Making your next move after a layoff

Follow these five recommendations to shape yourself into a more attractive job candidate

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008, with 524,000 axed in December alone. And it isn't projected to be any better in 2009. People who invested years of hard work, loyalty, and dedication have been shown the door. Now they're left wondering what their futures hold, not to mention their retirement plans.

My recommendation? The newly unemployed can't afford to miss a beat. Yes, the economy has deteriorated. Yes, more layoffs are coming. Yes, it's harder to find a job now than it was a year ago.

[ Read InfoWorld's feature: "Surprise! Tech is a safe career choice today" | Tom Kaneshige looks at life after layoffs. | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line blog and newsletter. ]

But while some will react like deer in the headlights to being laid off, smart job seekers will get tough. They'll brush up their resumes, hit the job boards, work their social networks, and polish their interview skills. I've put together five tips to help the jobless remain calm, collected, and focused on finding the next opportunity.

Make finding a job your full-time job
Right now, you might not be employed, but you do have a job: Your job is to find a new one. Don't consider a layoff your time off.

I've spoken to many people who feel they have enough savings to live off of for a month or two before they throw themselves back in the market. But if you let yourself slip into the "break" mentality, you seriously risk losing your edge. And when you do decide to actively pursue a job, it'll be harder to get back into the swing of things.

By immediately pursuing a new position, you'll be much more prepared when the right opportunity comes along. Your readiness will show in your interviews -- from the way you present your resume to the way you conduct yourself while under scrutiny, as well as your ability to negotiate.

Keep your spirits up
Being laid off in today's economy could send any level-headed person into a panic. That's why it's important to keep your priorities in check. Keeping your spirits high keeps you motivated to get back out there with the gusto you'll need.

And professionally speaking, your layoff could be a blessing in disguise. Did you feel stifled or bored at your last job? Were company politics dragging you down? Well, then, maybe now's the time to finally find your true calling. Take advantage of this time for self-discovery.

Find a job or position that challenges you in new and exciting ways. Look at different elements of what you already know. For example, a recently laid-off project manager might realize that he prefers hands-on experience to management and find a new career in a more technical position.

Network, network, network
Reach out to everyone you know. Most people don't like bringing up their unemployment. This is a mistake. Everyone knows the economy has cratered. You're one of millions of newly unemployed people. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Post updates on social networking sites. Let people know you could use some help, and ask them to put you in touch with people they know are hiring. Make sure everyone knows you are in the market and have something to offer.

Talk to staffing agencies, even if you're only looking for full-time employment. Agencies have already seen a noticeable increase in clients who have never used a staffing company before now. Advice from friends is helpful, but staffing professionals know the ins and outs of every employment outlet and might send you in a direction you hadn't considered. Even more important, staffing agents already have relationships with companies.

And don't forget about your professional face online. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. Your online presence is often the first place potential employers will look. If run correctly, your social network could be that extra boost your resume needs. But be careful, because it could also be a detriment. Post articles you've written or details of a project you're particularly proud of, not your photos from last year's trip to Cancun.

Consider consulting
Although you might be coming off of a full-time, "permanent" position, don't rule out the idea of consulting. Many workers overlook the option of consulting because they don't like the idea of impermanence. But consider this: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, turnover rates are up, and the average employee spends no more than a few years at one company before moving on.

However, it's not uncommon for consultants to stay with a company for five years or more. That's years of the same pay and benefits of a full-time job. What's more, a yearlong consulting gig could potentially lead to a permanent slot in an organization -- especially in this economy.

Consulting also has a number of benefits you won't find with a permanent position. It provides flexibility -- whether that's flexibility to spend more time with your family or open up the business of your dreams. That's because with the right business sense, consulting usually generates a higher income than the same job would within an organization.

As an independent consultant, you always have the option to say no to a project if it doesn't appeal to you. Can you imagine saying "no thanks" to your last manager? The array of jobs available makes it possible to not only choose where and when you work, but what you're doing.

Lastly, the option of a continuous upgrade in skills that consulting provides is often hard, if not impossible, to find otherwise. For example, a developer might spend six months in one organization installing a new internal database, then the next six months designing a more challenging application in a different organization.

If nothing else, accepting a contingent position with a company keeps some income flowing while you search for a more permanent position. And it could be the key to keeping you and your family insured. While benefits for consultants are often negotiable within organizations, if none are offered, most staffing agencies will supply their own health insurance to employees they've placed.

Get educated
If you've always had aspirations of reaching C-level status but were never able to take time away from work to shore up the necessary credentials, now's the perfect time to reconsider. While there's no substitute for hands-on experience, if you find yourself struggling to find work -- contract or permanent -- and, of course, your finances allow for it, consider taking the time to go back to school and obtain an MBA or other degree that may better qualify you for an executive role.

That way, when the economy finally rights itself, you'll have a few extra items to add to your resume and boost your desirability to potential employers.

By keeping these recommendations in mind as you search for your next job, you'll shape yourself into a more attractive candidate. Today's numbers look grim, but with determination and a willingness to open yourself up to new experiences, you shouldn't be part of the statistics for long.

Dan Cobb is a senior vice president at Yoh, a leading provider of high-impact talent and outsourcing services and a unit of Day & Zimmermann. For more information, please visit www.yoh.com. Computerworld is an InfoWorld affiliate.

This story, "Making your next move after a layoff" was originally published by Computerworld.

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