It took me a long time to certify myself and I'm starting to feel like it
was a waste of time. I know in my experience that employers very rarely ask
you to prove your certifications. Do you have any advice on how to get a
step ahead of the competition, or how employers can expect highly technical
staff to work for a pittance? Where is this supposed 'lack of trained IT
staff' that the market seems to talk about? Otherwise, when will the next
'boom' be and in which IT field?
You are experiencing the direct impact of a surfeit of network administration-certified individuals, at the same time that the economy is a bit soft. This creates what is sometimes called a "buyer's market" (in this case, it really means that employers have an advantage and can ask for more credentials for less pay) with all its attendant implications for hard-working individuals like yourself. Employers ask for the sun, moon and stars but pay only earthbound wages.
My advice is to avoid using postings and classified ads to search for employment, but to network through friends, family, colleagues, co-workers and so forth. Jobs found by word of mouth may not even be advertised, and the key is to get the opportunity to talk to a hiring manager and to explain why what you know, what you've learned and the credentials you've earned make you a valuable addition to their workforce.
Many times, employers ask for impossible credentials (five years experience on a product that's been on the market for only two or three years) because they don't really know what they're asking for. Take this as a sign of a hiring manager or HR department that doesn't really know the IT space very well. One should either steer clear of such opportunities, or be prepared to educate them as to the realities of the marketplace -- rather than their apparently uninformed wishes about that marketplace.
Looking for burgeoning opportunities, according to recent market/salary surveys from Foote Partners here in the US, IT security, ERP and various developer programs remain strong. Network administration is down 8% from last year, not surprisingly. If I knew when the next boom would hit and in what field, I could become a rich man. Alas, I can only speculate that the growth areas I've identified in this paragraph should remain strong for at least the next year or two, if not longer.
Good luck in your search for meaningful, remunerative employment. It's a concern that all of us share in the IT field.
This was first published in August 2002