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7/26/2013
03:29 PM
Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
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10 More Ways IT Pros Can Gain Business Credibility

If you're an IT professional with ambitions, show that you know how to make an impact on the business. Here's how.




If you still adhere to the old-school view of IT as a support department that exists merely to help the rest of the company do the "real" work, Steven Peltzman has a wake-up call for you.

Peltzman, chief business technology officer at Forrester Research, says, "The days of IT departments existing merely to enable the business, serve the business and align with the business are coming to an end. Information technology is evolving into business technology."

Forrester, and especially its CEO George Colony, has been preaching the "business technology" transformation for several years now. Peltzman, the former CIO of New York's Museum of Modern Art, was hired as the firm's first "CBTO" -- the "B" isn't a typo -- in part to ensure the company practiced what it preached to clients.

No matter your own organization's approach to job titles, org charts and other corporate matters, the business technology mindset can be adapted widely by IT pros looking to ensure their strategic relevance now and later. Doing so can open more doors internally and externally. Bottom line: IT pros, especially those with their eye on a C-level position in their future, need to know more than how to manage a Windows environment or write Web apps.

IT recruiters will tell you the same thing -- if your resume is loaded with terms like Python and Java but woefully short on the language of the C suite, you may be unnecessarily limiting your future career opportunities.

"Companies want people [who] understand business," says Laura McGarrity, VP of marketing at the IT recruitment firm Mondo. "With technology evolving at the pace that it is, skilled IT professionals are expected to have a broader skill set and have worked across multiple platforms. It's the only way they remain relevant and more marketable."

So how do you transform a good IT resume into a stellar, well-rounded business resume? Start by rethinking and revising some common assumptions and mindsets. For example, stop referring to what you do as "IT" and what everyone else at the company does as "the business." (Read on for Peltzman's explanation of why that traditional -- and often divisive -- nomenclature damages IT credibility.)

You might also want to consider -- and possibly reconsider -- who your customers are. Hint: If your answer is "our internal users," you're off-target. Based on his own career experiences, Peltzman recommends that IT pros take any and every opportunity to get out of their offices and get to know the company's real customers -- rather than some set of anonymous customer profiles created by the sales and marketing teams. Peltzman once worked the lines as a ticket-taker at the MoMA, for instance, greeting patrons as they entered the famous museum. He did it in part to test the organization's new electronic ticketing system, but the experience had a lasting impact on IT strategy and his own career.

"There's not a whole lot that will give you more business credibility -- inside your company or on an interview -- than having firsthand knowledge of and expertise in what your customers want and need," Peltzman says. "And the only way to get that is to get out from behind the keyboard and interact with customers."

We've outlined 10 ways that IT pros can enhance their careers by rounding out their business acumen, with the goal of being able to show off that versatile skill set in your next internal or external job interview. Make no mistake: There's no substitute in IT for serious technical expertise. But in 2013 and beyond, your career may get a big boost if you're as comfortable reading a marketing plan as you are reading source code.

Have your own examples of adding business know-how to your IT expertise? We'd love to hear them. Tell us about what's worked for you in the comments below.

(Image: Eurleif)


Step one is a philosophical shift: Stop using the word "business" to refer to everyone but yourself.

"I heard this quote at one of our forums and I love it: If you're still referring to other departments as 'the business,' then you're signaling to yourself and everyone one around you that you're not the business. You are the business," Peltzman says. "You must consider yourself as much a part of the business as everyone else you work with. Don't just align and enable -- lead. Business technologists can design and streamline businesses [and how they operate], create new revenue opportunities and even create new markets."

(Image: Michael Kappel)

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Collaboration is a big business buzzword these days. But it's a must-have for upward career mobility, especially for IT pros with executive-level ambitions. Current and future employers will want to see that you're willing and able to work effectively across departments, especially those that at times might have different agendas.

"Especially with the shift happening between marketing and IT, showing departmental collaboration and impact of initiatives between these two organizations is important," McGarrity says. "Companies want people who understand business."

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"I've been asked by a lot of people if I think an IT certification will help their careers. My answer is always something like -- 'yeah, but...' -- and the 'but' is that if they really want to rise up in the business world, a business class or degree is vastly more important," Peltzman says. Areas of study could include business law, finance, accounting, marketing or other business school mainstays -- pick according to your career goals.

"Having these tools is essential for you to partner with your business colleagues, and it will serve to differentiate you as a worker or a candidate far more than another technical certification," Peltzman says. If you're thinking about going back to school full-time to further your career, Peltzman's advice might surprise you: "The top technology certification of the future, in my opinion? An MBA."

(Image: Harvard Business School)

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Live in fear of public speaking? Cringe at the thought of deciphering a balance sheet? It might be time to start augmenting your technical expertise with nontechnical skills that make you a more valuable employee now and later.

"While ensuring that you highlight your specific technical expertise, it's important to show you can function in a higher-level role, such as management," McGarrity advises. "[For example, don't pass on an opportunity to prove] that you are capable of project management and seeing an initiative through."

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There's a longstanding IT mindset that "customers" means "co-workers" -- in other words, an exclusive focus on internal users rather than the customers that actually pay the bills. Strategic IT pros need to dump this mindset, even if it might occasionally rub some folks the wrong way.

"Something I say a lot to my co-workers, which surprises them: 'Actually, you're not my customer and my ultimate goal is not necessarily to make you happy.' My ultimate customers are Forrester's clients and shareholders, and my job is to make them happy through long-term, strategic, holistic thinking that delivers value and drives revenues," Peltzman says. "Focus on those customers and don't be afraid to make an unpopular internal decision every now and then. A solid track record of good business decisions can garner more credibility [with] employers and future employers than just trying to please everyone in the meeting room."

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"One of the best experiences I ever had as CIO of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City was when we opened our new building in 2004 and I worked the ticket line -- I was nervous about the new ticket-scanning system," Peltzman says. "The things I learned in the trenches in those crazy opening days and weeks served me for years to come. At Forrester, I interact with clients as much as I possibly can and it drives my actions and decisions daily. Don't just observe -- interact with your customers."

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Don't get stuck in the server closet. Actively seek out opportunities to be a part of the major business and strategic initiatives at your company, especially if there's a technology component. (These days, there almost always is.) These projects will practically write your resume for you down the line, according to McGarrity, especially when you can connect what your role was and the impact you had on that initiative along with any end results. You don't need to have managed the entire project to take credit. (Just be sure not to embellish.) "Make reference to the initiative at large that you had an impact on in your role," McGarrity says.

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Don't lie on your resume. It's a terrible idea. But you should tailor your resume and other career materials for the position you want. Job titles and keywords go a long way toward getting out of the slush pile of resumes sitting on the hiring manager's desk. "For example, if someone is a network engineer but has extensive experience in Cisco, and the client is looking for a Cisco engineer specifically, we'll make sure those keywords are integrated with titles or somewhere on the resume to ensure the experience they have is highlighted to match the opportunity," McGarrity says.

As you expand your business skills and related vocabulary, be sure that's accurately reflected on your resume, too -- especially as you begin shooting for more senior-level positions.

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Recruiters and hiring managers across a wide range of fields often speak of the value of hard numbers on a resume. IT is no exception, according to McGarrity, who recommends using hard data whenever possible to establish business credibility. "Always state results, cost savings, time savings and the impact you had on the business at large," she says. "Any strategic components are important to weave in."

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Indeed, the business world loves numbers. That gets truer as you move up the corporate ladder. Be sure you're using the right numbers and measurements; in other words, the ones that everyone understands and uses, not just IT-centric data.

"Uptime, SLAs, MTBF, server response time, etc. -- these are important technology metrics and execution is, of course, critical. But if they're the main metrics in your vocabulary, then you're destined to constantly find yourself outside of the business conversation," Peltzman says. "In contrast, a business technologist lives by the business metrics that the aforementioned technology metrics can ultimately drive. And with more access and possibly a better or different understanding of the business data, they can lead and drive business strategy. See the [big picture]. Focus on business metrics and you will elucidate new insights, make better decisions and gain more business trust and credibility."

(Image: Dell)

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IT Job Interviews: 8 Tips To Avoid Disaster

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