By Katherine Spencer Lee | January 2007

Dice is pleased to introduce a new monthly IT career column, Ask the IT Career Doctor, with Katherine Spencer Lee, Executive Director of Robert Half Technology. Robert Half Technology is a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Once per month, Katherine will respond to an IT career-related question from a Dice reader. This month, she responds to an IT professional who supports an ERP system that is being phased out.

I am a 25-year veteran of the IT industry, and I've worked as a VMS systems manager, programmer/analyst, project leader and systems/business analyst. I currently support a home-grown ERP system that is scheduled to be replaced in about three years. My job will go away at that time. I am trying to decide what to do next. I'm currently enrolled in a .NET developer certificate program. I am also considering a move to computer security, as I've read it is a booming field. What do you recommend?

Katherine Spencer Lee responds:
Searching for a new job is never an easy task, but you are in a good position to make a smooth career move - whether it's a month or several years from now. You not only have extensive experience in the IT field but also likely possess strong hard and soft skills, as evidenced by the various roles you have held. By continuing to develop your skill set and keeping abreast of industry trends, you are also increasing your marketability and chances of landing a new position.

Here's some more good news: According to the most recent Robert Half Technology IT Hiring and Skills Report, employment optimism among chief information officers (CIOs) surveyed is the highest it has been since the fourth quarter of 2001. The market for specialized roles - such as .NET, XML and Ajax developers; security analysts; and data warehouse managers - is increasingly tight, and employers are compensating skilled professionals well.

But there are still more ways you can boost your marketability. Earning industry-specific certifications, for example, may give you an edge over other applicants with similar skills and help you land a more lucrative job. In fact, CIOs polled in a recent Robert Half Technology survey rated certification in a relevant technology as the third most valuable qualification when deciding between candidates with similar attributes, behind only relevant experience and soft skills. Certifications show potential employers that you are familiar with a particular technology or practice and demonstrate your commitment to ongoing career growth.

Your decision to enroll in a .NET developer certificate program is a good one: Those who possess .NET development skills are in high demand. With renewed budgets in hand, many companies are upgrading old systems, and high on the priority list is the migration to .NET technology. Firms already relying on Microsoft products are particularly motivated to make the shift to .NET as they strive to create dynamic web applications. They need experienced IT professionals who can help with these initiatives.

But a certification is most valuable when accompanied by on-the-job experience. Once you've obtained the .NET designation, you should consider volunteering for projects at your current company that include .NET components.

You also mentioned computer security as a growing field, and I agree that the sector is poised for strong growth in the coming years. Companies of all sizes and from all industries need skilled professionals who can manage an enterprisewide security strategy, including the assessment of network vulnerabilities, virus prevention and intrusion detection. A recent Robert Half Technology survey of 1,400 CIOs revealed that network security improvements were the highest priority CIOs have for their IT departments.

Whatever career path you choose, it's essential to update your resume to reflect the new skills and certifications you acquire, and tailor it specifically to each position you apply for. Creating an effective resume - especially for professionals with decades of experience like yourself - can be challenging. While you want to showcase your diverse skill set, you don't want to overwhelm hiring managers with a list of every job you've held. Not only will this result in a convoluted document, but it also may cause some employers to view you as overqualified. The key is to highlight experiences and accomplishments that relate directly to the role you seek.

While there will be plenty of employment opportunities -  not just in security and .NET development, but in all of IT - before you accept a new position, consider reassessing your long-term career goals. Project work could give you the break you need for a carefully thought-out career transition. By working for a time as an IT project professional, you could gain exposure to a larger variety of assignments, work environments and industries, while broadening your skill set. Project assignments also can lead to offers of full-time employment.

A variety of career opportunities exist for seasoned IT staff  - even those interested in transitioning to a new area of expertise. Consider how, in light of additional demand for your talents, you can market your skills appropriately and continue to find challenges as you pursue a new path.

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 in North America, Europe and Asia.