Gaining a promotion gets tougher as you climb the career ladder. Job specifications get broader and more demanding; corporate politics gets trickier; and there are more people to manage.
However, experts say that you can increase your chances of career advancement through clear thinking, training, and a little networking.
These tips will help you clinch that coveted new job in IT management.
1. Improve your business/management skills
A successful career in IT is no longer just about your ability to keep up with the latest technologies. Being a great developer or engineer doesn’t necessarily mean that you have all the right attributes to become a successful IT leader or future CIO.
“Develop a strong understanding of the business. IT is no longer seen as a ‘necessary evil’ that businesses begrudgingly accept,” says Stuart Packham, director of Michael Page Technology, a recruitment consultancy.
“It is very much core to an organisation’s competitive advantage and growth strategy. As an IT Manager, you must demonstrate you understand the industry you operate in, the growth strategy for your business/functional area and the key pain points. This will enable you to effectively provide IT services that are in line with the business.”
Being able to build a strong business case for new projects and demonstrate a clear return on investment from past ones will further boost your career prospects. And with outsourcing now widespread within IT, business processes experience in managing suppliers – their performance and contract renewals – is also highly valued. Procurement skills will also be useful should you decide to move into another career outside IT.
“Negotiating good deals and managing partnerships with your IT suppliers are now ‘must-haves’ for any IT leader, so ensure you are involved in any discussions and take a lead role,” Packham adds.
Qualifications such as Prince 2, the project management methodology, are useful when going for promotion.
3. Keep technical skills up-to-date. Learn hot new skills.
Programming languages, methodologies, hardware and software change regularly. The only way to keep yourself in demand is to ensure you are not only up to speed with the current market, but also be aware of what's coming up.
After a couple of years of austerity there are signs that corporate IT budgets are beginning to rise as companies invest in new technology. This trend means that IT managers with knowledge of programming/application development languages -- such as .Net, Java, Web development, open source and portal technologies such as Microsoft’s Sharepoint -- will be at an advantage in the jobs market.
As ever, senior candidates with a good knowledge of IT security and governance are also in demand.
4. Network within your company
Networking within and outside your IT department can help fast-track your career.
“[Networking] can create a good foundation for professionals seeking promotion,” says Jim Albert, managing director at Modis International, a recruitment company specialising in IT and Engineering. “Building relationships with trustworthy colleagues who can provide appropriate career advice and help you raise your profile through social interaction, both in the office and online, is a good approach.”
Leadership credentials can also be demonstrated by asking for constructive criticism of a project you managed, and then responding to the feedback. Mentor more junior colleagues and find a more experienced colleague to act as your own mentor within the company.
Take control of your career. Work out, roughly, where you’d like to be in a couple of years, five years and 10 years, and plan how you’ll get there.
“If you are waiting for your IT Director to move on, retire or create a new job for you, it is likely you will be left behind,” Packham says. “By taking accountability for your own career and self development you stand a much better chance of being promoted. Spend time talking to your line manager about their thoughts on your opportunities, and what they think you need to work on.”
Always ensure you have a wide range of skills to cover your role. It is very easy to get blinkered in IT and concentrate in one area, but the more you diversify, the more experience you will have for the future, says Andy Gardner, senior divisional director at Reed Technology, the specialist IT recruitment arm of Reed - the recruitment company. He adds: “Even if something doesn't seem applicable at the moment, it could be in years to come.”
There may be areas of IT that you don't use at work but do use in your own time. Don't be afraid to make this known, as your manager can't know of your hidden knowledge unless you tell them.
“Position yourself so you are the person to ‘go to in your organisation on a certain topic, whether it is Sharepoint, Silverlight or Exchange Server. The positive personal PR from this will elevate you [within the company],” Gardner says.
6. Improve your social skills
Of course, being a good manager requires strong communication skills. These so-called “soft skills” can be hard to quantify, but you will need to provide evidence of them in order to progress into senior management.
Experience in recruiting staff, and helping to maximise their potential through training and career development, is another hallmark of a well-rounded manager. Experience in this area is easy to pick up.
“Get involved in hiring new staff, learn about good (and bad) interviews, offer to mentor junior staff,” Packham says. “Quite often your promotion will rely upon the fact that there is a natural successor for your role. Have you thought about this or been so focused on your own goals?”