When the job search hits a brick wall

Don't give up. Expand your business contacts, and let your network speak for you.

Looking for IT career advice? Send us your question, and we'll get our experts to answer.

Q. I had two years of marketing experience in the automobile industry and three years of call-center experience before I joined a top school in the United States to complete my MBA.

Thereafter, I co-founded a medical devices startup which won prestigious awards but ran into patent problems and had to be shut down 12 months later. Since then, I have been trying to get into marketing and strategy jobs for IT and dot-com companies but have been facing a brick wall because of a "lack of technology experience". As a backup plan, I even tried to break into hardware firms but the "lack of technology experience" hounds me there as well. With good credentials and high standardized test scores (98th percentile in the Graduate Management Admissions Test), I seem to be unsuitable for small companies, whereas all others view me as lacking the required technology experience. I seem to have hit a dead end with this and would really appreciate any advice.

Bal Krishna

Note: Letters are edited for clarity.

Career advice from Saw Ken Wye, vice president, sales and marketing, Microsoft Asia-Pacific:
Well, what Krishna needs is to get his foot through the door. Responding to advertisements obviously isn't working out well. I would try a plan B, but it will take a bit of time. He can join the local computer society to extend his network of contacts. The idea is to get active in their activities and to volunteer to join an organizing committee. People will then have the opportunity to get to know Krishna and what he stands for. Building a network is important, and he can tap on his contacts to help him find a job or be your reference. About half of the people we hire are referrals. Referrals get through the door faster and having someone speak on your behalf can drastically change opinions. The conversation shifts from experience to capabilities and attributes. And in this area, direct or relevant experience takes a back seat. While it may not be obvious, experience only meets a short-term need. What you are and how you can contribute is about the future. I used Singapore Computer Society as a way to meet people in the community. There are also other similar venues to help broaden your 'personal' network.

Career advice from Andrew Sansom, director, DP Search:
Although the IT job market is picking up rapidly now, it is a different kind of market from what we 'enjoyed' in the pre-bust era up to 2001. Nowadays employers are looking for the best fit to their requirements.The don't want to take risks. They may have head-count, but they are not going to fill it with anyone unless they feel that person is a sure-win for the role. IT generalists are having a hard time, people with specialist skills that are not so sought-after now are also going to find it tough. There has to be some focus, some domain knowledge to impress the employer that you are going to be a low risk hire.

You sound like an entrepreneur, someone who has started a business and done well, even though you eventually ran into problems. You have a rich and diverse background and the IT community needs people like you with fresh ideas and ability to think creatively outside the box. I have three suggestions:

  1. Take up a graduate diploma course in systems analysis at the Institute of Systems Science. It is a conversion course for experienced people who want to break into IT. It is not a long course, and it will equip you well for a career in IT, either in a technical role, or perhaps a marketing role. You will learn enough about IT to impress employers and the take up rate for these graduates is high now.
  2. Use your undoubted business skills to start a company or a small business of your own in IT, possibly in partnership with others, who may have better domain knowledge than you.
  3. Just keep the faith and keep plugging away and send your CV to 100 more potential employers. Broaden your search criteria and apply for anything which looks interesting, even entry-level jobs. To give yourself a better chance, you might want to focus on IT jobs which could leverage off your automobile, call center or medical products experiences. Don't wait for advertisements, send your CV to those companies and highlight your relevance to them. Be prepared for a lot of rejection for the reasons stated above, but if you have the stamina and desire, you may yet make the breakthrough.
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