Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why Do Technology Candidates Have Difficulty Marketing Themselves?

It seems to me on the whole, technology candidates have the toughest time marketing themselves.

This is interesting, as technology candidates have had some of the greatest changes in their industries, and have had to learn to manage careers that are largely project based.

Given that trend, you'd think that tech professionals would have learned to be great marketers - because their careers are shaped by by the lifespan of projects they develop, or systems they manage. Application developer projects should have a shorter average project lifespan than infrastructure professionals who manage hardware and software post-implementation during their useful life (which should be longer on average than development time). This project-based career leads the average IT professional to have shorter stays at more companies than counterparts with different job functions.

However, in reality it's 180 degrees opposite - Whether IT professionals are application developers or infrastructure workers, the average IT candidate isn't very good at marketing themselves. Since IT professionals are changing jobs more frequently than their non-technology counterparts, why haven't they figured out self-marketing? And if they haven't figured out personal marketing, how have they accomplished changing jobs so frequently?

As I evaluate the phenomenon, a number of possible reasons arise:
  1. IT professionals are used to not needing to market themselves: IT professionals haven't needed to market themselves until recently. Other than a short time when the tech bubble burst in 2001-2002, IT professionals hadn't seen much of a downturn in industry employment. Demand for technologists has typically been greater than supply, meaning that IT professionals haven't had the need to market themselves aggressively. How many technology people out there miss the "good old days" when they could send out 10 resumes to local companies, generate 6 interviews, and 3 job offers? That's not marketing yourself - that's just a lot of low hanging fruit. In today's tougher job market, technology jobs are still out there (Indeed's survey reports that IT hiring is up 6% per, and the tech industry didn't see double digit unemployment as other employment sectors experienced - But the easy job market of old is gone.

    Where did the all the low hanging fruit go?
    • Business cyclicality finally hit IT - IT had been able to avoid the business employment cyclicality that other professions have seen - until recently. In the past, the rate of innovation was strong enough that when one segment of IT shrunk, others were strong enough to provide employment for those who were displaced. When IT demand outpaces supply, then employers are less concerned about subject matter expertise. In times of worker shortage, employers are willing to train and fine-tune employees who have more general skills. When IT worker supply is greater than demand, why wouldn't employers look for exact fits who can immediately contribute without training or ramp up time?
    • Less diversity of corporate IT needs - Starting in 2007, so many segments in IT were contracting at the same time, that IT jobs have shrunk to create the worst market these professionals have seen. Even most of those who were displaced in 2001-2002 found projects or full time employment relatively quickly because expanding technologies needed workers and created tech jobs, but that just isn't happening today. There are many reasons for this, from decreased innovation, decreased access to capital (Angel, VC, credit, public markets), increased development & infrastructure efficiency, ease of use, corporate consolidation, globalization, offshoring. The combined effects have led to a job market that IT pros aren't used to - because they haven't experienced it before this recession.
    • Ease of use - As technology companies have innovated, they've consistently made products that were easier to use. Today's small businesses can build their own websites at low cost thanks to inexpensive hosting combined with tools like Wordpress, Blogger, and the variety of free tools available to build DIY websites inexpensively - even for free. Easier programming languages, easier and smaller infrastructures to support, more intuitive technologies requiring less training and support, all of which decreased demands for tech workers - changing technology people requirements. A greater number of generally skilled IT jobs are now able to be commoditized and farmed out to lower cost global providers.
    • Efficient scaling - Even hot tech companies like Twitter are able to scale much more efficiently than companies could during the 2001-2002 downturn. If the Twitter phenomenon had happened 10 years ago, they would have needed many times more employees to scale from a few million to 100+ million in the past few years. In addition, the biggest expanding trend today, cloud computing, has much greater labor efficiency than the technology it replaces - maintaining servers at each company. The cost efficiency is one reason this technology is growing, lowering total maintenance costs through the economies of scale from centralized processing. The biggest component of these lowered costs is employees.
    • Slowing pace of innovation - Improving technology to reduce labor needs is nothing new - it's been an evolutionary force ever since it took an entire building of machinery to process what a handheld $1 calculator accomplishes today. In the past, new expanding technology needs have absorbed IT workers that were downsized. The big difference in today's economy is that we just don't have a dizzying array of expanding technologies to absorb displaced tech workers.

      For instance, Microsoft, a major driver of new technology employment over the past 30 years hasn't released material innovations in server, database, or development platforms for a while - updates they released haven't required retraining like those of 10 years ago. Few other giant tech companies are risking innovation now - Do you hear much about the Top 10 Software companies (from IBM, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Accenture, Oracle, CSC, SAP, CapGemini, Lockheed Martin, Hitachi) announcing innovative game-changing technologies? Only IBM has consistently, and occasionally Accenture and CSC have been included as in the top hiring companies each week (see reCareered's Who's Hiring feature each Monday -

  2. Technology professionals typically never learned how to market themselves: Many tech professionals didn't learn how to market themselves - because they didn't have to. Why go through the discomfort of marketing yourself, when all you have to do is send 10 resumes to local companies, and get 3 job offers due to tech worker shortages? Unfortunately, those days are long gone, leaving tech workers wondering why it's so tough to find work all of a sudden.

  3. Technologists were used to corporate paternalism: Many tech professionals feel they shouldn't have to market themselves. They were used to a world where demand outpaced supply, and corporations promised long term employment and career development for technologists. Back in the day, many IT professionals (then called data processing professionals) had "lifelong employment", world-class career development opportunities, cutting edge technology, and the best benefits in the business promised by companies like Bell Labs (then called Lucent, purchased by French-owned Alcatel). Bell Labs was one of the toughest jobs to get in IT, and they employed a large number of off-the-charts brilliant technology professionals, including one of the highest concentrations of PhD's in the business world - They were promised endless corporate support and learning opportunities, to keep them on board. After the continuous layoff rounds as most of the work was transferred to France, Bell Labs long-time workforce was now on the streets, without knowing how to market themselves - they were promised they wouldn't have to. Corporate paternalism no longer exists, not even at Google - tech professionals had to get used to the fact that they were the only ones responsible for their own careers.

  4. Technology professionals don't want to be marketers: Corporate marketers and technology professionals are often at odds as each approach the same problem from a different direction. While tech professionals are experts at details of manufacturing software (internally focused), marketers are experts at understanding customers (externally focused). These two skills are so fundamentally different that they can cause internal conflict in organizations trying to balance customer satisfaction with available resources. Technology professionals can leave these experiences with a basic mistrust of the process of marketing. Is it any wonder that these professionals are uncomfortable marketing themselves?

  5. It's a different way of thinking: A successful technology professional has built their career meeting deadlines, delivering on promises, and being right 99.9% of the time - IT pros learn early in their career to under promise and over deliver. Marketing can be very different - In a tough job market, candidates may have to reach in their promises to get a job and then figure out how to deliver. This is very foreign to how IT professionals are trained, how they are managed, and their on the job experience that formed their thought processes and comfort levels.

  6. Technologists are more comfortable with established process, marketers are more seat of the pants: Again, it's a different way of thinking. As corporate hiring practices are undergoing great changes, employers are changing practices, which can leave Technology candidates feeling deceived by changed requirements. Marketers are used to buyers changing their mind, buying process, time frame, and requirements. Marketers aren't so used to buyer changes that they develop skills at drawing out these changes as early as possible in order to gain more response time, and learn to be adept at quick responses when buyer changes are thrust upon them quickly - they have to "think on their feet".

Neither the technologist's nor the marketer's approach is perfect - both can learn from the other. Technologists can learn that the times, they are a-changin', and they need to adapt quickly. Marketers can learn that some hiring managers look for understanding of details, rather than just hopeful promises.

Readers please respond - How do you think candidates, especially technology candidates can improve their marketing skills?

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Step Out of Your Comfort Zone - Why are job seekers are afraid to change?

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