Due to the recent downturn of the technology market, a good number of consultants have fallen victim to downsizing and layoffs. If you’re one of the unlucky who is or may soon be looking for work, here are a few tips from your fellow TechRepublic members on being prepared for a layoff, what to do when and if you are laid off, and how to turn a seemingly ugly situation into a positive experience.

If not now, then when?
Ray Deckard, of Deckard Consulting Services in Ft. Walton Beach, FL, said layoffs are not a question of if, but when—so you may as well be prepared.

”I consider being laid off [like] the end of a contract or being sent on vacation or having an opportunity to take a class in a new skill without jeopardizing my project and my reputation. It seems [this is] the only time that I ever have the opportunity to take [advantage of] either.

“Contractors, it seems, have fallen into the trap of relying on one ‘sugar daddy’ contract to support their financial needs. This puts us in the position that we were in as regular employees, at the mercy of the HR department. It inevitably leads to inferior offers that we just can’t refuse.”

To remedy the situation, Deckard suggests three tips:

  1. Diversify. “Have more than one source of income, be it stocks, rental real estate, or a second or third smaller contract that you can nurse along and then rely on to be there in a crisis.”
  2. Network, network, network. “In this, the world that you have chosen as a consultant, you can never have too many friends.”
  3. Establish a savings. “Don’t spend all your money,” Deckard said. “If you can get about $10,000 banked up in your petty cash, you can rely on it in hard periods that rarely last more than two or three months.”

Looking for work is a full-time job
TechRepublic member John Donnewald has been unemployed for nearly four months. He has been a “generalist” in the PC arena for 20 years, with experience as a Windows and network developer.

“Tons of jobs seem to be out there, but right now employers are seeking their competitive edge in what has been an IT roller-coaster ride for the last few months,” Donnewald said. “Experience has been set aside for the sake of expedience, and that’s business when the chips are down. According to the recruiters I’ve been dealing with, the second quarter looks more promising for the experienced worker, so I’m hanging in there.”

Donnewald said he rises early each morning to begin his full-time job search using the Internet and newspapers. He has also created a personal Web page that includes his resume. Through his experience over the last few months, he has learned a few things about surviving a layoff:

Be aware

  • Watch for signs of instability within your firm (i.e., layoffs, terminations, new sales staff, asset disposals).
  • If you’re a salaried consultant and are well paid, remember that your salary can easily become a liability.
  • Watch out for those too-good-to-be-true “overnight millionaire” job offers that you’ll get via e-mail.
  • Thoroughly research the company you may work for.
  • Seek an employer that offers skill-upgrade training as part of their package.
  • Make sure you know what “pre-IPO” means. (See Bob Weinstein’s article “Be wary of sexy stock-option deals.”)
  • If you think your former employer is giving you a bad rap, find out by using a reference-checking service like References-etc. (See “Discreet ways to check your own references.”)

Be patient

  • If you don’t have a marketable specialty, it will probably take longer to find work—but it will happen.
  • Don’t become desperate and don’t settle for less. Your dream job is out there.
  • Be nice to recruiters. They want to make money too and they are working hard for you.

Treat unemployment as a positive opportunity

  • Unemployment is NOT a negative thing. It is a very positive opportunity.
  • If you have the time, try to increase your skill set, and make sure it’s marketable.
  • If you’re unemployed, look for work but also do the things you’ve always wanted to do. It really brightens your outlook.

A job search is a full-time occupation

  • Get your resume on every Internet job-search site you possibly can and check the sites daily for employment opportunities.
  • Make sure the search engines can find you.
  • Take full advantage of the free “career tools” offered by the job-search sites.
  • The newspaper classifieds are often overlooked and contain more than you think. Use them.
  • Cover letters are crucial. Follow-up letters are also crucial and should not be e-mailed. Be as personable as possible.

Been there, done that
Lynn McGrath, a technical support analyst with EMS Technologies Canada, Ltd., was laid off three times between 1987 and 1995. She said she avoided despair and depression with the help of good friends, family, and by participating in sports activities to take her mind off her difficult situation.

“You need to be focused on a plan and keep going, keep trying,” McGrath said. “I’m proud to say that with determination, hard work, and constancy to purpose, I succeeded at every layoff and somehow improved my situation from one time to the next.”
Are you planning to make a move out of IT to pay the bills, or do you think there are plenty of consulting jobs to be had? How are you gaining the competitive edge over the glut of other consultants looking for work? Send us an e-mail or post your comments below.