Being out of a job means forgoing income, but what you get in return may be even more valuable: time to learn new skills and increase your career capital. Hiring managers are eager to see how you've been able to use the time off while unemployed to your advantage. Many want to see how you've been able to retool and address the gaps in your resume.
Simply staying busy is key to increasing your career capital, says Nick D'Ambrosio, a technology recruiter and founder of First Round Search. "Whether it's volunteering or teaching or coaching your kid's soccer team, anything is better than sitting around stressing about being unemployed," he says. These activities can help polish soft skills like leadership and communications which are always in-demand within the technology space.
Here are additional ways to increase your career capital while unemployed:
Take on Temp Work
There are plenty of opportunities to find project-based assignments for several months at a time, says Jeffrey Heath, president of Management Recruiters of Manhattan-Madison Ave., a recruiting firm that specializes in the tech space. "Temporary work allows you to continue to grow your work experience, advance your skills and avoid gaps in employment on your resume," he says. Use the time during your temporary assignment to make headway into a full-time gig at the same company while continuing to apply for other job openings.
Create Your Own Project
Even if it's unpaid, starting a project of your own is a great way to show initiative. For example, demonstrate that you've stayed busy by designing a smartphone application. It will impress recruiters while adding to your resume. Other experts suggest going outside the telecom space where there may be less competition. "Smart gadgets are creating more opportunities for basic programming and development projects," says Heath. "For example, writing a program for a smart clock, a computerized toy, or a smart household appliance is a growing trend."
Launch a Blog
Blogging is a great way to build your brand while unemployed, say experts. Pick a specific topic of expertise to develop as your blog progresses. "This establishes thought leadership and increases your chances for online networking," says Dave MacKeen, chief executive of the Eliassen Group, an IT recruiting firm. Be sure to use a professional tone so you can refer hiring managers to it. Weighing in on industry news and asserting yourself as an expert will help attract employers.
Seek Out Certifications
"Find out which certifications in your field hold the most merit and pursue them," suggests Heath. For example, a Cisco certification for an IT engineer or the CCNA or A+ for those looking for work in the networking space is a huge plus. While having a specific set of acronyms won't trump experience, it can help your resume get past electronic filters at the beginning of the hiring process.
Develop Your Social Networks
While being active on social networks can take a backseat during hectic days at the office, regularly using LinkedIn or Facebook when unemployed can help you get exposure to potential employers. MacKeen suggests using the Follow Company feature on LinkedIn to keep tabs on a dozen or so employers you'd love to work for. Or use Twitter to follow key decision makers at a target firm. The Twitter connection can help you "establish a relationship and learn more about the culture and people," he says. In addition, be sure to update and professionalize each profile to put your best foot forward for hiring managers and recruiters.
Participate in Workshops
Whether you're taking part in a webinar or attending an in-person discussion, attending a workshop can be a way to stay connected with the industry while getting continuing education. Keep an eye out for free or low-cost seminars -- many online courses are also free. "Showing the initiative to want to learn is valued," says MacKeen. Staying up-to-date will not only give you more talking points in future interviews, but can help you build your network of job contacts.
Providing pro bono networking or Web services for organizations will help you stay involved and upbeat during a prolonged search, says D'Ambrosio. Whether you're doing some troubleshooting for a local nonprofit or building a Web site for an upcoming charity event, volunteering your time will also help you learn about potential opportunities.
With hundreds of annual tradeshows for tech industry workers, attending an event provides plenty of opportunity for face-to-face networking, says D'Ambrosio. Find a tradeshow in your area to minimize transportation costs. Come prepared with business cards and follow up with contacts you meet.
Taking time away from simply sending out resumes might seem counterintuitive, but the time you spend doing activities to retool is just as valuable. During the hiring process, employers are eager to see that you've used the unemployment period to continue building new skills. Set aside a few hours each day to specifically apply for new and relevant positions, but use the rest of your day to work on increasing your career capital and building your network.
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