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10 Mistakes that Could Doom Your Career as an IT Pro

By Randy Muller, MCT, MCTS, MCSE, CEH

There are many career pitfalls in the IT field. Some are small mistakes that can easily be corrected while larger ones can quickly become Resume Generating Events (RGE). If you are new to the IT field (or even if you have 20+ years' experience), there are some things to avoid (especially if they are clearly outlined in an employee handbook) such as posting on a Social Network site or making derisive comments about in colleagues in a tweet. These can quickly cause you to be ostracized and in some cases, be grounds for dismissal. Here are some mistakes that IT executives and IT professionals should avoid.

 

1. You Are your Own Best (or Worst) Career Manager (for Better or Worse)

 If you don't care for your career and goals, no one else will and you may become a candidate for "right-sizing". A critical task all IT pros must perform is to examine your current skills. You must identify and evaluate them to determine if they are still relevant and in demand (see later post). If your skills are not relevant, are in low demand or if you have gaps in your skills than it behooves you to develop a plan to rectify this problem. Your action plan might entail self-education, classes or a new career path in the IT field. You need to develop and implement this plan with realistic and measurable objectives that will solidify and enhance your skills. This also holds true for professional knowledge as well. Read trade journals, attend conferences (many IT conferences enable you to attend virtual sessions) even attend product launches.

 

2. Breadth, Not Depth of Skills

Or in other words, you do not want to be a one-trick pony. In today's IT environment there is a greater emphasis on the breadth of your skills not just on the depth of your skillset. Many new and emerging technologies are a blend of what were once separate and distinct skills. As an example, the new Private Cloud merges many, previously separate, skillsets. In most cases, you cannot have just one skill; think of the small IT shops where each individual wears many hats to support their user base. "Today's trend toward services-based software, mobile apps, the cloud and consumer technologies means it is the breadth, not the depth of knowledge and experience that wins - or keeps - the IT jobs." * There is a saying in the academic world: "Publish or perish". In this case, it should be changed to "expand your skill set or become extinct". Besides, keeping your mind active may helps keep you younger.

 

3. Don't Be a SMEL (Subject Matter Expert on Life)

We all know these people - the ones who seem to have the answer to everything and are not shy about sharing their "expertise" with you, whether you are listening or not. There is a vast difference between self-confidence and overweening arrogance; the former can be asset, whereas the latter can be a career ender. If you are seen as unable to work with others (either from your end or their refusal to work with you) this can be a RGE (see earlier definition) and a career-ender. If you find that managers and your coworkers are making excuses to avoid working with you, then this may be a clue. As a counter measure, do not claim sole credit (or pass the blame on to others) for the success of a project; ensure others are also mentioned. Seek input from others; your colleagues will not only feel as if they have contributed to the project, but they may even surprise you with unique solutions to problems

 

4. Not Being a Tall Poppy

In this case, you WANT to be noticed (in a positive manner). Do not try to blend into your IT department to avoid attention. Even though the economy appears to be recovering, layoffs have not abated and consolidations, mergers and buyouts are still occurring. You should not try and go unnoticed, even though it may seem to be a good idea; it most likely will backfire. You NEED to be noticed, but the right kind of notice. Be more proactive, show imitative, participate, be vocal and most importantly, be positive. High-profile initiatives at your firm can offer a prime opportunity to prove your value and demonstrate skills to managers and coworkers. Talk about your achievements and ensure they are known by higher authority.

 

5. The Living Resume

Your resume is a living document and as such, you need to keep it up to date. Not keeping your resume up to date may mean you are passed over for projects, or promotions. Your resume will be viewed by non-technical people so you need to sell yourself (and a resume is your sales brochure) in non-technical terms. You should describe the scope and types of projects that you've worked on. Provide examples and quantify the successes of the project ensuring that you accurately portray your contribution. The accuracy of your resume is important as well; there is always the temptation to "enhance" ones education, accomplishments, titles and roles. If a manager or prospective employer investigates the veracity of your resume, you might have a potential career ending situation develop. If you are not an expert on a particular product, as stated in your resume, you will have a hard time fulfilling that role. Many employers require a competency evaluation prior to hiring a new employee, something you may find difficult if you have exaggerated your skillset on your resume.

 

6. The Written Word (and Picture) Remains

What you write in emails and instant messaging can be used both for and against you. It is very easy to send a message, but will that message be received and understood by your recipient with the same intent you had sent the message? This message is a permanent record of communication, which may be archived under State and Federal mandates. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for example, all electronic correspondence can be used as evidence in legal proceedings, both for and against you. There is an assumption that electronic communications is private between you and your recipient, unless the recipient decides to forward on to someone. If you must discuss personal or confidential matters, this might be a time to use a phone or discuss in person. Any inappropriate emails, texts or pictures (even if just forwarded such) may become a Resume Generating Event.

 

7. Don't Burn any Bridges

There is the temptation, when leaving a position you found uncomfortable, to tell your former boss and colleagues what you really felt about them. This temptation will certainly increase if you were laid off. One thing to keep in mind is that the IT profession is a very small world. Any comments you Tweet, Blog or post on a Social Network site (positive and negative) are easily searchable by your former colleagues and potential new employers. You never know when a former boss or colleague may be in a position to help your cause at your new company, provided you haven't alienated them. Your reputation is a precious commodity, one that you do not want to jeopardize by burning any bridges from your last job.

 

8. Don't Disconnect Yourself

The reach of social networks and professional sites cannot be underestimated. As an example, take a look at LinkedIn, even if you are not searching for a new job. It has quite common now contacts to ask for your email address and to see if you are on LinkedIn. This is true for Facebook as well. Some members of the IT community remain in contact with other through Facebook and to a certain extent, Skype. You are doing yourself a professional disservice by not creating an account on these sites. You do not have to be an avid Facebook denizen and make 10 posts a day (of if you are on Twitter, make 10 tweets a day either). You need the visibility for your professional reputation. Earlier I mentioned about the Living Resume; a perfect spot to update your professional activity would be on LinkedIn (and your resume, of course). You can't remain an IT wallflower and advance in your career field.

 

9. Technical Complacency

Never make the assumption that you have all the IT skills you need. New technologies are emerging a furious rate and to remain relevant, you need to learn these new skills (or even try and anticipate what is going to be in demand). The latest hot field is going to be the Cloud (and also the Private Cloud). Organizations are going to be clamoring for IT Professionals who have these skills. Whereas demand for XP support staff is rapidly diminishing as support for this desktop OS is almost over. If you want to have a viable career and you do not want to worry about becoming redundant; study what your company is going to deploy or what is going to be in demand. If you don't learn new skills and maintain certifications, than you run the risk of becoming technically redundant.

 

10. Lack of Soft/People Skills

A mistake many IT Professionals make is to assume that their IT skills will see to their advancement and not their Soft or People skills. We all know of an IT Pro who is fantastic at their job - one who can write code faster than you make a martini. But there are times when it is the Martini maker who is advanced ahead of the programmer. This is due to soft skills. IT Pros who can talk in non-geek speak and who can interact with end users and customers who will be in demand. If you want to move into the C-level rank, you need to get involved in other areas that will emphasis your people skills in addition to your techie skills.