How Safe Is Your IT Job Now?


The outlook on IT jobs, while certainly brighter than many other sectors in these troubled economic times, does seem to be fading.


Back in August, I wrote about the jobs outlook, citing several surveys showing tech executives scaling back their hiring plans. Also in August, eWEEK blogger Donald Sears got a similar story from recruiting specialist Challenger, Gray & Christmas.


While IT jobs were more shielded from the down economy than other sectors, company CEO John Challenger told Sears, companies would likely look to outsource software engineering and coding jobs while retaining network administrators and analysts. And the number of new IT jobs would probably shrink as companies scrapped plans to add or update technology. (Exactly the strategy that many of the respondents from surveys I cited in my post were adopting.)


The latest data from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, released today, shows that U.S. employers cut 33 percent more jobs in September 2008 than they did in September 2007. Much of the increase was due to HP's plan to eliminate nearly 25,000 jobs following its acquisition of EDS. In the first three quarters, U.S. companies shed 763,090 jobs, 30 percent more than in the first nine months of 2007.


According to a Bloomberg report about the data, computer companies announced they'd slice 25, 715 jobs (if that includes HP, that's not as bad as it seems), followed by automotive companies (14,595), apparel manufacturers (8,350) and the financial industry (8,224). The financial industry has been hammered hardest during the year to date, losing 111,201 jobs, followed by the automotive industry with 94,918 cuts.


A John Challenger statement in the report hints at harder times ahead for IT:

It may take several weeks or months for the fallout from September's Wall Street turmoil to hit the unemployment numbers. Companies are cutting costs, and investments in new technology may be put on hold.

An article written by Princeton economist Alan B. Krueger for the New York Times says that middle- and upper-income jobs (that would include many IT positions) are at greater risk than they have been in prior recessions because of the severity of the credit crunch.


It's already starting to happen, notes Krueger, offering a chart showing the seasonally adjusted share of college graduates who are employed fell by 1.6 percentage points from March to August 2008, while the share of high school graduates and high school dropouts employed rose by 0.6 and 0.2 percentage points, respectively.


So what if you find yourself in the worst-case scenario of looking for a new IT job at a time when fewer of them are available? A Network World article offers advice from Janice Weinberg, a former IT pro and career consultant and author of "Debugging your Information Technology Career: A Compass to New and Rewarding Fields that Value Computer Knowledge."


Network with anyone and everyone you think can help, suggests Weinberg. When calling about a position, don't just call a main telephone number. Instead, do some research and contact the executive you think will be likely to make the hiring decision. Since IT pros are needed in almost every industry, Weinberg advises looking for jobs in sectors that are relatively insulated from economic troubles, such as health care, education and government.


Cold calls to companies that may be hiring even though they aren't advertising jobs will likely be more effective than just submitting a resume, says Weinberg, who suggests creating a written script to address statements such as, "We're not hiring right now." Her suggested response: "I can certainly appreciate the fact that you're fully staffed. However, in case you suddenly lost a member of your team and needed to replace that person quickly, perhaps you would find it useful to know of a qualified backup candidate."