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Landing an IT Job in Europe

A Resurgence in High-Tech Work

By Jennifer Hamm

An anticipated upturn in the demand for IT professionals could mean the time is right to brush up that resume and start applying for a high-tech job in Europe.

"We're on the cusp of World War Three for talent," said Suzi Edwards, recruiting director in the United Kingdom for ThoughtWorks, an international IT professional services firm.

IT spending within organizations is set increase by 2.5 percent this year, according to a report from research and analysis firm Gartner "Delivering IT's Contribution: The 2005 CIO Agenda." That is up from a 1 percent gain last year.

Industry experts agree that they expect to see a jump in hiring this year. Many of the IT job openings are likely to be in the banking and finance industry, said Mike Pita, director of operations in the UK and Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for Kineticom, a global placement firm for telecommunications and IT personnel.

But in the competitive European job market, experts also say technical skills are not enough to snag a job offer, especially for those applying from North America. Applicants need to demonstrate business acumen, intercultural skills and a strong commitment to working abroad.

As technology becomes an integral part of an organization's business strategy, IT department staffers need to be able to do more than re-boot crashed systems, write code and wire networks. They also have to be able to speak and understand the language of business and make the business case for technology to top executives.

"On every job spec we are seeing business-facing skills," said Paul Taylor, head of IT in the UK for global recruiting firm Hudson.

Indeed, business savvy is "the one criteria that is probably becoming the most prevalent for top IT jobs," said Umesh Ramakrishnan, vice chairman of global search firm Christian & Timbers.

To hone business management skills, Ramakrishnan recommends getting involved with areas outside the IT department, interacting with managers throughout the organization and improving communication skills.

Intercultural skills are also essential for IT placement in Europe, say experts. Often applicants from North America fail to do enough research about the country they would like to live in and lack an awareness of the cultural distinctions between European countries.

"It's certainly not a one size fits all," said Edwards of ThoughtWorks.

Having an understanding of the different cultures, languages and IT platforms used across Europe can be a competitive advantage.

"Those that are skilled in all three will definitely hold the upper hand," said Ramakrishnan, who heads up the European search strategy for Christian & Timbers.

Beyond skill sets — both technically and interpersonally — there are a number of practical issues which can make North Americans less competitive for job placement in Europe. Specific visa requirements vary between EU countries but, as a general rule, employers are bound to consider EU nationals or those already holding valid work permits first.

Employers who want to hire a non-EU national often have to assume the lengthy and costly process of securing required work and residency permits.

Though many companies prefer to hire someone with a visa, some, such as ThoughtWorks, can be willing to help new employees get their paperwork organized. But it is up to the applicant to discuss their visa requirements from the beginning, something Edwards has noticed often does not happen.

"Be upfront from the word go," she said. "It makes up happy and it makes it easy for us to get you over quicker."

Candidates keen to work in Europe can increase their chance for relocation by having a specific skill that is tough to find within the European labor pool, said Pita at Kineticom.

In any case, applicants should research and prepare required documents, such as university transcripts, birth certificates and letters from former employers. Edwards said those who are committed to working in Europe should have the information ready.

"It's easy for people to think I'd love to get international experience but they kind of forget the steps you have to take to get there," she said.

Such logistical issues are one of the reasons that it may be easier for an individual to be transferred from company headquarters in the United States to one of the European offices. Ramakrishnan points out that European country managers of U.S.-based companies often like to have Americans fill IT manager positions because they understand the cultural and work flow demands of the home office.

Across the board, IT positions are limited and extremely competitive. At Hudson, Taylor placed 2,500 people in IT jobs last year across Europe and only 5 percent were from North America. And ThoughtWorks hires only one out of every 200 applicants.

Besides the right skills, successful applicants typically have a get up and go attitude, a global viewpoint and typically some experience outside of North America, said Taylor.

Edwards agrees, saying that job seekers should be able to clearly outline why they want the international experience.

"We really need to feel convinced that someone is committed to the move," she said.

For those that are ready to relocate, the marketplace appears to be on the verge of an upswing. Ramakrishnan noted that many business managers put off spending on technology due to the global economic downturn. Now they are noticing that maintenance costs are exceeding installation costs and systems need to be updated.

"You are going to see IT spending go up and as a result you are going to see IT hiring go up," he said.

And it's not just in Europe. Pita notes that the market for IT and telecoms personnel from North America is booming in the Middle East.

"There is a huge demand," he said.

Back in the UK at ThoughtWorks, Edwards said the upswing is already noticeable.

"It feels like the market is starting to wake up after a little sleep," said Edwards.

For More Info — UK-based site offering extensive listings as well as sister sites in several other European countries, including France, Ireland, Spain and Italy. — Specializes in IT industry job openings and is based in the UK. — Also has job listings in a number of European Union countries.

Jennifer Hamm is a freelance journalist based in the Netherlands who writes about working, living and travelling abroad.

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