Out of Work? Here Are Eight Ways to Keep Your Career Moving

Take this time to be pro-active in developing your strategies and skills.

By Sonia R. Lelii

Dice News Staff | January 2009

Being laid off and facing the prospect of unemployment can be a personal and professional strain. To cope, stay focused and keep your day structured with tasks that are aimed toward getting a job and, perhaps, pursue some activities you normally wouldn’t have time to do.

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Kevin Jenkins, a recruiter with the California-based Tech-Source, Inc., says being out of work can be an opportune time to work on self-development. It’s not often you’ll have extended periods to do so, he notes. With a positive mindset and some personal initiative, what you do now can be just as valuable as any time you spend in an office.

Revisit Your Career Goals

It’s a good time for some self-reflection. Many of us get caught up with delivering what our managers want, which could lead you onto a career path you never anticipated. While employed, it’s easy to get so caught up in meeting your responsibilities that you lose track of your own professional goals and agenda, says Jenkins. In this sense, a layoff period actually can be a blessing in disguise. It’s an excellent time to analyze where you are in your career and measure it against where you ultimately would like to be. Use this  opportunity to ensure your next job is the first step in getting there.

Experiment with New Technology

Now is your chance to play with new technologies and methodologies, says Jenkins. You can download developer kits and documentation for just about anything and start  experimenting. The layoff period may not be long enough for you to master a new skill, but you should be able to get your feet wet and get a good sense for the direction in which you would like to go. “When the market picks up, limit your search to companies who use those technologies and who offer a nurturing environment that will enable you to become proficient with them,” Jenkins adds.

Look for Contract Work

In a down economy, the name of the game is to stay employed so you are marketable when there is a turnaround, says Matt Conley, branch manager for Sapphire  Technologies’ Boston office. Three-, six- or twelve-month gaps can show a real lack of flexibility. People that have consistent projects without gaps will be in a much better position to reap the benefits of an economic turnaround than someone who has been stubborn and sitting on the sidelines over their rates.

Develop Your Personal Brand

This is a becoming a common mantra among managers: The idea that we’re our own companies and therefore need to develop a personal brand. Regardless of whether you  work for yourself or another business, Jenkins says, you ultimately are your own franchise. This is especially true in today’s online culture of social networking. Use this time to develop your personal brand and ensure it’s consistent across all your online profiles.

Don’t Send Your Resume Out Blindly

It’s easy to spam employers with your resume, but it may not yield the best results. Even in good times, blindly sending it out is never a good idea. If you know for a fact a company is hiring, develop a relationship with an internal employee and get introduced through the firm’s employee referral program. “Good jobs are secured through referrals. Blind submissions rarely result in employment,” explains Jenkins.

Volunteer for a Cause

Professional experience always looks better on a resume than academic experience. So instead of signing up for school courses, try getting an internship or volunteer your time for tasks that will enable you to develop your hot skills. This can be particularly important for tech workers, since many executives are starting to seek out better-rounded job candidates for their IT operations.

Keep Up a Good Network of Contacts

Of course, networking is critical. This is a good time to reconnect with former co-coworkers and colleagues, and send out feelers on potential job opportunities. Update your profiles on different social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. It’s a good way to let people know you’re available for new projects.

Think About Transferable Functions and Skills

Think about the skills and talents you’ve tapped into during previous jobs, advises Jan Gordon, a career coach based in Coral Springs, Fla. Creatively brainstorm what jobs would easily incorporate these transferable skills. For example, IT workers with good communication skills can turn themselves into consultants for outsourced projects.

Sonia R. Lelii is a staff writer at Dice News. She can be reached at sonia.lelii@dice.com