Tech & Work

You don't need a job to build your resume

You may be job hunting, but that doesn't mean your professional development has to stall out. Here are four ways you can boost your credentials, beef up your resume, and stay on top of the technology game.


A lot of IT pros are in a tough spot, and they've begun evaluating their ability to find a job in the tech sector. I’ve seen several discussion posts and received numerous e-mails from people who have experience and skills but who haven’t been able to land a development job. I’ve also seen posts from people who claim that if you have the skills, you can get a job, no problem. But with four-month hiring cycles, layoffs, freezes, and any number of other issues that can stand in your way, I think that getting hired is a problem regardless of whether you’ve got two years of experience or 20.

With that in mind, I’ve put together this list of opportunities you can pursue and projects you can work on to round out your resume with some impressive line items that will give potential employers a reason to look twice. These ideas may not help overcome hiring issues that are beyond your control, but they're a worthwhile focus for your efforts while you sweat it out.

User groups
Becoming involved in a technical community shows your willingness to actively invest in your area of specialty instead of relying on pure academics. It also demonstrates that you’ve got the ability and desire to interact socially with other developers. Besides the networking opportunities and intellectual discussion possibilities you’ll find in a user group, such involvement may give you something to talk about during interviews.

If you’re not sure where to find user groups in your area, check out eserverusergroup.org or MSDN’s User Groups page. You can find groups for just about any technology by searching under the technology name, your state, and the keyword “user group.” You can also find resources by calling or searching at the nearest university.

Teaching
Speaking of universities, teaching opportunities are a lot more accessible than you might think. I have occasionally seen postings for “teachers wanted” at various vocational schools, through consulting firms, and at community colleges and universities. Instructors are needed to cover coursework for every technology imaginable, at various skill levels, and at various times, day or night, including weekends. Many states do not even require a college degree to teach—just a working knowledge of the subject matter.

One friend of mine, who started teaching part-time at Brown Institute in Minnesota about a year ago, merely called the administration office and inquired about openings. He sent a copy of his resume (he had no prior teaching experience) and a list of courses he’d be interested in teaching. He started the next semester. A suggested syllabus was given to him, as well as recommended textbooks and software.

Holding a teaching position will show a potential employer that you really know your stuff. Academic experience may not be as fast-paced as working in the field, but it will help eliminate doubt about being away from technology for any length of time and will earn you respect points in the eyes of a hiring manager.

Writing technical articles
In a similar vein, writing technical articles that share your expertise is a great resume item. If you write for an online source, you’ve not only got a publication credit to bolster your experience, but you also have articles you can encourage potential employers to read, thus showing off your skills.

Writing for magazines, newspapers, and community Web sites is something you can do in your spare time, and you can even get paid for doing it! If you are interested in building your resume, making some extra cash, and having a published resource to show off during an interview, try directly contacting editors listed in the publications. Provide a brief explanation of your experience and a list of topics you’d be interested in writing about.

In fact, the Builder.com Web site is always looking for technical individuals interested in sharing their expertise. To find out more about contributing articles to the Builder.com community, read this summary of desired content areas. You can contact the appropriate editor with the e-mail links provided.

If you can’t sell it, give it away!
Finally, if you’re having trouble getting a job in your desired area of technology, try donating your time. Charities, nonprofit organizations, and open source projects all need qualified developers to operate and will provide your resume with active, working experience. You may even get some great references out of the deal.

The best way to get involved in these development projects is to call the administrative offices (or in the case of open source projects, send e-mail) to find out what work is needed and how you might be of service. You can take on these projects in your spare time and offer as much or as little work as you can squeeze in.

The experience you can gain on these projects differs very little from that in a professional environment. In fact, you may even pick up a few tricks, new contacts, and even job leads. Many employers will take note of charity work, and it can earn you kudos toward a new position.

While away the hours
If, like many developers, you’re concerned about gaps in your employment history and how it may affect your ability to find a job, try one of these four options. Participating in user groups, teaching, writing, and donating your development efforts will keep you active in your field and can help your resume stand out to a potential employer.

Open to suggestions
Do you have other suggestions for ways to build your resume while you continue with your job hunt? Let our community know by posting in the discussion area below or by sending our editors an e-mail.

 

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