Careers advice

Climbing the ladder in IT - tips from a recruitment expert

What can you do speed up your career progression?

The New Zealand IT sector has started 2021 with a bang. Returning business market confidence, combined with the exacerbation of long-term personnel shortages caused by border closures, means that good candidates in this market are in hot demand.

However, while it’s doubtless a great time to be an IT professional in Aotearoa, it’s still perfectly possible that your career isn’t moving as fast as you’d like it to.

This can be frustrating, especially if you’ve felt this way for a while and don’t know how to make a change. To get advice on how IT professionals can improve their career development, we spoke to Pete Thompson, Director at Find Recruitment, a consultancy that specialises in, among other things, recruitment for the IT and digital sector.

Here’s his advice.

Is there anything specific that employers are looking for from IT professionals right now?

“There’s heaps happening in the dev, dev ops and security spaces currently, mainly due to candidate shortages in these areas,” Pete tells us.

He notes that there are several really good security consultancies popping up around New Zealand , as well as trends from bigger organisations to improve their security offering in response to growing awareness around the link between security and customer confidence.

Similarly, Pete describes how larger enterprises are continuing to digitise their process, creating a “digital arms race” type scenario which has resulted in many opportunities for developers. This also has a knock-on effect for dev ops specialists, as businesses seek to recruit people who can support these new ways of working.

Dev, dev ops and security professionals are in particularly high demand among NZ businesses.

How can you stand out when a promotion comes up?

Firstly, Pete says, you simply need to throw your hat into the ring. “Your manager will take note of people that are wanting to step up and take on new responsibilities. If you don’t put your hand up, you won’t get the opportunity to have a go.” He also notes that good companies will want to grow people within their organisation, so you should feel confident going into this situation that they’re going to back you, if they think you’re the right fit.

However, he emphasises that you need to be able to back up your claim that you’re ready. “You need to be prepared for that conversation with the hiring manager – they’re going to want to know why you think you’re ready for this,” Pete explains.

So, what evidence can you use?

This comes down to demonstrating how what you’ve done to date in your career, or any new skills you’ve gained, will set you up for success in the role you’re going for, Pete says.

“Look at the people who’ve filled that role before – what is their background? How has their career path led them there? This can help you match your skillset to the role requirements, and show you can pick up where they’re leaving off.”

You'll need to be able to demonstrate how you will handle the additional responsibilities if an internal promotion opportunity comes up.

What mistakes do you see people making when looking to make these kinds of career advancements?

“It’s common to see people pull the trigger too soon, and apply for higher roles before they’re ready,” Pete says. He explains it’s important to really reflect on whether you think you’re all set to take on the additional responsibilities that would come with the position. Again, thinking about how your skills compare to the current person in that job is a good way to gauge this.

Pete also emphasises that, if you come to the conclusion that you’re not ready this time around, that it’s still a great idea to have a chat to your manager, if this is the direction you want to go in. “Sitting down with your manager and saying: ‘This is a role of interest in terms of where I’m looking to progress in my career. I don’t believe I’m there yet, but I'd be interested in some feedback from you on how I can get there. What do i need to focus on?’” This is a great conversation to have, says Pete. Not only does it show you’re keen to grow and learn, but it also demonstrates great self-awareness, which is something organisations value.

A common mistake Pete sees is people going into management roles when their passion and skills lie in the technical side of things: “We see this all the time, the best coder gets promoted, and then this person isn't happy loving life, because they never wanted to do management duties. They took the role because it was a promotion, and then discovered it’s just not for them.”

Pete says there are plenty of really senior roles that are technically based. He gives the career trajectory example of developer to technical lead to an API and software architect. He also makes the point that his team rarely finds technical people “sitting on the bench” unable to find work, while this does happen more frequently with managers.

What would you say to someone who’s feeling frustrated about not getting where they want?

Have a think about why this might be, Pete advises. “Is there something you can work on to get you closer to your goal?”. Again, seeking advice from a mentor within your company can be of real benefit here.

He also stresses that it’s vital not to let your frustrations show: “Stay positive, stay optimistic. There’s a great saying in sales, it’s only a NO today, or NO may just mean NOT NOW.”

Who else can you turn to for progression tips?

On top of mentors within your organisation, Pete suggests talking to a recruiter, even if you’re not looking to change jobs. “I get this quite a bit,” Pete says. “People often reach out with their career goals and ask if they’re heading in the right direction.”

“As recruiters, we look at profiles everyday, which means we’re aware of a whole lot of different paths that will get someone to a specific role. You just have to ask.”