Looking for a job in tech? You'll need the relevant qualifications and experience, but more importantly, the right attitude.
ZDNet Asia posed several often-asked questions about IT career opportunities to Chong Yoke Sin, CEO of NCS, a Singapore-based infocomm technology service provider.
Read what she says are the best ways to ensure career advancement and the top 5 must-have attributes of any IT job seeker.
Q. What do you look for in a new hire? Can you share your list of key attributes that a candidate should possess?
A. When we meet up with potential candidates, we generally look out for these attributes:
- Competency match between job requirements and skillsets of the candidate
- Leadership qualities
- Effective communications and people management skills
- Flexibility, including a willingness to travel extensively and to relocate if necessary
- 'Never say die' or 'can do' attitude
- Fits into the organization's culture
What specific paper qualifications and/or certifications do you require a potential candidate to possess?
Depending on the nature of the job, the candidate should possess the relevant professional qualifications required. For IT hires, our preference is for staff with qualifications from IT-related field of studies. Our project managers must be experienced hires. Our programmers must have at a minimum, a diploma, and our business analysts who start out must have a degree.
Certifications can be, and are usually, acquired on the job. For some positions, we might need certifications like CMMI, Certified IT Project Managers. If we are looking for experienced hires, then having the relevant certifications would weigh in the candidate’s favor.
For non-IT positions within the NCS Group like sales or consulting, we would give opportunities to candidates who are not trained in the IT field. However, the candidate would have to pick up the necessary IT skills and domain knowledge on the job. We would also assess the candidate's level of creativity, willingness and ability to learn fast.
We are particularly keen on having candidates with the necessary post-graduate studies or any professional development programs. For example, our contract managers would have to have a law degree and have practised as litigators. Our HR directors must similarly be qualified in human resource management.
Do certificates add more "monetary" value (i.e. more pay) to a job hunter's resume?
Relevant experience and a positive attitude can be more important than certifications. Certificates coupled with successful experiences can add more monetary value to the resume. The value of the certificate would depend on the type; those that involve a lot of experiential and hands-on learning would be valued more highly.
Considering how tough it is to combine studies and work in today's fast-paced IT industry, how would you advise IT professionals who are technically trained but who now want to move on to a more business-focused or management-type role (eg. project managers, business development directors, and CIOs)? What should they do to better prepare themselves for a career change?
At NCS, we exercise flexibility in people deployment. We constantly encourage the good performers, who are open to less-technical roles, to build up their management experience and capability. What makes the difference is their willingness to try a new environment and a different job scope. We will share with them possible career paths.
How can they go about preparing themselves? What are we looking out for? Firstly, I would advise them to acquire effective communication skills. For management and sales jobs, this skill is of utmost importance. They can engage in personal or professional development programmes to brush up this skill.
Secondly, they should acquire domain skills for the particular domain/business that they are in or intend to move into. This will put them in a good position to engage the customers more deeply.
Thirdly, they should sharpen their analytical skills throughout their careers. Technical training gives a strong grounding for subsequent success in sales and management, because ultimately they are selling IT solutions and must be able to make a successful pitch.
Do you draw up a career development path for every IT executive? Could you give an example of one, say, for an IT systems analyst/administrator?
Yes, we do have both management and technical/professional careers in NCS Group. Every staff is encouraged to have an individual development plan that is discussed with their bosses. In it, specific on-the-job training, classroom courses and intended exposure to different jobs are specified in order for staff to be aware of the areas that can help lead them towards the desired career path.
There is also a career development plan for each and every benchmarked IT position. For an IT entry-level staff, depending on their career inclination, they should be able to see their career paths heading either toward the technical side or business management. Both paths can lead to career advancement opportunities.
How do you decide what kind of IT employees to hire on contract basis, as opposed to permanent employment?
Permanent employees must have a potential for a long-term career with NCS in the various disciplines or skillset. These are typically core positions required to help the company build and develop long-term competencies aligned with business changes. We hire contract programmers, IT specialists, operators, for work that is of a temporary nature. Sometimes, we offer permanent positions to good contract staff, with their agencies’ consent.
Are IT executives who are on contract less likely to progress up the corporate ladder, compared to full-time/permanent staff?
We give priority and resources to our full-time/permanent staff who dedicate their career life to NCS. Therefore, it is necessary for us to plan their career progression.
Contract staff who prove their worth can be converted to permanent status and thus enjoy the same career progression as others. These contract staff will then have the same opportunities as all staff and stand an equal chance of progression in different business areas. However, we need to take note that there is a growing number of workers who like to work on a short-term basis
The job landscape has changed over the last few years: pink slips are no longer uncommon, and employees now constantly worry about layoffs and cutbacks. Should IT professionals be duly concerned, especially those on contract? What should they do to avoid being on the chopping board?
I believe that any staff, whether they are contract or permanent, would not have to worry about being on the chopping board, if they are diligent, flexible and add value professionally to the organization. It is important for IT professionals to keep themselves constantly upgraded on new skills and technologies so that they stay relevant to the industry and valuable to the organization.
There are two reasons for being on the chopping board, generally--ineptitude and business reasons.
People say that the higher up the corporate ladder you climb, and sometimes, the older you are, the harder it will be to change jobs. How would you advise someone in this predicament who's looking for a career change?
I think that age is only in the mind of the person. The stigma attached to being older arises from the presumption that the candidate is looking for the same sort of pay that he used to get at his last peak, and that he is unwilling to change, he is slow to learn, and he has less energy than someone who is younger. However, I have seen many people in their fifties who defy this perception. So really, it is up to the individual to let his or her attitude and experiences shine through. Again, they should keep themselves constantly upgraded on new skills and technologies, make themselves valuable to the organization.
List the top 5 prerequisites you look for in an employee, regardless of his/her discipline or job function.
- Match between job requirements and skillsets of candidate
- Good attitude like perseverance, integrity, flexibility, and leadership qualities
- Communication skills (written and oral)
- Global mindset
- Analytical skills
List the top 3 attributes you feel are still sorely missing and/or needs improvement in many candidates in the IT industry today.
- Global mindset
- Communications skills
- Right attitude like perseverance and flexibility
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