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Remember for your tech job search: Titles can change, but skill sets matter more

And more of-the-moment tips for job seekers, from technologists who've been there.

The tech job search is changing. (Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels)
Correction: Marissa Taffer was misidentified in an earlier version of this story. It has been corrected. (4/5/21, 11:30 a.m.)

In this odd past year, the tech jobs landscape has proven to be resilient, yet as subject to trends as the technology its practitioners use on a daily basis.

For those looking for a new role, it often takes more than a call with a recruiter to land something great, especially during this time of all-virtual-everything. So, what are some things that tech job seekers should keep in mind when looking for opportunities in the sector now?

During a recent meeting with technologists from around the mid-Atlantic, they shared what they think job seekers should keep in mind when looking for work in 2021 in beyond.

Job titles can change, but skill sets are what matters.

It’s important for tech job seekers and recruiters to both be cognizant of the fact that possession of transferrable skill sets is more important than any given title, especially when applying for a role that at its face sounds different from titles you’ve held in the past.

Think Company EVP Phil Charron remembered a retirement dinner he attended for someone retiring from the aerospace industry. An older gentleman next to him asked what he did for a living, and as he struggled to explain user experience work and design to the man, the older man stopped him. It turned out he was a former NASA employee who designed the dashboard for one of the first lunar landers.

That experience taught Charron a valuable lesson: “People have done this [before] under different job titles,” he said. “There’s different specializations and that kind of stuff changes [over time]. We are not doing a good job of of tracking that and helping people enter the industry or adapt their careers because of all of this title inflation or title migration.”

And Marissa Taffer, who runs M. Taffer Consulting, said the first decade of her career saw her using her communications skills in the tourism and travel industries before she realized that she had a project management skill set.

“I started to look around and realized from a compensation standpoint that a lot of the work that I was doing was really what we call project management, but when a communications manager does it, we tend to pay them about 50% less than somebody with the project management title,” she said.

After starting work as a project manager, she said, within two years, she increased her salary by almost $30,000.

Yes, networking still matters.

Networking has long been a way to increase familiarity with potential employers. This remains important when events have moved online.

As a Data Philly organizer, Ramaa Nathan — also the director of data science at life sciences company Eversana — says staying connected to other data professionals has been helpful for members, particularly at a time when the pandemic has changed how people meet each other.

“We maintain a constant virtual presence by trying to bring people together,” she said. “We continue to have our monthly speaker events and for the last six months we were conducting online workshops. Whatever we would be doing in person, we have been trying to translate that to our job presence and when we have speaker events, we also end up with similar networking events that has been super helpful connecting people for jobs.”

Technologists need to balance art and engineering.

While much is made of the latest tech skills needed for roles, Kibo Commerce senior architect Jeremy Stanton emphasized the need to value process and users’ needs when considering tech jobs. Communicate you can do both when applying to technical roles.

“Whether it’s software engineering, UI/UX design or project management, there’s way more art to what we do than actual engineering,” he said. “You have to understand the people engaged, what they want and then the process. There’s got to be some product that is the result of a process that then allows you to apply the technology.”

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

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