You’ve Been Laid Off. Now What?

The last thing you need is a set of questionable strategies that won’t work. Here
are some effective ways to effectively get in gear and into the
workforce after a job loss.

By Sixto Ortiz Jr. | March 2007

In Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream,
author Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover, posing as a job seeker
looking to reenter the workforce. The book is a sometimes funny,
sometimes heart-rending look at the netherworld of career coaches,
focus groups, and endless networking that displaced workers are thrust
into as they try to rejoin the ranks of the gainfully employed.

If anything, the book proves getting back into the workforce can be
tricky, confusing, and above all else, frustrating. The last thing a
job seeker needs is questionable strategies that won’t work. So, here
are some effective ways to effectively get in gear and into the
workforce after a job loss.

Cast A Wide Net

Most experts agree that networking is an absolutely critical element of
a successful job hunt. Dave Opton, CEO and founder of ExecuNet, a
career placement firm focused on executives earning over $100,000 per
year, says "…without fail, networking has emerged as the single largest
source of interviews and job leads every single year."

After a few years on the job, most experienced IT workers usually
collect an impressive number of business cards from vendors,
consultants, or colleagues working in other companies. So, those
falling on the wrong end of a lay-off are wise to take their Rolodexes
along for the ride when their employer lays them off. A brand new
opportunity may be just a few flicks of the finger away.

And while employed, IT workers should take advantage of networking
opportunities. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and
neglect the chance to cast a wider net. Trade shows, consortiums, even
the occasional lunch outing with that seemingly annoying sales person
may provide that career-saving contact.

Katherine Spencer Lee, Executive Director of IT staffing firm Robert
Half Technology, points out that lots of people presume the first thing
they need to do after they¿re laid off is to start responding to online
job postings as quickly as possible. But, she says, that alone isn¿t
enough: candidates should research companies that are hiring, scour
their network, and make sure their skills are current.

Here’s a strategy that doesn’t work: According to
ExecuNet¿s Opton, the fewest job opportunities for executives looking
for work was broadcast resume campaigns directed toward companies. "While it’s not unheard of for someone to find a new opportunity by
sending unsolicited resumes to dozens of companies, it is rare."

Keep The Saw Sharp

And speaking of skills: Maintaining a current skill set, especially in
the fast-paced world of IT, is also critical to successfully reentering
the workforce. Katherine Spencer Lee, Executive Director of IT staffing
firm Robert Half Technology, says IT professionals wanting to rejoin
the ranks of the employed need to ensure their skill sets are up to
speed. ¿IT is one of the fastest moving industries around, and if their
tools are outdated, they will have a hard time even getting
interviews,¿ warns Spencer Lee.

So, she adds, displaced workers should make sure their resumes reflect
recently learned skills, projects they have worked on, or
certifications they have earned.

This is especially sound advice for today’s rapidly improving job
marketplace: companies today are hiring again, and that also includes
skilled IT workers. As ExecuNet¿s Opton points out, the demand for
MIS/IT professionals remains strong. So, Opton adds, as the job market
improves formerly "passive" candidates are now actively seeking
employment, and the overall competition for the most attractive
opportunities is heating up.

But, candidates tempted to strike quickly while the iron is hot should
temper their enthusiasm just a tad. "It’s also very important," Opton
adds, "not to jump the gun and enter the market before developing and
refining a professional resume, a well-researched target list of
companies, and polished ‘elevator speech’ that highlights who you are,
where you’re going, why, and what you can contribute."

Older, Wiser … And Unemployed?

Age discrimination is a hot topic in corporate America today. Numerous
lawsuits have been filed by older workers who felt organizations
unfairly forced them out due to their advancing age and higher

According to ExecuNet’s Opton, "anecdotal evidence suggests that an
executive under the age of forty will typically have twice as many
interviews as an executive over the age of fifty." The facts seem to
support Opton’s assertion: statistics collected by the AARP (American
Association of Retired Persons) indicate unemployed older persons – 55
or older – take longer to find work than younger job seekers. According
to the AARP’s research, the average duration of unemployment in 2005
was 24.1 weeks for those over 55 and just 17.8 weeks for those under 55.

In spite of these sobering statistics, older job seekers shouldn’t lose
hope. "Overcoming age bias in a job search," says Opton, "starts with
being prepared to counter stereotypes head-on by demonstrating an
ability to adapt to change, a comfort with relevant technology, and
enthusiasm for tackling the challenges that lie ahead." In the IT world
it is critical that job seekers, he adds, demonstrate they are current
and well versed in the latest relevant technology.

A State of Mind

Sudden job loss is a traumatic and tough experience to deal with. But,
it is essential to maintain a positive attitude, even in the face of
adversity. Dave Opton recommends that job seekers give themselves time
to get past the shock and anger of a job loss and point their energies
in a positive direction. And, says Katherine Spencer Lee, "the best
tonic for recovering from a layoff is to remain active."

At the end of the day, a job search is a sales job, and as Dave
Opton points out, "you are now the sales manager for a product called ‘You, Inc.’" Presenting that product in the most positive light greatly
increases the odds of closing the sale and landing that new career

Sixto Ortiz Jr. is a Houston-based journalist who has been writing about information technology since 1996.