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Thursday, August 18, 2005

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6:30 AM     How To Know What You're Worth, Part II

In "How To Know What You're Worth, Part I", I got into a little bit about researching what the market will bear for your position in your area. But, as with everything in our industry, things are more complex than that.

Part II gets into some of the soft-issues involved in getting a new job. They may only change what you're worth a little, but they'll help you get the job you want.

This time, we'll talk about what happens when the market rate for your position and what you're actually paid now collide, how your skills should be valued, and what impact certifications have these days. Strap in, you're not going to want to hear a lot of what I have to say here. But, as always, I'll give it to you straight!

I've spoken with some candidates that have been fortunate enough to have a single, great job over the last 3-5+ years. While seeing the dip in the industry / economy, they weren't affected too much, which is a great thing.

As most of you know by now, pay rates have changed since 2000. However, since most companies didn't cut salary rates for positions that have been retained, and because most of these people have received raises (with which they could buy an additional pack of gum a day!), their salaries are out sync with the market.

For instance, I spoke with a woman who worked for a school district for the last 9+ years in a lot of positions, but ended up in a Deskside Support-type position for the last 5 years, but was recently laid off.

Because of the time that she was with the school district and continual raises, she was making in the neighborhood of $60K. She "knew some people" who were making more than that, so that's what she wanted for her next job.

And, frankly, if she had continued to build her skills over those 5 years, she probably would have been able to get more that $60K. However, she didn't learn any new skills and so the market rate for her position was now around $45K at best, the same as it was 5 years ago.

She didn't want to hear the reality of her situation, and I can't blame her - a 20% pay cut IS painful! However, reality is reality and many of you are in the same situation. If a hiring manager or recruiter tells you this, try not to get upset. It is what the rate is for those skills. Speaking of which...

One of the biggest problems that job seekers (or potential job seekers) don't know how to value their skills. In addition, many IT Professionals haven't added any skills to their resume in the last 3-5 years(!) because either

a) "The company didn't pay for my training"


b) "There isn't any new technology in use where I work"

If you haven't learned any new technologies in the last 3-5 years, whatever the reason, you're cutting your own throat. Whatever the case has been in the past, it is now your responsibility to get yourself trained. Usually, that means a combination of selling your boss on funding training & finding other areas to cross-train, setting aside your own money to get training, and getting to know people in your organization who do other technology and trading informal training.

You also need to get more in-depth on a few technologies instead of learning a lot of new ones. Become a specialist in a hot technology area, even if you have to do it in a job you hate, so that you're much more marketable when it's time to look for a new job.

By the way, you have to have a minimum of 1-2 years in an area to begin to be a specialist. Anything less doesn't really qualify in a hiring manager's mind.

People used to hire based on certifications. They wanted "an MCSE" or a "CNE" or whatever. That is less so these days, which is why many of you haven't kept up your certifications or gotten new ones. The question is, what is the value of certs today?

First note that there are some exceptions to the "not hiring certs" rule. Generally, they have to do with very in-depth certifications such a the security-related CISSP or SAP-related certs. Other than that, however, it's a very different story.

These days, certifications are usually used to separate candidates, similar to education (an issue we'll talk about another time). So, can you make more money because you have an MCSE or CCNP or a CCE? Probably not. Instead, you can get the job over the other guy because you have the cert.

I would say that is worth it to be constantly doing self-study training of some sort in preparation for a cert. Slow, paced-out, but be pursuing these things. Because of the number of lapsed certs, this can really set you apart from the other candidates.

I hope this series has helped you better determine what you should ask for / what you should expect salary-wise. Post any of your comments or e-mail me to ask any questions you may have.


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