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Profile: Switching Industries Is A Tough Career Move

One IT pro's experience involves a failed Google interview, but ultimately success

The pressures of working for an investment bank and facing department reorganizations and the specter of outsourcing were finally too much for Michael O'Brien. With 10 years as a Java programmer and software designer in financial services, O'Brien decided it was time to work in a different industry. What he learned was how hard it can be to make that move when there is so much emphasis on industry knowledge.

O'Brien wanted to stay in New York, and the bank was moving programming work to lower-cost sites. "I grew tired of constantly having to reapply for my job," he says. "Most of the coding work was getting sent to Houston, and later most of that work was going to India. I got stuck with project planning and started to feel like my programming skills were getting rusty." O'Brien started his search in February, and within four weeks had interviewed with several companies. "It's a good time for IT job hunters in New York," he says.

Most recruiters aren't keen on helping people jump industries, O'Brien learned. "Headhunters work on volume, and it's much easier and faster for them to place you in the same job you've got right now at another company," he says.

But O'Brien was determined to find a position in a new industry. He interviewed with Google, which now has more than 200 engineers in New York, and calls his 2-1/2-hour phone interview with Google "the hardest technical interview I've ever had." Says O'Brien: "I flunked the interview." But he wrote down the questions he got wrong, researched the answers, and used them in later interviews when he got some similar questions. And he landed a job with Condé Nast.

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