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IT executive jobs not immune to downturn, but midmarket may be safer

Kristen Caretta, Associate Editor
IT unemployment may be half that of the national average, but 70% of executives in one study are curtailing IT hiring, and even IT executive jobs are not immune to cutbacks.

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Not since the burst of the dot-com bubble in 2001 have IT roles of all levels been compromised, according to IT recruiters, leaving some senior IT executives feeling the pain.

Perhaps even more pervasive is the so-called "fear index" tracked by IT jobs site Dice.com. The index measures how many IT professionals are posting their resumés on the site, one indicator of IT employment trends. "Our best judgment on a fear index is to see the growth on Dice.com in both applications and new resumés posted. In the fourth quarter of 2008, new resumés grew 67% and applications on Dice grew 20% vs. the same period last year," said Tom Silver, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at New York-based Dice Holdings Inc.

Overall job postings on Dice.com are down roughly 35% in January, Silver said. While the number of unemployed senior-level IT executives isn't known, "With this type of decline, it's hard to imagine that any category of seniority is escaping the slackening of demand," Silver said.

The results of a recent Dice survey show seven in 10 recruiters and hiring managers are curtailing hiring plans for the next six months, and nearly half of respondents to the same survey indicated that IT layoffs are likely in the next six months, Silver said. "We don't think it's surprising to expect some easing along with the economic retrenchment," he said.

Bill Meehan, though secure in his current position as chief technology officer at Medfield, Mass.-based midmarket benefits management company Benemax, is well aware of the current IT employment trends and what some of his peers are up against. "I'm not in an open dialogue with my peers about their job security fears. But I will say this, when we put any job reqs out there, we get swarmed. Especially lately I've noticed that we're running into an unusually high number of overqualified applicants," he said.

Job security prospects better in the midmarket

With the national unemployment rate at 7.2% and technology unemployment at 3.4%, according to government statistics, there is some solace that for those in the midmarket, a smaller company can mean more job security. When employees wear multiple hats, it's more difficult to cut a particular position. "Everyone is affected; we're all in the same boat. Everyone is doing more and jobs have grown more complex and encompass much more all across the board," Meehan said.

David Foote, CEO and chief research officer at Foote Partners LLC, said, "Enterprise corporations have larger staffs, more room to cut the fat. They do a lot of hiring right out of college, bring in a lot of green talent. Midmarket companies, on the other hand, usually hire experienced people only. They're always lean, there's nothing to cut." Vero Beach, Fla.-based Foote Partners is an independent market research and management consultancy company aimed at providing IT workforce advice.

If cuts are anticipated? Foote notes the importance of a strong, well-respected CIO. "If the CIO is not respected by upper management, they're not going to be able to step up and argue against them. If the CIO is strong, let the chips fall where they may because there is a good reason why there's been a cut."

Tips for IT executive job security

So, how can you increase your job security? Remain involved in revenue-generating projects. Make time for strategic planning, as strategic roles are safer, according to Silver. "Projects that have the most easily understood and positive ROI will likely continue to be funded," he said.

Everyone is affected; we're all in the same boat. Everyone is doing more and jobs have grown more complex and encompass much more
all across
the board.

Bill Meehan
chief technology officerBenemax
Meehan finds himself focusing on strategy daily, a change from previous years. "I am always trying to exploit ways to make the business more efficient. Technology is supposed to be an efficiency enhancer but look around and try to find more efficiencies from less investment. So, I find it important to take the broad view of the role of technology in the business, becoming more strategic than tactical."

Tackling the "do more with less" challenge has also been a big part of Meehan's strategic thinking, keeping up with a business that is both growing and compressing at the same time. Moving forward with security and keeping up with trends also top his list.

"We must do more with less, but there are forces running against that. The complexity of security threats and compliance regulations require you to spend a lot of time and money on protecting your enterprise. There is a lot of pressure from vendors to spend more, and a lot of pressure on your company to spend less. It's a balancing act."

While nobody is completely safe in this economy, it seems midmarket executives will fare better than their enterprise peers.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Kristen Caretta, Associate Editor.


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