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In 2002, I started writing some articles for Power Media Group. During that same time, I occasionally posted on the CramSession.com discussion boards—primarily focusing on the career and job discussions.

The response to my articles and to the posts was extremely positive. In June, I posted a question to the discussion board asking if anyone would be interested in having me compile my prior posts and articles into a “career toolkit.” The response was overwhelming and has led to this book.

Who Should Read This Book?

This is not a “technical” book. Although this book certainly contains techniques and methods, it’s really about personal and professional growth. It is directed at IT professionals—both those who are just entering the field (“the newbies”) and seasoned veterans who want to advance their career.

No certifications are available to guide you on many of the topics covered in this toolkit. To a large degree, they are adopted into a total working skill set that is more nebulous in nature. Configuring a specific brand of router to perform a function or writing a program to achieve a particular end is often more easily defined. That’s why I have framed the book as a toolkit.

I want you to see the techniques as one more set of skills to adopt in your overall career development program. They are skills, just as your particular technical skills that you will use daily over the course of your career. Similar to the way you adopt new technical skills, use the toolkit to help define those soft skills that you must learn and put to use. The result will be a more well-rounded and complete professional skill set.

How to Use the Toolkit

You can read The IT Career Builder’s Toolkit cover to cover, the ideal method for someone who is new to the field, or by topic, to fine-tune an already growing career in the field.

Information is spread throughout the book that might interest or help you. Conceptual ideas that run through the book are emphasized in each of the chapters. If you choose to read through specific topics, take time later to revisit some of the other chapters. You will likely find something of interest there, too.

The chapters include a brief introduction to the topic. At the end of each chapter are action points or key ideas. These help to emphasize ideas you have learned in the chapter.

Although it is important to play to your strength, work on those areas that are a challenge or intimidate you. Mastery of a difficult challenge or skill does wonders for your confidence. This confidence further enhances your ability in your areas of strength.

What Is the Toolkit Approach to Career Development?

The toolkit approach to career development is a holistic, proactive, and ownership-based approach to career development. Whereas other books cover the mechanics of preparing your résumé, writing a cover letter, and even interviewing, this book provides the information to help you plan and create a rewarding career over the long term.

This book does not neglect those important topics, but it expands to include them in an overall assessment and plan of action. Armed with this information, you can begin to plan and implement concrete steps into a complete career development plan.

The approach is planned but agile. Because your desires and interests might change during your career, it is important that you are flexible in overall objectives. However, planning and developing key tools and attitudes are necessary for any career. Also, conceptual knowledge should be, wherever feasible, transferred into any new career direction.

The toolkit approach positions you as the primary commodity of your career. This means that you need to create a strong sense of the value you provide and your worth to an organization.

For the career technologist, I go even further. You must view and position yourself as a service company. Your employer is in a very real sense your client. You need to think in terms of personal marketing, service level, and client retention.

This is part of the ownership mindset I want to give your career. You should study and understand your career, just as you would a business. You need to understand the various and changing factors that can and will impact your career in both positive and negative ways.

Most of all, you must be able to make changes when necessary. If elements of your career plan are not working, you need to work to understand why and then take corrective action. It is not enough to say that it is the economy or some other exterior factor. Your career must belong to you.

As with any business, negative events will occur. Your overall career plan should include an understanding that such events will happen. Layoffs transpire, companies are sold, and companies go out of business. Your response to these events cannot be shocked resentment. You have been forewarned. Prepare for these events with the tools presented in this book. It will make them far less traumatic when they do occur.

Most of all, have fun! You will hear this theme throughout the book. Every year, people advance along the path to career stardom. Endeavor to be one of them. Don’t accept mediocre as a career objective—demand more of yourself.

Good luck and happy building!

How This Book Is Organized

Although you can read this book cover to cover, it is designed to be flexible and allow you to easily move between chapters and sections of chapters to cover just the material that you need more work with. The book is divided into five parts, each with several related chapters. The intent is that each part and each chapter builds upon the previous one. If you do intend to read them all, the order in the book is an excellent sequence to use.

  • Part I, “An Introduction to Career Building”— The chapters in Part I give an overview of the career development process and introduce you to the toolkit. Part I includes Chapters 1 through 4, covering the following topics:

    - Chapter 1, “The Toolkit Approach to Career Development”— This chapter serves as an introduction to the contents of the toolkit and what you should expect to learn. It explains the importance of a comprehensive approach to career building and describes how the toolkit can help you adopt such an approach.

    - Chapter 2, “Career Building Defined”— This chapter covers the concept of career building versus simply getting a string of jobs. It covers essential ideas to place career building in perspective with the hope of providing you with a framework for pursuing your education, the skills you use, and the relationships you develop. Understanding career building can help you grow your career more rapidly and with greater satisfaction.

    - Chapter 3, “Information Technology: A Great Career”— With the advent of outsourcing, the notable failures of the dot-com debacle, and a general malaise in the industry, this chapter paints a more balanced picture. The premise is that all those events are largely to be expected and must be viewed for the impact on how you approach your career. Rather than focus on those areas of struggle, the idea is to direct you toward areas of opportunity and how to best recognize them.

    - Chapter 4, “Defining Yourself: Aptitudes and Desires”— This chapter explains some ways to better understand what drives you. By understanding those things that you believe are important for your career and professional growth, you can better assess the opportunities that come your way.

  • Part II, “Filling Your Toolkit" endterm”— The chapters in this part are more concerned with the development of key skills and ideas that you will use throughout your career. Part II includes Chapters 5 through 10, covering the following topics:

    - Chapter 5, “Self-Assessment”— This chapter covers a simple set of techniques to help you assess your performance and attitude. The goal is to provide you with ideas to remedy problems prior to performance reviews. In doing so, you increase your job satisfaction and management’s perception of your value.

    - Chapter 6, “Attitude”— This chapter addresses the critical issue of attitude. It is not meant to provide you with positive encouragement but to provide you with concrete steps to help you improve your attitude. The central theme is to create an attitude of value about the work you perform.

    - Chapter 7, “Communication Skills”— This chapter covers the critical area of written and verbal communications. It explains how these skills impact your career and provides you with resources and ideas for improvement in both areas.

    - Chapter 8, “Technical Skills”— This chapter addresses the need for excellent technical skills. More importantly, it removes the anxiety of learning the “next hot technology” by focusing on strategies for more rapidly learning and adopting new technologies through an understanding of their common elements.

    - Chapter 9, “The Cover Letter”— This chapter explains the role of your cover letter. It offers a formula for building one that will make a positive impact on a potential employer and tells which key elements to include.

    - Chapter 10, “The Résumé”—The résumé is the mainstay of your professional marketing tools. It serves as your ambassador to the professional world. This chapter explains how to build one that focuses on the value and strengths you bring to an organization. Whether you are new to the IT field or building a more robust résumé, this chapter can help you.

  • Part III, “Putting Your Toolkit to Use”— The chapters in this part of the book help you put the various skills and tools from the previous section to use. This is the actual groundwork of the career-building process. Chapters 11 through 16 cover the following topics:

    - Chapter 11, “Breaking into IT”— The entry-level dilemma is the idea that you need experience to get experience. This chapter explains how you can gain valuable experience and jump-start your IT career. For the more seasoned professional, this chapter offers some tips on how to move into new areas of IT or find technology-related opportunities outside the IT department.

    - Chapter 12, “Building an Active Contact List”— This chapter covers the basics of professional networking. Using the adage, “It’s not who you know but who knows you and knows what you know,” this chapter discusses the importance of continually building a professional network. It also covers key ideas to help you rapidly build a thriving contact list.

    - Chapter 13, “The Job Search”— This chapter covers techniques that will result in more rapidly finding a job. It covers how jobs are found and how to locate better opportunities.

    - Chapter 14, “The Interview”— The interview is the moment of truth for most job seekers. It is the moment that you get to better explain your accomplishments, find out if the opportunity is a good fit, and make a direct impact on the potential employer. This chapter gives some concrete tips for what to look for in an interview and how you can have the greatest impact on your potential employer.

    - Chapter 15, “Salary Negotiations and Employment Agreements”— This chapter explains how to get the most from your current or potential employer. It provides ideas to help you at the start of the interview and as you get to know your employer more. In addition, it helps you create a vision for what constitutes career growth and advancement for you.

    - Chapter 16, “On-the-Job Promotion”— This chapter covers why on-the-job advancement is your greatest potential source of job growth. It explains how to maximize your current skills and relationships and turn these into advancement opportunities.

  • Part IV, “More Options to Build Your Career”— This part covers some ideas to help further your career. These ideas are often overlooked or apply to specific situations. Chapters 17 through 19 cover the following topics:

    - Chapter 17, “The Boundaries and Benefits of Working at Home”— This chapter explains the benefits and challenges of working from home. It covers ideas to help you and management come to an effective telecommuting relationship.

    - Chapter 18, “The Toolkit Approach to Consulting”— The consultant has the potential to work on the most exciting projects, create a high salary, and gain incredible respect from his peers and clients. This chapter explains key concepts and ideas for those who are interested in the consulting life. In addition, it covers the importance of marketing and the vital need for a sound business mindset.

    - Chapter 19, “The Move to Management”— This chapter explains the skills that are crucial to moving into management. It covers ways to begin using the skills prior to being placed in a management situation and how to assume the role before you assume the position.

  • Part V, “The Value-Added Technologist”— The chapters in this part teach some specific value-added skills that you can use throughout the life of your career. These ideas add a dynamic dimension to the career-building process and involve a greater effort and a more comprehensive skill set. Chapters 20 through 23 cover the following topics:

    - Chapter 20, “Make Yourself Indispensable”— The ideas and techniques in this chapter apply universally to many careers. Specific ideas for the technologist are also covered. This chapter demonstrates ways to become as valuable as possible and how that can translate into career advancement.

    - Chapter 21, “Concept Over Process”— This chapter covers what is both a mindset and an approach to project development. By focusing on strong conceptual understanding of your employer or client’s business, this chapter explains how to build solutions that have incredible value and focus on the solution, not the specific technologies used. In addition, this chapter explains how this mindset and approach help in the adoption and learning of new technologies.

    - Chapter 22, “The Role of Mentoring”— This chapter explains the need for strong mentors in your life and career. It explains the role that a mentor takes and how you can benefit by serving as a mentor, too.

    - Chapter 23, “Financial Control”— The final chapter of this book explains the need for financial control and its impact on your career. It discusses how financial stress can reduce your effectiveness on the job and how financial struggles reduce your ability to pursue good opportunities. It also provides some tools for controlling your finances.

The Supplemental CD-ROM

The CD-ROM that is included with the toolkit includes forms, spreadsheets, and documents that will help you master key areas of your career development. You will need Microsoft Office to open the documents. Whether you want to find a new job, build and maintain stronger contacts, or move into consulting, the CD-ROM that is included with the toolkit provides you with valuable tools to help you achieve your goals.

On the CD-ROM, each section includes a summary of the tools and instructions for their use:

  • CD-ROM Section 1: The Value-Added Technologist— This presentation provides a framework for the entire toolkit. It offers a clear understanding of the career-building process and provides you with a greater understanding of the industry and how to use the toolkit to build a dynamic career.

  • CD-ROM Section 2: Career Management Tools— This section of the CD-ROM includes powerful career management tools. These include forms for tracking contacts and performing self-assessments in addition to résumé and cover letter templates.

  • CD-ROM Section 3: Consulting Tools— This section includes tools to help start or further your consulting career. The tools include opportunity tracking forms, time tracking forms, sample proposals, and a time-tracking and billing database built using Microsoft Access.

  • CD-ROM Section 4: Financial Tools— This section includes forms and spreadsheets to help you gain better control over your financial well-being. These include a budget spreadsheet and a weekly cash-flow summary worksheet.

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