Finding that dream job--and keeping it--is not rocket science. You just need a combination of the right skills, good work ethics, a positive attitude, and creative thinking.
Whether it is a technical or business role, the basic rules apply: behave professionally, be confident, stand out from the crowd, and always push the creative envelope in whatever you do.
Here's a list of 10 quick career tips, ranging from how to write an effective resume to what IT professionals in Asia can do to stay employable throughout their careers.
1. Get noticed
Make sure that your resume or curriculm vitae (CV) stands out.
Ashran Dato Ghazi, CEO of Malaysia-based Asiastream Group, said: "[Recruiters] look at tones of CVs daily and you need something to catch their attention. Show your character via your CV."
Fresh graduates, he suggested, should make full use of their time in university to build up their portfolios. "Use the university as a place for exploration and share those explorations in your CVs," said Ghazi, who is also the president of the New Entrepreneur Forum in Malaysia. "Employers want to see something different in the CV."
Those who have working experience should do more than state their job scope. "Highlight your achievements in your CV, too, said Yeo Gek Cheng, director of Hudson's IT&T (IT and telecommunications) practice in Asia.
"A 65:35 split between achievements and scope is a good rule of thumb," Yeo added. "Employers tend to single out candidates who fulfill the basic essential hard skills requirements before evaluating their fit into the organization, which is the stage where soft skills are looked into. (Read Hudson's career support resources for more information.)
One way to differentiate yourself is to attain professional certification. Employers are showing more preference for candidates with recognized certifications such as Cisco's CCIE or Sun Microsystems' Certified Java programmers, said Maneck Mohan, founder of Recruit.net.
2. Write a good CV
Customize each CV to each job application, advised Stella Thevarakam, regional HR director for ISS Consulting, a technology consulting company with operations in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.
"A CV should not be a general one that you churn out in large numbers and send to different organizations. It must be specific to the requirement of a particular vacancy," said Thevarakam.
The HR practitioner noted that writing CVs is about selling oneself, which begins with knowing exactly what the recruiter is looking for in a candidate.
"And if that area is their strength, [candidates] should emphasize it," Thevarakam noted. "It would be good to state some actual project experience where they had used that knowledge. This would definitely add value to the application and be a sure way of getting shortlisted."
What about those who do not have specialized skills but are interested to take up new challenges? "This should be clearly stated as well, as some organization like to take in people who have the interest and train them," Thevarakam noted.
Candidates seeking a new challenge should make sure they state their intentions, clearly and to the point. Beautifully written, long-winded CVs are lost on recruiters who are generally not inclined to read the entire document. "They usually put it away half way through reading it," said Thevarakam.
3. Use your network
Personal contacts can be useful when you're looking for a job.
Hudson's Yeo said: "While the regular methods of job search include looking at the newspapers' recruitment section, online recruitment portals and meeting with recruitment specialists, bear in mind that networking can also be key in finding jobs.
"This means getting the word out to relevant helpful parties such as colleagues, peers and relatives, who can assist you in your search by looking out for you," she added.
4. Strong communication skills
In addition to technical skills, Robert Lim, vice president of corporate affairs for SMR Technologies, noted the need for IT professionals in Malaysia, for example, to have a good grasp of the English langague. This would enable the country to maintain its competitive edge, Lim said.
Besides language, basic business etiquette such as dressing properly, reporting for work on time, and showing interest in the job by doing some homework on the company or the job that they are keen on, are also important, he added.
5. Walk the talk
Be it an IT sales or technical job, it is important to know what you need to do to keep your job. "Being able to talk about your business plans and strategy in-depth is not sufficient; you also need to be able to bring the plan to fruition and generate results and contribute to your company's bottom line," said Hudson's Yeo.
Hard skills and soft skills go hand-in-hand in any job, whether you intend to keep your job or move up the career leader. "We see several candidates who have excellent technical skills but face difficulties articulating their thoughts," she added. "On the flip side, we also see candidates who can present impressive business strategies before an audience but lack the ability to follow up with an action plan."
6. Think like an entrepreneur
Don't be complacent. And, it doesn't mean you cannot be entrepreneurial if you're working for someone. These days, said Ghazi, employers are looking for people who do not only have the required skills but who "think entrepreneurially", too.
"Yes, you can think like an entrepreneur without [taking on] the risk of being one," he added. "Of course, it has to be to the benefit of the company and not for their own benefit. Always give ideas and suggest new ways of doing things. Dynamic companies love this."
7. Comply with company policy
There are some surefire ways for IT professionals to lose their job. Yeo explained: "The failure to comply with important rules which require strict adherence is likely to result in the loss of a job. These include insider trading and embezzling of corporate funds. Prolonged inefficiency at work such as not or under-performing, or the inability to show quantifiable results, is another area to take note of.
"We had a case where a candidate was fired because he was found sleeping on the job," she said. "In some job roles that require one to sit still and face the computer the entire day, such as IT development work, the immobility does eventually take its toll on the individual." But this, as Yeo noted, is one excuse that some employers do not take lightly.
Browsing the Web for personal use during working hours can get you into trouble, too. Thevarakam said: "A sure [dismissal] is watching or going into a porn site. Downloading illegal software and chatting or gossiping about the company or its people with other colleagues, is also a sure way of getting on the wrong side of your employer. In some extreme cases, it could end in a dismissal as well."
8. Apply knowledge the right way
A one way of committing career suicide is to abuse the IT knowledge one has, for example, by using specialized IT skills to conduct prohibited activities such as hacking into the systems or gaining access into information that is private and confidential, said Thevarakam.
9. Keep learning
IT professionals should find ways to keep up with what is happening in the industry and not depend entirely on the company to send them for seminars, courses and exhibitions. Lim said: "Knowledge and exposure is not expensive and can be acquired on their own with some effort and time on the Internet, associations, blogging and IT fairs, to stay updated on current developments, the players, and the latest innovations."
IT professionals should also continue to update their knowledge by requesting for training, or reading up on new skills in the market and keeping abreast of the latest technologies. Thevarakam added that they should always be proactive and pursue new knowledge.
10. Be open
"They should also be willing to enlarge their scope like wanting to try or take on new challenges," said Thevarakam. "For example, if you are a fresh graduate and have been brought in as a SAP consultant but there is a need [within the company] for someone trained in Peoplesoft, and the company is willing to train you, you should want to be trained and widen your knowledge.
"Being stubborn to just pursue only one specific skill can make one quite redundant," she noted. "The interest to learn and widen one's knowledge in more than one field is one way of keeping your job."
A good attitude and keen interest to go the extra mile in the course of one's work is an added value to any job. Lim said: "A surefire way to get the pink slip is to be stubborn, and to refuse to accept change and not take responsibility for team performance."