Demand for Business Skills on the Rise

By Allen Bernard

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As many an IT manager with upward aspirations and job seekers probably already know, companies are putting a premium on IT folks who also understand, at least conceptually, how business works.

According to a recent survey conducted for Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm, 41% of CIOs said they are placing greater emphasis today than five years ago on job candidates’ knowledge of business fundamentals when considering them for jobs.

"Years ago if you had great technical skills that's about all it took to land a job in the IT world," said John Reed, a regional manager for RHT covering the Dallas/Forth Worth, Texas area. "But now, because of technology and how pervasive it is in every aspect of our business and life, companies want people that understand how does that impact the customer and how does that impact the business."

Specifically, CIOs were asked, “When evaluating candidates for IT positions with your firm, has the importance you place on knowledge of business fundamentals, such as accounting, finance and general operations, increased, decreased or stayed the same in the last five years?”

Their responses:

  • Increased 41%
  • Stayed the same 54%
  • Decreased 3%
  • Don't know 2%
  • While these numbers do indicated a growing preference for business acumen, developers and network admins, for example, do not yet have to start taking business classes at their local community college to land a job. Still, it's never too early to start, added Reed.

    "The more skills you bring to any position the more valuable a resource and asset you are," he said.

    The group who most need these skills today are project managers and those whose job it is to liaison with line-of-business units on behalf of the IT department.

    Specifically, companies are looking for a basic understanding of business financials, strong presentation and communication skills, and an understanding of the company's day-to-day operations.

    "Generally speaking, what I have seen and what I've heard from companies is that … technology now is a driver instead of a support mechanism within companies, it can be a driving entity," said Reed. "Now companies are viewing (IT) not just as a support mechanism but actually as a driving force within their organization that can help them meet their business goals."

    Survey Methodology

    The national poll includes responses from more than 1,400 CIOs from a stratified random sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees. It was conducted by an independent research firm and developed by Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of information technology professionals on a project and full-time basis.