IT Employment

10 ways to get back in the game after a layoff

Looking for work is only part of what you need to do when you get laid off. Justin James offers some advice for moving forward instead of sinking into the unemployment abyss.

When you've lost your job, there is a certain expectation from those who have never been unemployed that looking for work is a full-time gig. The reality is, after the first few weeks, it's mostly a waiting game: The resume is updated and posted to job boards, you've established your various search agents, and you have talked to all the relevant recruiters in the area. So what else can you do with your time to help you get back to work as quickly as possible? These tips will point you in the right direction.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Catch up on your learning

Something I hear time and time again from IT pros is that technology is constantly advancing, but too few jobs give you the training to keep up -- and it is just overwhelming to try to stay abreast while working a full time job. This is the perfect time to get caught up on those technologies! Of course, you will want to stick with the ones that require less up-front cost. Your unemployment office may even be able to help get you training. Not only will this keep you from getting bored, but it will give you some talking points in interviews and possibly some new skills to add to your resume. In addition, it looks great to an interviewer that you are the kind of person who keeps learning and growing, even when you are unemployed.

2: Work for free

One of the best things you can do for yourself right now is to start donating some of your skills and time to an open source project or a local charity or to perhaps start a personal project of your own. This will give you the opportunity to do some new things and explore different career directions, and it can also help you network. And who knows, maybe it will blossom into some sort of paid work. At the very least, you will know that you are doing something that helps someone else out and gaining more experience that will enhance your resume.

3: Be flexible on compensation

In a recession economy, you probably don't have the luxury of holding out for more money than a job offer is for. In my area, for example, there are a fair number of jobs out there, but the pay is about $10,000 less than it was a few years ago. If you want to get back to work quickly, you are going to have to recognize this and be willing to take less money than you were making before, even if you were underpaid at your previous job. A few people with in-demand skills or rare experience may be able to push for a better compensation package, but you need to be realistic about whether you are one of them.

4: Expand your comfort zone

I recently talked to someone who was hungry for some work about giving him a small contract. It was nothing major, but it would have helped him out. He turned me down because even though he was skilled in that general line of work, he had no experience in the exact work I was asking him for. That really is the wrong attitude to have, and it will cost you in this economy. Let's say you are a system administrator and you have been using Linux for a long time. If someone offers you a job, but their shop uses BSD, you are probably much better off trading your penguin for a little red daemon than holding out a few more months (or longer) for a Linux job. Some folks are very much in demand and have the freedom to stick only with the things they know well. But for most IT pros, being willing to work with a tech you are not familiar with (or maybe even dislike) is a necessity unless you have deep financial reserves you can rely upon.

5: Exercise

Let's face it: IT jobs are awful for our health, particularly our waistlines. We all know we should work out more, but we rarely do. This is a great time to get in shape, and all you need are some ratty old clothes, comfortable sneakers, and motivation -- you don't even need a gym membership for a basic exercise routine! Why exercise? For one thing, it will help relieve some of the stress you are probably feeling about your employment and financial situation. But it can also help in other ways. It will help you with your self-confidence and self-esteem, which shine through in interviews. And when you return to work, it is easier to sit at a desk for long hours when you are in shape than when you are not.

6: Get certified

One of the common themes in the IT industry is that the workers in the trenches have little regard for more IT certifications. I generally share this viewpoint (although there are exceptions ,of course). But the gatekeepers in the hiring process, like HR and recruiters, place a fairly high value on IT certifications. A certification can make the difference between getting an interview and not getting one. Many states' unemployment systems have programs that may be able to assist you to get certified; you will want to talk with an unemployment agent and find out what your options are.

7: Become a consultant

Just because companies are laying off employees does not mean that they are not getting anything done. Many times, the decision to cut headcount is motivated by stock price issues (apparently, laying people off raises stock prices) or the costs associated with a full-time employee, not a lack of work. As a result, many companies are laying off employees while hiring consultants and contractors to fill the gaps left by the layoffs. This can provide you with an opportunity to go into consulting work, either for yourself or as a member of a firm. I've noticed that the more specialized your knowledge, the better your chances of getting a consultant gig. The odds of landing consultant work also go up when your skills are applicable to one-off projects, not just long-term operations.

8: Consider going abroad

I know, "There's no place like home," wherever that might be for you. At the same time, international companies often have a number of jobs in other countries, which they prefer to be done by someone from their home country (or a country in which they have a regional headquarters). There are a number of reasons why a company might need to hire into an expatriate position, but they are usually hard to fill and often pay quite well. Being willing to spend some time overseas not only opens up more jobs to you, but it also will give you a chance to travel. And in many cases, the employer handles your lodging overseas (and even if they do not, it is often quite inexpensive), so unlike a domestic move, you don't have to worry about trying to sell your house.

9: Don't neglect your networking

No, I don't mean TCP/IP and Cat5e cable. I mean talking to other people. Stay in touch with former co-workers and they may pass along word of a position. Another great place to learn about open jobs is at a local user's group for the technologies you are interested in. Also, sign up for their mailing list! At my local .NET user group, there are frequent job announcements, and the local Ruby group's mailing list often contains job postings. Even if you don't hear about a job, you can get a better idea of what the job market is like, which companies are likely to be hiring soon, and so on.

10: Go beyond the job boards

Not all companies post their open positions on the job boards, but they do post them on their own Web sites. Yes, it is a huge hassle to register with dozens of individual companies. At the same time, you are avoiding the issues with the job boards too, like scam sales jobs disguised as real jobs, multiple recruiters trying to hire for the same position, and whatnot. In addition, you actually know what company you are applying to, which is getting rather rare on the job boards. Think of the companies you would like to work for and see if they have jobs on their sites in your area or in a city you would be willing to move to. You will greatly expand your pool of jobs to look at, and if the company does not post these jobs on the job boards, you probably have much less competition for the jobs as well.

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

37 comments
eferreiro
eferreiro

Justin, I totally agree with you. I'm currently unemployed for the first time in my life (I'm 43) and I felt I needed to do several of the things you recommend and they make me feel much better. I would add another way (#11) : "Enjoy your family".I've been all my life complaining because - as full-time-working mother - I couldn't go to certain celebrations at my children' school or taking them to a Mall on a working day or simply spend some hours with my mother watching old photographs and listening to her stories ... this is the moment ... Pamper your parents - if alive -, your partner and your children and yourself.

fungus_amongus
fungus_amongus

those may be 10 nice things to do while waiting, but one thing you better not have is a low-level criminal conviction from 14 years ago, because you will NEVER be allowed to work in corporate America again, even with 22+ years of very technical experience and a CP/CS degree from an elite private collage. I've been rejected for over 7 jobs in the past 2 years AFTER PASSING THE INITIAL INTERVIEWS WITH FLYING COLORS because as soon as HR looks into my background, BAM, up comes some stuff from two lifetime ago ( i was 26 at the time, am now 46 ) that seems to completely exclude me from being able to work ever again. it's so frustrating to know that I have been "marked" by the powers to be to be NEVER TO BE ALLOWED A CHANCE TO REDEEM MYSELF... ...so why this was a great list for things to do while waiting, ill give you one thing NOT to do, and that is to get busted with a small amount of pot... regards - mark

SKFee
SKFee

I have a job but it is outside my career field. These apply to me too. I was glad to see that I am doing 7 out of 10 already! Will work on 2 as I work on my career. Can't move out of states for now. Thanks for the tips!

lagray53
lagray53

Do you homework; you have to have the necessary paperwork to work in the EU, which is nearly impossible to get. The EU has all the talent it needs and just being an American is no longer a ticket to a job. I wish it were.

penelopeelse
penelopeelse

Funnily enough, I'm in just the position of looking for volunteers for a local festival. I'll be advising the local currently-unemployed people that to volunteer for this means that they will have something interesting to add to their CV, and it helps them to prove themselves (or try out new things). Crucially, it also helps them to make new contacts. You never know whose brother-in-law is just expanding their business and needs your skills. It may sound obvious to extraverts, but introverts (like me) will usually need to make a concerted effort in this. I think, also, that it is probably a good idea to view any job as a stepping-stone rather than a job-for-life. This is not only because job-for-life is a fantasy, but because it will force you to make and maintain useful contacts, to consider how the work you're doing contributes to your experience and CV, and to constantly be training yourself in new technologies or skill-sets, ready for the next leap (or push...).

beageo
beageo

The Greek guy who thought your advice re looking abroad was a joke, illustrates the general ignorance of the "IT crowd". He may not of heard of a place called Australia - but it has half the unemployment rate of the USA, and a looming labour crisis - along with the best lifestyle in the world. Maybe why huge numbers of Greeks populate its 2nd largest city, Melbourne. As Australia rolls out a $US39 billion broadband network, things will get worse, or better depending on your point of view.

NMCDONNE
NMCDONNE

Hi Justin Great tips! I am in agreement that you need to remain resourceful following a layoff and explore new opportunities with renewed optimism. All the above tips act as real confidence boosters when searching for a new job and should definitely help folks get back in the game ! Thanks for sharing. Nicola McDonnell

xmanhattan
xmanhattan

Everyone is scrambling just to find a country these days that has the least unemployment!

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

1. This isn't a "game". Nor should anybody treat it as such. 2. Work for free? We sell our services for money, which we use to buy updated tools, further education, and some things to relax on since human rights are of value to us as well. Working for free is what a corporatist wants. If one gives an inch to another, the other will take a mile. NEVER give an employer more than what is expected - they will then demand it all the time and NOT give anything back in return, such as a pay raise for doing more work. Too much empirical experience... Never mind a couple fellow students are doing unpaid internships. The companies love the work and want to keep the students, but still as unpaid interns. Um, how are the students supposed to pay back their loans? If California can hand out IOU slips and if companies can file bankruptcy to get out of paying pensions their employees paid for in good faith, we should have some rights and "get out of the same issue those who make the system are able to get out of" as well. In short, we want a fair paradigm. Not a parasitic system.

jkameleon
jkameleon

Prevention is better than cure. 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10: If you start doing this after layoff, it will already be too late. You should do that constanlty. Be prepared for the ineviteable. Perpetual job hunt is the key to survival in the IT profession. 2, 3: Better consider abandoning the IT, and doing something profitable for a living instead. 6: Consider the cert's R.O.I. carefully. > But the gatekeepers in the hiring process, like HR and recruiters, place a fairly high value on IT certifications. A certification can make the difference between getting an interview and not getting one. So, certificate is actually a sort of job interview fee, a job interview entry ticket. If we have to pay to get a job interview, something must be seriously wrong with our profession.

JCitizen
JCitizen

even Florida has an expungement law - I believe. I've helped many a person get their rights back by going through this procedure, in Texas and other Midwestern states. Once completed, you are not obligated to admit to such past transgressions, unless you are getting a government job that requires security clearance; and even then you may get your clearance if it is not a drug violation(sorry). But for most jobs that isn't a problem! Your records will be cleared of this violation, and only brought up for military,police, or jobs involving direct education or service to minors. You can also apply for pardon depending on whether it is a state or federal violation; and their are state felonies and federal felonies, so don't let that get mixed up - Federal - US Presidential pardon, State - pardon by that state's Governor. Politicians do hundreds, maybe thousands of these every year.

Justin James
Justin James

I was fairly certain (having worked for a company that did background checks) that stuff fell off your record after a certain period of time? It's true though, even a minor criminal conviction blocks you from finding employment as more and more companies use background checks. From my experience in the industry, most companies use various "rules" and its automatic. As soon as they get your information it runs the check and it assigns you a grade. Which is why a human never sees it and says, "gee, that was 20 years ago, I think we can ignore it", the computer just sees "simple possession". I would *strongly* urge you to research the laws regarding how long this is allowed to remain on your record, and investigate what needs to be done to have it stop popping up. I was fairly sure that it can't be held against you forever. And if it is one particular BG check company that's doing it, you might want to look into legal action if they are in violation of the limits. Best of luck to you. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

A long time ago, I was working very hard to get to Australia. The big thing holding me back at the time was that the differential in pay and currency values would have made it difficult for me to pay my debts in the US. I've done a *lot* of research about Australia, and it (and Canada) seem like a really great place filled with really nice people. At the time, I was working at a call center and handling a lot of international calls, and what really struck me was that the callers from Australia and Canada always treated me very well, even when I wasn't telling them what they wanted to hear, while the US callers all too often treated me very poorly because of things that I had nothing to do with. J.Ja

Disinterested3rdParty
Disinterested3rdParty

At the end of the 90s, after being laid off and having the opportunity to get additional training at no cost to myself, I finally found work in Germany. When I returned from Germany after working there for 2 years, I started looking for work in my field in the States; I had a few interviews, but they went nowhere. An agent from the state's Employment Department called a company I had interviewed with to find out why I wasn't qualified. The response was shocking: my employment in Germany had been officially noted as "unverifiable", which the state agent interpreted to mean the company's HR didn't want to go to the trouble or difficulty of making the phone call(s). In short, it was a great and valuable experience working abroad, but coming back was not.

yorkshirepudding
yorkshirepudding

I agree - after graduating university and not finding a job straight away, I developed a website to help me search for jobs in my sector (wasn't IT then). I then made it public, and soon employer knowledge of the site added kudos at interviews. I also sold it later to a competitor website for a reasonable sum, when an impending baby and house extension project stripped away all free time to work on it.

JCitizen
JCitizen

you and your countrymen are having with the European Union. If we don't watch it, the US will join you in our common miseries soon!

BWebLive
BWebLive

My wife and I are 50 + and labeled as overqualified and having too much experience in South Africa witch has made us unemployable. So we aimed high, get to Geneva Switzerland. We did and now almost 2 years later my wife is permanently employed and I have started a business that has taken root and will grow in the next few years. When people hear what we did they all say its nearly impossible to do, especially as we made the move just as the world economy was crashing. But we did it and watch this space.... :-)

steve
steve

I did just that, moved from Australia to New Zealand. You could not get two countries closer in culture, shared history and mutual friendliness, plus Aussies get automatic permanent residence in NZ and vice versa, so there are no visa and immigration hassles. It cost me my last $10,000 to move here and I took a bath on things like having to sell a perfectly good car, and buy one not nearly as good. My Sig other keeps having to fly back to sort out things with her family. The cost of living is far more expensive than I'd bargained for and the pay is good by NZ standards but not by Aus. There are also stings in the tail, like increased health insurance premiums when I get back to Aus because I haven't kept it up continuously. I'm having trouble saving here and I am *unable* to go back without just leaving everying behind and starting from nothing. Its a bad situation to be in. Be very careful with this option. Things have picked up in Aus now, and if I'd stuck it out there I would be in a much better position than I am here.

JCitizen
JCitizen

it helped establish me in the new community I had moved to, and they weren't chump jobs. One of them was as an IT security expert at a local bank!

tiedmyhands67
tiedmyhands67

Rofl.... oh man... I love it when people can't read!!!! It's like hey... Do you enjoy having super ADD? Well it's okay your forgiven... Just try to read each sentence one at a time and you might actually understand what they are saying ;D Give it a try! Who knows!!! It might work...!

Justin James
Justin James

1. Who ever said to treat these things like a game? Not me. "Get back in the game" is a common expression, it means getting back in action, or in this case, getting back to work. 2. I never said to call up some company and work for free. I said to contribute to open source projects, volunteer your services to charity organizations, or work on projects for yourself. There's a world of difference between that and calling up some company and offering to work for them for free, and it certainly is not equivalent to an unpaid internship. J.Ja

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

and the attitude shown within it what you say means little to me now.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

He's consistent. And you can't say there isn't a precedent.

jkameleon
jkameleon

You are department manager. Disregarding what my kind has say is part of your job.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

stop talking and resume the lima bean harvest!

jkameleon
jkameleon

You learned your underling-silencing lines well.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

You just keep moving that hand up and down the tiny greased pole that is your life.

jkameleon
jkameleon

... better than you know mine.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

That's a bad word with bad follow-ups. Plebes Rex.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

I may be an IT Manager now but was a Helpdesk Worker, IT Tech,System Admin and Infrastructure Engineer in the years before the position. I know your type all too well.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

"You are department manager. Disregarding what my kind has say is part of your job." I found that offensive and so answered in kind. I'm a good manager but attitude like that deserves the term "pleb" in my book.

gstrickland
gstrickland

"Pleb"? That's not very respectful. I'm very glad I don't work for you or your company!