Add a Staffing Firm to Your Job Search Arsenal

Today's turbulent economy has made job search efforts more challenging -- and nerve-racking -- for those in IT.

Even under stable economic conditions, job searches can be frustrating. Networking nonstop, pursuing leads that don't pan out and keeping a constant watch on job boards can become draining and stressful. In the tech industry, an additional challenge is finding a position that takes advantage of your skills and allows for professional growth.

Whether you're actively seeking a new position or are just having doubts about your job security, a staffing firm can provide peace of mind as well as practical career assistance.

If you're unemployed, registering with a staffing firm can ease the pressure to produce results on your own (though you should continue pursuing your own leads). In most cases, you visit the firm once, register and take appropriate skills tests. Then, assuming you've chosen the right firm, a team of well-connected staffing professionals works to find you a suitable position. Because of their long-standing relationships with employers, they often can open doors to opportunities that haven't been advertised or announced. That gives you an advantage over the legions of job seekers scouring publicly available listings.

If you're employed, working with a staffing firm can improve your career's overall health. A good staffing firm doesn't just link you to a job -- it also provides free training to help you fill any gaps that may limit you now or in the future. For example, a recruiting professional might help you identify a key skill that employers seek, or help you revamp your r?sum? to showcase your most marketable strengths.

Avoid Career Dead Ends

For IT professionals concerned about their long-term career growth , finding an attractive position is only half the battle. All too often, an initially appealing job reveals itself to be a career detour or dead end. By connecting you to part-time or project-based work that can lead to full-time employment with the same employer, staffing firms enable you to make better-informed career decisions.

In fact, the flexibility of consulting or project-based work is what draws many IT professionals to staffing firms. Such positions provide ample opportunities to broaden your skills and marketability by exposing you to new technologies, companies and work environments -- without making a long-term commitment. You're free to accept or decline assignments, so you have greater control over your work schedule.

Some staffing firms also provide access to health care benefits or offer paid vacation time, making it easier to forgo traditional full-time jobs.

Get the Most Out of the Partnership

Be sure to choose your staffing firm carefully. The most helpful ones for many skilled IT professionals are those specializing in technology. Watch out for staffing managers who seem to lack a sense of what technology skills are in demand. Avoid any organization that requires you to pay even a small fee -- reputable firms don't charge you for job-hunting assistance.

Once you start working with a staffing firm, be honest and specific about the technologies and work environments you prefer. Keep in touch with your staffing manager and voice any concerns you may have. And after each interview, let him know how it went -- this information may ultimately help him find you the best opportunities.

While some job seekers may still think of staffing firms as primarily a way to find a job as quickly as possible, the potential benefits of working with a staffing firm are much greater than that. That's especially true in IT, where a position that meets your current needs as well as your long-term goals can be quite elusive. In essence, staffing firms can provide the support, connections and tools IT professionals need to build rock-solid careers that weather any economic condition.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology , a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.

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