Need IT Career Advice? Take It from the Pros

Two young businessmen listening to a person on the other side of a desk.

Looking for advice to help move your technology career from good to great? You’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re on the job search and want to ace that interview or want to advance your position, everyone could use some helpful guidance.

To give you advice straight from the source, we asked over 8,000 North American IT workers to share the best career advice they’ve ever received. The following words of wisdom can help you become indispensable at your company, ask for a higher salary or inspire you to make a new career move altogether.

Always be ready and willing to adapt

“Things change all the time (process, technology, organizations, industries), so you need to adapt quickly — don’t get bogged down on how it is not like it was before.”

One defining factor of the technology industry is constant change. New technologies develop each year, and IT professionals need to make sure their skills don’t become obsolete along with old software. For example, with more businesses implementing cloud technology, many IT professionals are shifting to cloud careers. As one survey respondent advised, “Keep up to date with technology, as it’s changing faster than you think.”

A successful technology worker adjusts to change easily, so continue to update and evolve your skills. Enroll in training programs — whether through your company or online courses — to learn the latest version of a program or get into a completely new field like virtual reality or AI. Regardless of the topic, make sure you understand how to apply those new skills to help your company and your career.

Work on your communication skills   

“There are thousands of people that can handle technical jobs. But there are only a few that can communicate with their customers and business partners effectively. Master that skill and you can go far.” 

According to a Robert Half Technology survey, CIOs reported that the top area where tech professionals could improve was communication, including written, interpersonal and face-to-face. They also said it’s one of the top skill sets needed to advance a career in tech. Many technology professionals know the ins and outs of a computer software program or an engineering problem, but only a few know how to successfully explain how technology can advance the organization toward its goals.

Good communication skills are multifaceted. It may be as simple as writing an email or involve more complicated situations, such as explaining solutions to a new client, discussing your job history in an interview or giving and receiving feedback. You can learn a lot through observing colleagues throughout your career, but you can also take classes. As one IT professional recommends:

“Take a technical writing class. Management lives on communication, and collaboration lives on communication, but engineers often don’t learn how to communicate with people.”

Developing customer service skills is key

“Aim for white glove service in everything you do. So much of what we know and do on a daily basis isn’t difficult. It’s the manner in which you conduct yourself when things are easy that will earn trust and confidence for more difficult projects.”

As an IT professional, especially if you’re a desktop support technician, customer service skills are crucial. Work on interpersonal, problem-solving and listening skills — and most importantly, have patience. The people you’re helping likely don’t have the technical training you do, and they look to you to solve their IT issues, even if you don’t know the answer. As one technology worker explains, “An end-user would prefer to hear ‘no’ with a smile than to have their problem resolved but be treated poorly.”

Another piece of customer service advice? “Remember that you don’t know the answer to everything — but you better know where to find it.” As part of the technical support staff, you’re often a technology translator for end users, and a key player in helping them do their jobs or use a product.

Specialize in a topic

“Pick something and become an expert. Don’t try to be mediocre at several things.”

Specializing in an area was one of the most common topics of advice collected, and it’s no surprise. Yes, employers look for candidates who have a range of experiences and skills, but they want a candidate to fill one specific role, not five. So don’t spread yourself too thin. It’s difficult to develop specialized expertise in one topic when you’re invested in four others.

However, as noted earlier, it’s still important to be able to adapt to change. Explore new areas of technology, and when you find what you’re passionate about, specialize in it. As one tech worker suggests, “You cannot be a master in all technologies. Master a couple and be the expert on your team or in your organization.”

Discover what IT certifications are most in demand.

Take responsibility for your skills development

“Always be willing to learn something new from anyone in the company, from the lowest position to the highest. Being willing to see someone’s point of view will help you do your job even better.”

Never say no to a learning opportunity, and take the initiative to learn from your peers and on your own. One technology worker recommends coding something outside of work that you’re interested in for a minimum of 30-45 minutes a day. You could also consider earning an IT certification, which can help you secure work faster, command a higher salary and boost your career.

Another way you can advance your career is finding a mentor. Discussing your career options with a more experienced professional can help you learn about the industry and may open doors for you along the way. If a colleague asks you to be their mentor, take it as an opportunity to also learn from them. “Surround yourself with people smarter than you,” another IT employee writes. “This pushes you to strive harder and gives you many more chances to be exposed to new ideas.”

Aim for excellence

“If you accept responsibility for a task, complete it. If you screw up, own it, admit it and have a plan to correct it.”

What may be the most important — and most difficult — piece of career advice is to always aim for excellence. No one wants to work with someone who continually makes mistakes without addressing or correcting them. While it’s true that no one is perfect and we all slip up once in a while, if you take credit for your mistakes and provide a solution, your team will respect you.

Additionally, while you should always take initiative and volunteer for new projects, make sure it’s all within in your bandwidth and you can give your dedicated attention to each project. “Ninety percent of being perceived as a high-value employee is delivering what you promise,” a wise IT professional writes.

Understand how your work relates to the business

“You’ve got to understand the business.” 

Do you know how your day-to-day responsibilities help the company? Every company, whether in the finance or agricultural industry, needs an IT department to be successful in today’s fast-paced, tech-driven world. Understanding the goals and processes of your organization will help you adapt technology to fit the needs of the company — and make you essential to your team. 

If you’re unsure how your position or responsibilities fit into the company, consider asking a colleague or manager in your department. Getting a sense of the bigger picture will help you work more effectively, and it shows your initiative to better understand the business.

Be thoughtful toward your career

“When looking for a job, don’t chase the money. Take a job that best fits what you want to do.”  

If you want a successful, satisfying career, heed the advice above. The money and recognition will come when you find a job that you fully enjoy, and it won’t feel so much like work. Research from Robert Half and Happiness Works reveals that the top happiness drivers for technology professionals are pride in their organization, feeling appreciated and interest in their work. So when you’re looking for a career change or considering a job offer, think about what is important to you and what will make you happy — besides just the paycheck. 

IT workers we surveyed had more great IT career advice. Check out this SlideShare for additional ideas:

 

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