By Benjamin Weiss
A few weeks ago, our firm was working an open desktop support position for a client in the financial industry. A qualified applicant sent in his resume for the gig, and one of our salespeople put him on the hiring manager’s radar.
Curiously, while we’re used to picky leadership types nixing potential candidates for whatever reason, this particular individual’s candidacy was met with a resounding “absolutely not.” The reason? He’d been engaged in a support role for the last 12 years at the same company.
Now, this might seem unfair, as commitment to a business for a prolonged duration is often seen as a virtuous characteristic in a job seeker.
However, when considering level one and two IT positions, this kind of professional inertia is generally seen as a red flag. For example, in this case, the fact that the candidate had never evolved beyond the support role indicated to the hiring manager that he didn’t strive for upward mobility and that he was the kind of person who didn’t do well outside his comfort zone.
The overarching issue here is that if you’re working in a level one or two support role, you need to start considering your future before it’s too late and your experience begins to work against you. When a technical professional who has been in the support role for more than 5-7 years begins to seek new work, hiring managers will have myriad skeptical questions. For instance, why hasn’t he/she tried working in a new environment? Why hasn’t he/she progressed or moved up? What’s causing him/her to make a move now?
And in most cases, the answers are assumed to be that the person lacks motivation, couldn’t cut it on the management track, and needs a new job now that his/her utility has worn off at their current job. Consequently, folks with too much support experience will often be passed over for new gigs, while professionals with only a few years of experience get the nod because they’re perceived to be hungrier and more ambitious.
Here are a few strategies to avoid these negative scenarios and ensure that IT support professionals can keep a variety of options open as their career progresses.
1. Do what you can to move up in your current organization.
After spending some time troubleshooting general IT issues over the phone in a level one support role, hungry technical professionals traditionally embark on a track that brings them to desktop support and then a hybrid support/administration role, providing exposure to back-end work.
This path often leads to an administration/engineering position, laying the framework for a technical professional to become a specific administrator (perhaps in exchange, SQL, IIS, SharePoint, etc.) before either diverging towards a managerial role or a subject matter expert role in Citrix, VMWare or other.
Moving up the ladder in such strategic fashion is a surefire indicator to potential employers that an IT professional has both the drive and the skills to undertake new challenges, whereas folks who get stuck on the lower rungs are perceived to be unfit to do the same—even if that isn’t the case in reality.
The natural conundrum here is that professionals in help desk or support roles may try to move up, but either don’t get tapped by leadership or are rejected in the interview process.
In this case, it is wise for help-desk and desktop professionals to…
2. Seek out a higher-level degree, earn additional certifications, secure more training or volunteer to do more diverse work.
While there are certainly no guarantees, taking a training course or going back to school could provide the necessary skills to kickstart upward mobility.
And if the issue revolves around a lack of experience to rationalize a promotion to a more senior role, then volunteering to do work outside of one’s daily responsibilities—perhaps offering more sophisticated server admin work for a charitable or non-profit organization—is an excellent way to bolster the resume and help in the effort to move up.
But, if that doesn’t work either, then …
3. Diversify your experience by working for different companies.
What this doesn’t mean is that a professional engaged in help-desk or desktop support should job hop every year. However, if leadership at one’s current company refuses to grant upward mobility after two to three years, then engaging in the same role at a different firm is a viable option.
While staying put in these roles for too long at one firm may indicate a lack of motivation, at least moving around to different industries, even if the title is the same, diversifies experience and indicates a willingness to move out of one’s comfort zone—as long as the positions are held for at least a few years.
Additionally, by interviewing in various industries, IT professionals can better understand what their technical gaps are, which may suggest a more strategic course for the additional training needed to accelerate their careers.
By looking into these tactics, IT professionals can better secure future prosperity before too much of the same experience begins to work against them.
Ben Weiss is the digital marketing strategist at Infusive Solutions, an IT staffing firm in the Microsoft Partner Network located in New York City. Infusive specializes in the efficient placement of Microsoft technical professionals and provides providing clients and candidates with the resources to take their careers to the next level. Its whitepaper entitled “Microsoft Technologies Booming in the Big Apple” can be downloaded here. Follow them on Twitter @InfusiveInc.