Responses to a recent Discussion Center topic indicate that many IT pros are still out of work in what remains a tight IT job market. Those who are looking for jobs say the market isn’t getting any better; in fact, some argue it’s actually getting worse. But those who are struggling have found ways to persevere, and those who’ve survived long enough to land new jobs have their own insights on what it takes to see the tough times through.

If you’re one of the many who has long been without a regular paycheck, then this advice from TechRepublic members may help you make the most of the downtime and come out of it with better employment prospects.

Take what you can get
Many IT pros report that the job market is still down and that prospects look pretty dim, so they’ve learned to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself, regardless of how promising or menial it seems.

Michael Thayer, for example, reported that he landed his current job as an information system specialist by taking a temp job with the company as an administrative assistant. Prior to that, Thayer had taken a job as an assistant manager at a pizza place.

Thayer was thus able to work his way back into a technical position by accepting opportunities that he might otherwise have rejected. His current position isn’t ideal either, but it’s on the right track.

“Although the money could be better,” said Thayer, “I feel it will catch up with my position when things start picking up in business.”

Others have been forced to take on odd jobs to bide their time until something better comes along. Michael Bayrock, for example, reported that he’s been keeping busy by doing anything from home improvements to computer consulting to volunteering.

Still others have resorted to offering their services for free in hopes of building future opportunities. This is a strategy that can pay off in the long run.

Plant the seeds for tomorrow
Many IT pros argue that a constructive way to use the “downtime” is to cultivate relationships that may lead to future opportunities.

IT consultant and telecommunications engineer Bob Ackler, for example, extends credit to companies who have IT needs but who can’t afford to spend right now.

“This is effective,” said Ackler, “for building a relationship that will pay off later.”

Ackler said he did work for one company in this manner and it has paid off because the company’s fortunes have since turned around. Not only will he be paid for the earlier work he did for the company, but he’s also opened the door for other opportunities by establishing a good relationship with a client.

Granted, this strategy won’t help you pay the bills in the short term, but the dividends you reap later may be worth the sacrifice. Those who are out of work are finding that it’s important to look further ahead.

Another important step to take is to diversify one’s skills by seeking additional training and certifications. Ackler is among the many who reported they’ve been forced to improve their skills in order to find work.

Kim Tobin, who has worked as a net admin, manager, and trainer, feels that part of the reason she’s out of work may be her lack of certifications, so she plans to start studying in hopes of getting noticed somewhere.

Though many question the value of certifications, in a tight market, certs might be the key to getting noticed, especially if you already have years of experience in the field.

Stay in focus
Another solution that goes hand in hand with diversifying your skills is focusing on areas where there is high demand.

Donald E. Hester, for example, reported that there’s significant demand for labor in security. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is driving the need for IT security professionals in the healthcare industry, said Hester. Those with training or certifications in IT security can take advantage of HIPAA mandates to land positions at hospitals and other healthcare organizations. As companies increasingly turn to the Internet as a tool for offering products and services and for connecting employees who telecommute, opportunities in security will continue to grow.

This is just one example of possible niches of opportunity you can take advantage of. The trick is doing the research and finding out where the need exists.

The salary at the end of the tunnel
Most of those posting to the discussion center weren’t very optimistic about a quick turnaround in IT. Most seem to feel the current conditions will continue for some time, so they’re not sitting idly waiting for an economic rebound. Instead, they’re using the time to take the steps necessary to make themselves more employable in the near future.

By focusing on career enhancers, such as certifications, and by broadening your overall approach to doing business while narrowing in on your next job niche, you should come out of the IT drought in fine form, ready to work and just in time to replenish your depleted savings.