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Avoiding The Hot Skills Chase

Business-technology pros pitch industry and management know-how over tech specialties
Renee McGinnis is ready to start testing the market for business-technology professionals. McGinnis was laid off last year after 21 years in the investment-banking industry. As a banking operations investigator, McGinnis used software tools to analyze accounting. Now she's taking classes in technologies such as Microsoft's .Net platform, and hoping to re-enter the investment-banking industry as a programmer or software developer.

To bolster hands-on tech experience, McGinnis plans to volunteer at nonprofit organizations.

McGinnis' plan for business-technology employment may be increasingly common because it emphasizes industry experience. Recruiters say specific hot skills or certifications are less of a priority for hiring companies, which look more for understanding of how a business works and how technology fits. "Technology professionals need to look beyond the hot skills they think they should acquire," says Allan Hoffman, tech-job specialist at job Web site Monster.com. "Right now, employers are looking for depth of experience, industry experience, including good communication skills." Hoffman says that takes a change of mind-set from recent years, when supply and demand were out of whack for certain emerging Web technologies.

David Foote, president of research firm Foote Partners LLC, says its surveys find bonuses tied to a skill or certification down overall. But some areas still command a premium, including project management, security (particularly auditing and management), Linux, Unix and Windows administration, and Oracle database administration.

But Hoffman warns against tying career prospects too closely to a specialty. "Many techies have gotten into trouble chasing after one skill or a hot certification," he says. "That might've worked during the boom, but it doesn't work now."