In an ultra-competitive market, not only will you need to have superior skills to land a job, but you will also need to demonstrate to employers that you're keeping up with the changing world of finance. And while balancing your time between the job search and learning new skills can be tough, employers need to see that you've been retooling and keeping up with your specific industry. "Don't crawl in your cave, which emotionally is what you want to do," says Paul Herrerias, a San Francisco-based managing director at Stanton Chase International, an executive recruiting firm. For one, Herrerias, who recruits for financial services positions, suggests setting Google alerts on industry or function-related keywords or subscribing to news feeds to stay on top of new developments.
There are additional ways to build career capital while unemployed.
Take Time to Read Industry News
While getting subscriptions to trade magazines like Investment News or Risk Magazine wasn't something you had to worry about on the job, buying them on your own can be expensive. Herrerias recommends going through industry association websites like the American Institute of Certified Public Accounts, or turning to the library for access. Reading trade publications for your specific industry can help highlight important developments that may not be discussed elsewhere.
Volunteer for Relevant Work
Using your previous finance skills, seeking out opportunities in your community shows employers that you're committed to your industry as well as those around you. "Find a non-profit that needs help with forecasting, bookkeeping, or asset management," says Sara K. Collins, a Washington D.C. based career consultant. "As a bonus, you can add meaty volunteer work to the experience section of your resume." Doing volunteer work can also help you round out your experience.
Invest in Certifications and Affiliations
If you've been putting off reactivating your CPA license, taking the time during a layoff can help you get ahead, says Herrerias. Despite a loss of income, job candidates, especially senior-level managers, should invest in having up-to-date professional affiliations as well as certifications. "When you are doing a job search expect that you are going to be spending money--it's an investment in your earning power," says Herrerias. With some certifications taking months to complete, it's also easier to commit during a layoff.
Take on Consulting Work
Finding part-time consulting opportunities in positions or companies where you're looking to end up provides hands-on experience and lets future employers know that you're ready to work from day one, says Brett Good, a district president at Robert Half International. "Firms are looking for staff that can contribute immediately and (don't) require a steep learning curve to perform their duties," says Good. And once the economy picks up, consulting opportunities can potentially turn into full-time job offers.
Reconnect With Your Network
People from within your industry can provide valuable perspectives so it's important to keep in touch throughout your career, says Collins. But it's especially key during a layoff because it's a good way to hear about job leads, get advice or learn about emerging industry trends. To get started, Collins suggests contacting people by asking how you can help them. Offering to help "strengthens your network, and ensures your contacts will continue to be there for you in the future," she says.
Use Alumni Career Services
Business schools have recently started offering all kinds of learning opportunities as a way to reconnect with alumni. Check in with your alma mater about any upcoming workshops, lectures or low-cost seminars that can benefit your career, says Collins. If not, suggest something to the business school that fits your needs.
Join a Power Group
What's a power group? "It's a friendly group to hone your skills with," says John McKee, an executive and leadership coach. Taking time to meet with peers who are also in a job search can help you learn about what other motivated job seekers are doing. Attend weekly or monthly meetings, which allow you to take an honest inventory of your own abilities.
Compose a Skills-Wanted List
Since learning new skills can often take a backseat to a high-pressure job, use your time off to reassess what you've wanted to learn, says Herrerias. He suggests job seekers write down skills or topics that they want to delve into. Keeping a list of industry specifics that you're interested in learning helps steer you in the right direction, especially during a longer search.
While building career capital during a period of unemployment isn't easy, it's important to take advantage of all opportunities and continue to update your resume. Without adding new skills to previous experience it's almost impossible to get a foot in the door, says McKee. Nowadays, "there (is) no more 'business as usual,' so that means fewer openings," he says.
-- Alina Dizik
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