Hiring for 2005 Looking Up

By Katherine Spencer Lee

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After years of layoffs and staffing freezes, the IT hiring outlook is becoming more optimistic for 2005. CIOs may not be adding employees as extensively as they did in the late 1990s, but they are slowly rebuilding their teams to support specific needs.

IT staffing activity is being fueled primarily by investments in systems and software upgrades, spam and virus safeguards, wireless communication, business intelligence collection and analysis, the Internet, and regulatory compliance.

Many companies are taking note of lessons learned during the economic downturn and adopting flexible employment practices. The use of project IT professionals is on the rise as firms strive to meet current workload demands while determining whether there is a definite need for more full-time staff.

Businesses are also using this strategy as a way to evaluate prospective employees.

When recruiting full-time staff, organizations are finding they must make faster hiring decisions than they did just a year ago. The most skilled IT professionals are receiving multiple offers, creating greater competition among employers for top talent.

This trend is also affecting employee retention efforts. To reduce the risk of turnover, companies are reassessing their corporate cultures and enhancing recognition programs so staff members feel valued.

According to Robert Half Technology's 2005 Salary Guide, the following specialties and skills will be in strongest demand in the coming year:

Networking. IT professionals experienced in identifying and preventing security breaches are highly sought. Investments in wireless and mobile technologies are also generating a need for employees skilled in supporting systems that allow firms to share data with people outside their internal networks.

Companies are seeking candidates with professional certifications and hands-on experience with Windows XP/2000/NT, UNIX and/or Linux systems.

Technical Support. Businesses are recruiting individuals who can support and train internal and external customers. Help desk analysts and managers, systems administrators and technical trainers are in particular demand.

Companies prefer candidates with Microsoft XP/2000/NT, UNIX and Microsoft Office applications experience, as well as a customer-service focus.

Internet/Intranet Development. Firms continue to rely on the Web to expedite operations and limit costs. The most sought after Internet and intranet development skills include Active Server Pages (ASP), JavaScript, Extensible Markup Language (XML) and .NET.

Database Management. The ability to collect, store, analyze and leverage customer data has become a critical success factor for companies, creating a need for personnel ranging from data architects to database managers and administrators.

Firms are seeking candidates with professional certifications and Oracle8i/9i/10g, Microsoft SQL Server or IBM DB2 technologies expertise.

Applications Development. Many organizations are enhancing client-facing applications and developing enterprise wide Internet applications that integrate with legacy systems.

This is creating a need for business systems analysts and application architects, particularly those with strong object-oriented language skills, such as C#, C++ and Visual Basic. Java, XML and .NET expertise is also highly valued.

Project Management. Project managers are being hired to help minimize time and cost over-runs with IT initiatives while leveraging existing investments. Firms seek candidates experienced with complex projects that involve multiple technologies and functions. They also look for completion of project management certifications or curriculum.

In addition to technical expertise, companies expect candidates for all IT positions to have strong "soft" skills. IT professionals need to be able to communicate and interact effectively with people throughout an organization, both in writing and verbally. Diplomacy and tact are also critical when working on project teams and building business relationships.

For many CIOs, a solid understanding of business fundamentals has become a key hiring criterion. They want IT staff who can translate business requirements into deliverables such as increased operational efficiencies and streamlined processes. Candidates with a track record of contributing to a company's bottom line are in strong demand as well.

As business confidence grows, so will competition for the most skilled IT professionals. Firms that haven't already done so should begin evaluating their work environments and hiring practices to make sure they can attract and retain the best employees.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of contract IT professionals. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.