Federal IT employees face good prospects in commercial job market

Staffing experts offer job-hunting tips

Federal IT employees interested in moving to the private sector should have no problem finding jobs, as long as they tailor their résumés to specific positions, keep pace with new technology developments and market themselves as team players, according to staffing experts.

With federal employees having their salaries frozen for two years, moving to the private sector might become an increasingly attractive option for some.

Private-sector employers, including government contractors, are generally receptive to hiring former federal IT employees who can demonstrate the ability to think strategically and a desire to grow professionally.


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Mark Clarke, director of government services at IT staffing firm TEKsystems, said job seekers should think about their recent experience in terms of the business challenges they helped solve. In describing themselves to prospective employers, they should highlight the results they achieved.

In many cases, government experience can be directly applied to private-sector challenges, Clarke said. “Many of the same IT projects are in demand across a variety of industries, including virtualization, cloud computing and data security, as well as the skill sets associated with these projects, such as network architects, security specialists and virtualization engineers,” he said. “These types of specialized skill sets are in high demand across the board.”

Federal employees should not provide a laundry list of the technology they’ve been exposed to. Instead, they should emphasize the strategic involvement they’ve had in completing government projects, said Barry Downs, metro market manager at Robert Half Technology in Washington, D.C.

Downs said his commercial clients want to know whether potential employees can think critically as they transition from a nonrevenue-generating infrastructure to one that is more focused on financial results.

Like Clarke, Downs said companies are looking for employees who are familiar with new IT tools. They "are going to look for a person who, regardless of your work environment, is interested in technology [and] is on the cutting edge of what’s out in the marketplace,” Downs said.

Stephen Ahlquist, director of staffing at Dynamics Research Corp., said the first thing a government contractor is looking for in a federal employee is the subject-matter expertise that he or she brings to the table. He also said federal employees should tailor their résumés to the individual jobs they are applying for and shouldn’t shy away from using government acronyms.

“In the government contracting world, we go out in search of those terminologies,” Ahlquist said. He added that when contractors do Web searches for potential IT employees on job boards, those acronyms and phrases stand out in a good way.

Further, Ahlquist said federal employees should market themselves as team players by identifying the group projects they have completed. An employee’s résumé should tell a story about the project and what it took to complete it before the deadline.

“You would want to tell about the nature of the challenge, what your role was in helping the agency solve that challenge,” he said. “It puts a little personality into your résumé.”

Experts agreed that federal IT employees’ résumés should focus on actions taken and results achieved.

Despite growing private-sector IT opportunities, Downs said federal employees will likely need to do more homework on prospective employers to ensure that their skills are transferable.

“Individuals looking to get out of the federal space require more preparation to be on the same playing field and level as someone who has been in the commercial sector longer,” Downs said.

However, he said he does not think federal employees generally face a hiring disadvantage, though it might be beneficial for employees to be more industry-specific when looking for an IT job. The health care sector, for instance, is a hot hiring market right now, staffing sources noted.

Federal IT employees on the job hunt should also gather references from past colleagues; make themselves visible on professional networks, such as LinkedIn; and build a network of friends, colleagues and other professional contacts, Clarke said.

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Reader comments

Tue, Jan 4, 2011 Paul Z Denver, CO

For 8 years I worked in the private sector at companies like Unisys, Raytheon, and SAIC. I learned the indisputable fact that in the federal contracting world there are kings, lords, and then surfs. Most of the folks in the private sector become surfs. Working the nobilities lands and not reaping the equal share. Not to mention that working in the private sector means working long hours and fighting with co-workers to try and eek out ahead of the pack. The bottom line in the private sector is you become a piece of meat for sale at the highest bill rate your manager can get. At least on the FED side you know who know who you serve, why, and that your purpose in life extends beyond feeding a corporate profit margin. I agree the pay could be better but common folks can you put a price on being able to be with your families? Since I came over to the Fed side of things I've been able to do my job and spend time with my family. No more long days working on RFPs in the hopes of moving up the ladder. Let's all step back, take a breath, and remember why we signed up in the first place. For me it's about serving the country that has given me so many amazing opportunities. Pay freeze, budget cuts in training, and whatever else may come down the pipe with the new congress don't matter; I'm not leaving until the GSA turns the lights out and kicks me out of my office! I've seen both sides and as the old saying goes "the only reason the grass is greener on the other side of the fence is they are using a higher quality manure!" So to all my federal IT brothers and sisters out there; please hunker down, drive on forward, remember the mission, serve your customers, and if a recruiter calls offering cash advance to cross over hang up the phone!

Tue, Jan 4, 2011 Hazelnut Macchiato DC

Actually, the fed govt could really, really go with people in the retirement category retiring. I think that would force some promotions and get some new blood in middle and senior mgmt.

Tue, Jan 4, 2011 Hazelnut Macchiato DC

Come on in guys, the waters warm...

Tue, Jan 4, 2011 Washington, DC

For "Told You So", you need to wake up an smell the coffee. Let the federal workforce "drain" as you state...especially the 2210-series! That was one of the MOST ill-conceived concepts ever invented by OPM! If, as you state, IT recruiters will be recruiting talent, you should realized it will be a LOWER rate than what a 2210 will demand. Just another poor example of whining IT-Fed workers not understanding economics!

Mon, Jan 3, 2011

And when you start looking outside the Federal work force, you will find people also unhappy with the politicians. Many will have taken major pay cuts when they were laid off from their last jobs. Like you they have seen their home's values decrease,but their taxes stay the same to support their state and local governments which are in trouble. Pension-less, and with depleted 401K's, they too will be looking for new places to work. Many will choose to take stability over raises, and head for the Federal sector, thus allowing a transfer between piublic and private, bringing value to both sides.

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