If you are on an IT career track with at least three years in your field, the world of information technology reminds you daily how fast things change – from new languages and technologies to constantly evolving market needs, the invention of new job titles, and most of all, increasing expectations from current and potential employers.

You may find it exhilarating to contemplate a job search or you may struggle to get a solid footing for your next career move. Either way, my advice is to step off the tarmac, take a deep breath and consider the benefits of strategic planning. You worked hard to get where you are. Your path forward deserves some thought.

Let there be multiple goals in the life of your career

If you’re familiar with real estate, you know the mantra for success is location, location, location! Buyers don’t stay forever where they land because lifestyles change, and families, income and aspirations grow. The same is true of your home base in information technology, wherever that may be today or in the future.

There is one big difference, though. To advance your IT career, the mantra for your success has nothing to do with location. It is all about position, position, position – and this, too, will evolve over time:

  • Position yourself for constant learning opportunities. The more diverse your skill set becomes over time, the more valuable you become to current and future employers.
  • Position is much more than the title you hold or the next title you seek. It is about the successive roles that ultimately take you where you want to go.
  • Position is the state of the job market at any given time, and realistic opportunities for advancement in IT that align with your short- and long-term aspirations.

Keep learning and growing. Your future depends on it.

Tech will continue to be an impetus for change in every industry and companies need specialists to make it happen. Your professional playground is big but it will be biggest for professionals focused on continually expanding their knowledge, experience and exposure to the latest technologies, and through continued education, credentials and certifications.

For the second year in a row, in 2019, the role of software developer holds the number one spot in U.S. News & World Report’s 25 Best Jobs in the United States, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment opportunities are expected to increase by more than 30 percent by 2026. The Bureau also projected employment of computer and information technology occupations overall would grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

Hot opportunities for IT professionals are fueled by advancements in cloud computing, analytics, big data, cyber security, health care, renewable energies, commerce, mobile applications – these and many other fields are undergoing digital transformations. According to Cyber security Ventures, there will be 3.5 million unfilled cyber security jobs by 2021.

Many fields are wide open for accomplished, life-long learners!

Consider how good you might look in that new hat

Let’s say your experience is ideal for a job opportunity but the hiring company wants someone who has held the title in their job posting. If your résumé doesn’t reflect that title, are you out of the running? Not necessarily. There are a lot of IT professionals who, with the right positioning to an employer, can land sought-after IT roles that would otherwise be out of their reach.

Hiring managers are not always intimate with rapidly evolving IT titles and the responsibilities that go along with these positions. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) can be even less capable in identifying skills and experience that lend themselves to a job opening. For example, a common job search request I receive is for DevOps candidates, professionals who can manage a hybrid of development and operations responsibilities. DevOps is a newer title, and while it might not appear on a résumé, a candidate may possess and even excel in all of the requisite competencies.

A good IT recruiter can help you navigate opportunities. We know and understand the hats you have worn. We have access to jobs as they become available and can tailor your résumé and pitch you directly to hiring managers for IT jobs that are a good fit for you and the company.

Create a solid framework for your direction and goals

IT candidates I work with range from DevOps professionals to security engineers, software engineers and architects, data scientists, developers, scrum masters, high-level project managers and even contractors who consult in many IT capacities. While most of these candidates are at a level in their careers where they know what they want to do, many don’t know how to go about executing a smart and successful career move.

When I begin communicating with candidates, I ask a lot of questions to fully understand who they are, where they’re coming from and where they want to go, and we also candidly discuss strengths and weaknesses. This is important in helping candidates connect the dots for their futures. Whether or not you choose to work with a recruiter, such self-assessment lays important groundwork for beginning a job search.

It is critical to have an effective résumé and you need to be ready to adjust it as needed to appeal to a particular job opportunity. A good framework for IT professionals on the move also includes sharing your goals with close associates and influencers who can keep their eyes and ears open for viable opportunities. You can also put yourself out there by freshening up your profile on LinkedIn and expanding your professional networks.

In the meantime…

  • Gain as much experience as you can at your current company.
  • Ask for more challenging assignments that expose you to new processes and technologies.
  • Take advantage of company-paid programs to gain certifications, education or credentials.
  • Keep tabs on open jobs that offer a promotion from your current role.
  • Explore lateral moves that will expand your knowledge, skills and experience.

Know when it’s time to move on

If you know where you’re going in your career, even if you’re working with a two- to five-year plan, it is much easier to make strategic moves. With your eyes on the prize, you can reverse engineer by assessing whether a job change will lead you in your desired direction.

Having a plan also makes it clear when something is holding you back. Here are some signs that it’s time to move on:

  • You have been in the same role for several years.
  • Your current role is not challenging and you have lost interest.
  • There are no opportunities for promotions or beneficial lateral moves.
  • Your employer does not invest in employee growth and advancement.
  • You employer does not stay current with IT trends, industry standards and new technologies.

In the fast-moving and disruptive world of IT, no matter where you are employed, you simply must keep moving forward in knowledge, exposure to cutting-edge technologies and experience.

Balance your unique advantages with realistic expectations    

There is always competition in the IT job market, even for candidates with uncommon skill sets. Salaries, benefits and perks also vary across industries and roles. When making a career move in IT, it can be a big mistake to make it all about the money and title, because these don’t always deliver more and better experience for the long run. Also, while companies want to hire the best talent, chosen candidates are often those willing to be more competitive in salary requirements.

A balanced approach is to research a market, find out what is being offered, weigh the value of an opportunity and its learning potential against the salary and the title and then decide if it is an acceptable fit for you. A recruiter can give you access to market, title and salary information.

My best advice comes back to that all-important positioning at the top of this article: Know your worth, your direction and the market. Keep learning and growing, no matter what. Take advantage of the guidance and resources available to you. And on top of it all, choose a job that sets you up for your next strategic career move.