5 Mistakes IT Pros Make Progressing their Career

Picture of Colin ChapmanColin Chaplin is a freelance Infrastructure Architect who helps large organisations transform Microsoft-based infrastructure.

I tend to work on big IT infrastructure projects which by their nature means I interview many people both internal to the organisation and externally. Furthermore I often find myself as unofficial career guidance for ex-colleagues and friends where I know their qualities but often don’t see this written down. There are definite patterns to the mistakes I see that can be easily remedied, and I’ve collected a few below.

Not exploiting relationships
The IT industry is actually quite a small one and it’s not unusual for, say, someone working for a supplier to go and work for their customer, or for a manager who has left a company go back to his old company for some good people. This type of information is dynamite in terms of validating you not just on a CV and a 1 hour interview, but knowing that over the fullness of time, someone else has seen your work and wanted you.

You can also make use of even passing relationships you have; chances are, if you feel you wish to progress your career in a certain direction it’s because you’ve seen someone do that role. Even if you don’t know them that well, a quick email saying you’re interested in what they do, could you buy them a coffee and pick their brains will almost certainly yield results. They will be flattered and even if it doesn’t give rise to an immediate opportunity should give you some direction.

Focussing on what you’ve done, not how well
This is probably my biggest complaint when reviewing CVs. There will be lists of ‘things done’ but no qualification or scale to them, or indeed what the persons part in that project was because most achievements are a team effort. We’re a humble lot really, but this is an area where every piece of work done needs a ‘boast’ with it. So the number of users on the exchange platform you designed or the £value of the development project you worked on should be stated along with a measure of success. Why did you pick up a piece of work, was it due to the success of a previous project? If a sentence about a piece of work doesn’t pass the ‘so what’ test, it needs revising.

Failing to show IT as a vocation
A successful IT Pro will be thinking about technology more than just 9-5, Monday to Friday. Change is the only constant and it’s important to show you are passionate and keep on top of it. Be it a virtualisation rack in your garage allowing you to play with new software, running or attending a user group, or membership of bodies like the BCS, it demonstrates an interest outside of the office. You can probably think of other examples that you do (like reading the TechNet Flash newsletter), but would others be of this?

Company Rules are not set in stone
From time to time, companies will introduce recruitment freezes, training bans or various ‘rules’ about what is and isn’t possible when moving roles or secondments. Because we tend to play by the rules, we accept this. However, none of this is set-in-stone. If there’s a compelling enough reason to do so, these rules can and will be broken. It’s therefore your job to challenge these rules and find a compelling business reason. Discretion is critical too as it’s in no-one interest for this particular secret to get out!

Know it is still very, very hard to recruit good IT people
When thinking about your development and career, it’s natural to worry about your performance, how well you come across and if you are good enough. However, there’s a flip side to that coin. Even getting approval to hire can often be a fight for a hiring manager and take weeks or months and finding someone that’s just right for that role is even harder. So even just past a CV sift, or delivering for you current employer you’re really important and have more power than you might think. Avoid making the mistakes listed above, and your value will rocket.