
When it comes to dealing with pay cuts, you have to understand what is being cut and for how long. Paul Barada, a salary and negotiation expert for Monster.com makes the following recommendations in his recent article on this painful but sometimes unavoidable subject:
1. Find out how long pay will be reduced, if you can. Given the uncertain state of the economy, the answer may be “indefinitely” or “until further notice.” It’s best to find this out up-front, rather than wondering if each subsequent pay-check will be the same size or not.
2. Find out if other reductions or changes are involved. Primarily this means benefits, especially health insurance (behind wages and salaries, this is the second largest cost in personnel-heavy organizations). In some cases coverage may be reduced; in other cases, deductibles and co-pays may go up.
3. Timing is everything: it’s essential to understand when pay and/or benefits reductions will go into effect, so you can plan and manage your expenses to follow suit.
4. If you must swallow a reduction in pay, talk to your boss about a reduction in working hours if you feel comfortable doing so. Warning: not everybody may be so bold, however, so be prepared to deal with consequences of this discussion when things get back to normal. Managers remember who kept plugging away for 40 hours or more during the downturn, and who reduced workload to match reduced pay.
In case you don’t think this kind of thing is going around, think again. Then, check out this Google Search where you’ll find thousands of stories about planned, pending, or actual ongoing pay cuts in force in government, industry, education, and elsewhere.
If you want a real eye-opener about some companies that operate in the post-secondary technical training market, check out Linda Briggs 2004 story: “Federal Probe Targets ITT Tech.” In particular, you must read the comments that accompany the article, where students wax lyrical and profane about their learning experiences. Interestingly, the federal probe cited in this story found no evidence of wrongdoing, and the company’s stock continued to trade in a range from $50 to $70 from mid-2005 until October 2008. It’s still trading at about $42 as I write this story, in fact.
I’m not trying to single out ITT as a “bad actor” in the training industry, particularly for IT subjects; rather, I’d like observe that it’s important for those looking for IT training or degrees to check all aspects of a provider’s posture and reputation–financial, technical, quality of instruction and curriculum, instructor/faculty credentials and ratings, facilities (especially access to state-of-the-art computing labs), and graduate and former attendee ratings and rankings–before signing up for any programs. I’d urge parents (where involved) and prospective students alike to be particularly careful before committing to programs that require students to accept multi-term engagements, either implicitly or explicitly.
One of the posters in the 54 pages of comments (!!!) that the ITT article provoked makes an incredibly telling point: he or she indicated that by attending a local community college, the same coverage and possibly better instruction would have been available at considerably less cost. Throughout my blogs and my career, I have been a big proponent of community college programs, and have taught repeatedly for my local institution, Austin Community College. Not only do community colleges work closely with local employers to build programs to provide qualified workers to fill their ranks, community colleges must also meet local, state, and federal requirements of all kinds just to operate on tax money. These govern everything from quality of education, to availability of financing and grants, to openness, accountability, and quality. Also, community colleges are more or less transparent to those willing to take the time and expend the effort to research their offerings, graduation rates, instructor and program credentials, student demographics, and so forth.
If the current economic climate has you thinking about a return to school, or actively seeking a training, certification, or degree program of some kind, I urge you to include local community colleges in your search pool, even if you have neither the desire nor the intention to actually attend one. This will still help you to establish a basic benchmark against which other, more expensive programs can be evaluated at a minimum, and may provide you with some valuable training or learning experiences as you take to the classroom. As you evaluate other alternatives keep asking yourself “What value adds does this program offer that a community college does not? How do these value adds justify higher costs?” This is particularly important when evaluating online programs (like those from the University of Phoenix, Cappella University, and yes, even ITT itself) which often seduce students with promises of convenience and easy access, and entice them into expensive, long-term programs that they may come to question later on. Again: I’m not trying to start a witch hunt into distance learning programs, either: I’m just trying to urge some caution and investigation into programs that will involve significant amounts of time, effort, and expense to complete.
As with so much else in life, apply the old and sometimes detestable adage “Do your homework!” before signing up for training, certification, or degree programs–especially those that involve commitments of more than one academic term. Better to make a deeply informed decision than to find oneself saying “It seemed like a good idea at the time” sometime down the road.
Although I enjoy writing these blogs, I sometimes find myself wondering if they have any real impact. In the case of my Friday the 13th blog “How Can You Get a Job that Requires IT Experience, When You Have None?” I got a very nice email back from the person whose original correspondence with me served as its impetus. I reproduce most of it next, then follow up with some comments and observations:
Thank you for blogging about my experience. Before I made the decision to go down the IT path, I found a job for a PC-Tech-like job. A company needed an individual to handle PC/laptop upgrades. They stated A+ preferred but not required. I applied for the position and in my cover letter I listed out the same experience as in my email to you. Needless to say I got no response from the company but that is when I finally decided to get A+ certified. Being 38 years old and going back to school to start over was very difficult, at first. I knew that I could do it but was it where I should go career-wise? In other words without technically being in the field, should I try it?
Years back when I first started college, I took a career profile test to see what suited my personality. The results came back auto technician or detective. I am a car guy for sure and like guns too but, I have this thing about being shot at. So, for years I did car stereo, body shop and auto parts work until I finished college( Associates in Marketing). I spent 11 years at BMW (11 years at one car dealership is pretty much unheard of, tremendous turnover), then 11 months at a Porsche dealership as a service advisor, which felt like 11 years.
A majority of the jobs that I see now want years of experience with the certifications. I know that I have a good bit but not wanting to sell myself short, not enough PC and networking yet to be on my own. That is why I am looking for job environment that has some supervision. Like a large company that does PC and laptop exchanges, were I would transfer files, set permissions, network settings….etc. I did create a profile on ADP’s web site since they support car dealerships like Reynolds&Reynolds and also on RIM’s (Blackberry) site. I know that with some good mentoring, I will excel very quickly. When I started at BMW, I had to learn a lot on my own which taught me so much. I was skipped over several times for training yet I was still able to figure out and diagnose the cars. I have found a few possibilities on Dice, which does seem like the best tech job web site out of all the ones I have been on. I will keep you posted.
I see some emerging glimmers of hope in this reply and some good positive attempts to find work as well. I also continue to see more evidence of highly relevant experience that he’s still hesitant to claim. I’d urge him to make as much of that experience as possible, to stress his abilities to learn, solve problems, and deal with complex systems even in the absence of formal training to learn them.
I’d also urge him to look beyond Dice and other job sites, to ply his own personal network to look for opportunities. I’d also urge him to look for forums and message boards online where others are asking questions about tools and technologies he knows, and posting helpful information to answer those questions. This not only gives him a chance to flex some intellectual and problem-solving muscles, it will also give him something to point to in a job interview or cover letter as evidence of technical skills and a willingness to help and work with others (key ingredients for IT personnel of all stripes). I also recommended that he research PC repair depot operations in his local metro area, because such operations always have need of qualified repair technicians. So do big technology outlets such as Fry’s, Best Buy, Office Depot, and so forth. My final word to him: leave no stone unturned in your search for work. One job will surely lead to another thereafter.
I was sitting in the living room last night flipping through magazines while the boy was watching Spongebob Squarepants. For some reason, I just can’t get into watching the same episode repeatedly, but Gregory has no trouble with that at all. One rag under scrutiny last night included the latest issue of Reader’s Digest (March 2009). Though I don’t often think of this publication as a source for high-tech information or advice, there’s an article in this issue that bears reading for those who might be looking for work right now, and for those who might be worried about losing their jobs.
The story is entitled “What To Do When You Lose Your Job” and is available online so you needn’t run out and buy a copy of the magazine just to access this lone item. You’ll find an interesting catalog of euphemisms for pending or actual layoffs and a discussion of the types of jobs most likely to disappear when layoffs actually hit.
The story goes on to tout the benefits of working with a career coach to get back into the workforce, and to make sure you, your resume, and cover letter make the best possible impression when you put yourself back out there to pursue a new position. There’s also some useful discussion of the time it takes to get back on the job (the old “one month for each $10,000 of salary” has apparently been revised to “one to two months for each $10,000 of salary” in another telling sign of the state of this economy), along with use of e-resumes, use of personal Web presences, and resume tune-ups.
Be sure to check out this links on this page to other related stories as well, including:
- Negative cover letter and resume examples (what NOT to do).
- How to Find a New Job
- 9 Recession-Proof Careers
- Career Experts Offer Advice to 6 People Out of Work
It’s a truism that by the time news hits Reader’s Digest it’s attained the status of “something everybody knows.” For this kind of news to hit its pages, therefore, may very well be a sign that that bottom of this trough is now in sight. Here’s hoping so, anyway!
Of all the questions I receive regularly from readers, site members, and the public at large, none is so poignant to me as those that might be summarized as: “I’m looking for a job in IT. I have certifications x, y, and z. Nobody will talk to me, or take me seriously because I have no IT work experience. What can/should I do?” In these tough economic times where jobs of any kind are scarce, and entry-level positions if anything scarcer, this goes double or perhaps even triple.
Case in point: I got an e-mail from a nice young man who has nine years of prior experience as a BMW technician, along with a couple of years’ experience as an electrician, who really wants to work in IT. He’s had no difficulty earning an A+ and Network+ certifications, and even took classes from a training institution that promised job placement help as part of the no-doubt expensive training package I’m sure he had to pay for to sit through their courses and work in their labs.
This person has had zero luck in finding work in IT. He’s gotten exactly nowhere with the placement office at the training institution, who turned him over to Robert Half International for temp/part-time placement help in response to his expression of concern about a lack of results. No joy on that front, either.
First thing I have to say is “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” In employment, like comedy, timing is everything. And in bad economic times, looking for employment is about as bad as timing gets, especially for somebody who apparently has trouble talking up his prior learning, job skills, and accomplishments when moving from one field to another.
The key here, as I see it, is for this person to stress what kinds of problem-solving and technical skills his BMW repair and electrical work taught him, and to explain how they apply to work in IT. I have to believe that an ability to solve problems, handle complex billing and reporting systems, interact with customers, and handle all kinds of interesting diagnostic regimes and the tools that go with them–both important parts of working with cars and matters electrical–transfer very well into the IT realm. Instead of thinking he has “no experience” he should be honing his explanation of how what he learned in those other technical areas make him a better IT person than a straight-from-school graduate whose only job experience comes from short-term summer gigs or part-time work while a full-time student.
The other cure for no experience is to get experience by hook, crook, and sheer dint of effort. Here again, my correspondent sells himself short. Although he says he has no real experience to speak of, he goes on to observe “In years past on my own, I have set up wireless networks, installed CAT5, diagnosed and replaced defective power supplies, sound cards, upgraded memory, Ethernet cards, DVD drives. When I was a BMW tech, I had to update my diagnosis and programming equipment regularly.” Obviously, he’s a bit further along than many people, but needs to present this experience in positive terms, and parlay it into value he can add in the workplace. Others who lack this kind of experience, should also begin doing as much stuff on their own as they can stand, and possibly even volunteer at local charities, churches, or schools–all of which have active volunteer intake programs–to help out with IT projects and maintenance activities.
Ultimately, I have to believe that most job searches do pay off, and produce entry or re-entry into the workforce. In the meantime, the secret to eventual success depends on staying busy, continuing to learn, and looking for and taking advantage of every possible opportunity to practice and hone job-related skills and knowledge. This is tough, but when the going gets tough, that’s when persistence and drive can carry those who refuse to give up through, while others are flailing all around them. And indeed, involvement with others by volunteering, contract placement, or part-time work provides opportunities to excel that others will notice, and that may very well provide an entree into a next (or first) job in IT.
As I started working on one of our more successful books–it’s now in a fourth edition, and continues to generate modest but steady earnings–I first stumbled across French-Canadian Clement Dupuis’ outstanding CCCure.org Web site. For those prepping for the CISSP exam, this site is a real treasure trove of information, including all kinds of useful study tips and advice on how best to prepare for the exam, as well as beaucoups content and pointers to still more content to help candidates learn the subject matter necessary from each of the exam’s many categories/topic areas in the body of knowledge that they must master.
You’ll also find pointers to relevant training and tutorials, exam quizzes to help you hone your study skills, and even a nice collection of book reviews of CISSP study guides–including, thankfully, a good review of the aforementioned CISSP Study Guide to which James Michael Stewart, Mike Chapple, and I all contributed. But the best aspect of this resource has to be the on-site forums. Here, you can learn an awful lot by reading over postings from others with CISSP related questions, and the answers that some incredible security luminaries regularly provide in response. If you need answers to your own questions, please do your homework and search existing threads first before posting here, then be prepared to wait 2-3-sometimes-even-4 days to get a reply. You won’t be sorry.
Of course, I should also mention that Clement Dupuis is no slouch in the security department: he’s a well-known instructor, researcher, and consultant in this area. He’s also now teaching for Shon Harris’ San Antonio-based training company, Logical Security, where he regularly rubs shoulders with other security experts as well.
If you need to add an excellent on-line resource to your study arsenal for the CISSP exam, CCCure.org is it. You’ll also find some coverage of the ISACA CISA and CISM exams here, too, but I haven’t explored it sufficiently enough to give it the same ringing endorsement I so happily give to the CISSP coverage–though I’m pretty sure I would do likewise were I to dig into it more deeply.
At present, flashcards are available for the following exams:
- Cisco Certification
CCNA Security 640-553 Cert Flash Cards Online
CCNA Voice 640-460 Cert Flash Cards Online
- CompTIA Certification
CompTIA A+ Cert Flash Cards Online
- Microsoft Certification
MCSA/MCSE 70-290 Cert Flash Cards Online
MCSA/MCSE 70-291 Cert Flash Cards Online
MCSE 70-293 Cert Flash Cards Online
MCSE 70-294 Cert Flash Cards Online
MCTS 70-620 Cert Flash Cards Online
Numerous other exams are promised for this series in 2009, including the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA), Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), CompTIA Network+ and Security+, plus Microsoft exams 70-622, -623, -640, -642, and -643.
The biggest benefits of this offering, which normally costs $25 to 30 (though I’m guessing certs like the CISSP, CISA, and CISM will cost more), are as follows:
- Ability to store and access all flashcard collections online (it’s not a one-time download)
- Ability to select and group flashcards into custom named collections at will.
- Ability to access flashcard collections on a PDA, iPhone, SmartPhone and other mobile devices, as well as on a conventional notebook or desktop PC.
- Custom annotation and scoring capabilities per flashcard item.
- Create custom card sets based on questions marked incorrect.
- Online checks for question bank updates at will.
At the prices mentioned, these flashcards are at the top end for what’s normally charged for one-time downloads or hardcopy flashcards. But given their interactive capabilities and access to question bank updates, I think this represents good value for the money. But don’t listen to me: Try one for free and see what you think yourself. That’s the only way to be 100% sure your money is well-spent anyway.