Top 10 tips for moving up the IT career ladder

climbing corporate ladder

It's a great time to have technical skills. Almost every company now has a digital strategy or has incorporated innovative IT into every strand of the business. That means there are more jobs to go around.

And all kinds of different industries are hungry for tech talent. Recruitment specialist Astbury Marsden said in November that the "digital agenda" was behind a 46 per cent year-over-year rise in hiring activity in the London finance sector. Meanwhile, the number of security jobs in the UK has almost doubled, according to reports.

Adam Jackson, a director at Astbury Marsden, summed it up perfectly: "IT seems to be back in vogue."

But how do IT folk stand out from the crowd in an increasingly busy market? And how can they move up the ladder once they're in the industry? Here's some top tips on what and (what not) to do to improve chances of employment

Sharpen up your CV

A typical CV is just line after line of text. But those who customise a CV so the relevant information is displayed clearly and effectively will have a much greater chance of landing a job in IT.

"It really irritates me when I have to search through the CV to find relevant information to the role I've advertised. A fortnight ago, I interviewed someone who I told during the interview, I didn't like their CV, that it was difficult to find the relevant information, and that it wasn't clear why he had moved between jobs so often he said I get that a lot' needless to say he wasn't shortlisted," says Graeme Hackland, IT director for the Williams Formula One team.

"If a candidate can't put the time to getting their CV right when they're advised to by potential employers how likely is it that their work will be thorough?"

Don't overdo it

But there's no need to go overboard. Though video CVs or web CVs embellished with snazzy HTML5 are becoming more common, these need to be suited to the role in question and not too ostentatious. "Use of too many graphics, the purple Dingbats font and so on will just ensure that not only is your CV dumped, but burnt in an incinerator," says founder of analyst firm Quocirca, Clive Longbottom.

This isn't wholly aesthetic. Some organisations will use automated systems to look through CVs, so anything that can't be scanned by a program will be missed.

Target your CV correctly

It's often forgotten, but you have to model your CV around the role and the details listed by the employer.

"For example applying for a job with a software vendor, the CV may be best put together along the lines of I have 150 years' experience in Python and Ruby. I have managed a 6 trillion project that delivered a major software package on time and on budget that solved world hunger and the Middle East crisis. I fully understand DevOps and the way that such an approach can deliver continuous product and so continuous improvement and revenues for the company'," adds Longbottom.

Get your online profile in order

It's not only the CV itself that matters. Applicants' online profiles, including all their social networks, need to be clean of incriminating facts or information that might jeopardise any future employment because businesses will look over them during the hiring process.

If a candidate can't put the time to getting their CV right when they're advised to by potential employers how likely is it that their work will be thorough?

"A CV doesn't tell the whole story. Before I would offer anyone a job I would Google them, look at their public' persona, and look at their contribution to social media. Do they tweet? Do they blog? Do they have interesting contributions to make? I would also see if they contribute to online groups like GitHub or Spiceworks - how do their peers rate them? Do they seem like a nice person online? Or are they a troll-in-waiting?" asks Alex Robinson, previously CIO at Aviva, now co-founder and director of the tech start-up GovernorHub.

Employment history

Any job application should include numerous examples of previous work. Anyone just entering the market should consider volunteering opportunities to demonstrate a level of practical experience, says Stephanie Fernandes, principal policy advisor for education and innovation at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET).

For everyone else, it's important to read the job role clearly to determine which parts of your working life history should be emphasised most. It's also important to spell out how examples of good work helped the business, not just the IT department, especially now tech types are vital to most organisations' strategy.

This means providing a thorough explanation of "the business impact of the work you have done, not just the projects you have worked on", adds Robinson.

Prove you can do more anywhere

It also means you'll have to provide evidence that you can work with the people who use IT systems, not just the people who build and maintain them, says Robinson. Whilst technical skills are valuable, the ability to learn fast, deal with pressure, be creative in solving problems and communicate effectively are all highly valued, he adds.

"The one thing that I think needs to be on an IT pro CV nowadays [is] evidence of collaborative working across traditional lines of demarcation," says Dale Vile, co-founder of analyst firm Freeform Dynamics.

Show your personality

To show you're personable it's advisable not to downplay interests outside of work. "I want rounded, interesting people to work for me," says Hackland.

"Technical skills are important if I'm looking for a project manager I want someone with some relevant experience (or a database analyst, network specialist, etc.), but by far and away it's the right personality I'm after that's where those rounded individuals come into their own. Those who can reflect their personalities in their CV have a better chance of getting to interview."

But not too much...

Don't go too in-depth into your personal life, however. Keep it relevant. "What shouldn't go in? That you were Joseph or Mary in the school play, that you got a grade F' in woodwork at secondary school, that your interests include shooting white rhino in Africa at weekends. All the filler on the far past is just that filler. It all makes your CV look just like 98 per cent of the rest so it is more likely to get dumped," adds Longbottom.

Don't lie

It's amazing how many people embellish their CVs to the point where they are just lying. It's OK to emphasise truths, not to make up facts.

"Sure, you read all the time about people who got away with such hyperbole for a time but you may well not. And being caught lying can have impacts further down the line if such a practice is made clear to any bureaux that you may be considering using," Longbottom adds.

Keep control of your CV

Thousands can now apply for a single job through online systems and technologies that trawl job listings and upload CVs. It's important to check those technologies are tailored so the CV is being pushed to the right roles, not to all and sundry.

Longbottom advises: "Question [the providers of those technologies] how do they profile the job and match the candidate? What success rate do they really have? How will they use the information you provide is it just a standard CV that gets scattergunned to everyone, or will they fill in standardised forms as needed and make sure that the company offering the position has all the information they need?"

Good luck!

Though there's a lot to take on board here, and searching and applying for jobs can be stressful, but keep in mind that there are a lot of opportunities out there.

The IET's Skills & Demand in Industry Report 2014 revealed 41 per cent of organisations are planning to recruit engineering, IT or technical staff in the next 12 months, up five per cent from 2013.

"There has never been a better time to work in the IT industry with demand outstripping supply," adds Fernandes.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.