In the past, a few months of being out of a job might have been something to be embarrassed about. But now, in this uncertain economy, employment gaps are just an average fact on thousands of resumes around the country. What is certain is how Managers and Human Resources Directors are looking closely at how you effectively you used this “down” time. Never before has it been so critical to show that you have put in the effort to contribute to your community and make a life long difference in your career. And be ready to knock their socks off when they ask this next question…
“How have you spent your time during your layoff?” This is a question I have asked thousands of time over the last fifteen years as a Career Coach and Executive Search Consultant. I am never surprised to hear the most popular answers such as: networking, indulging in hobbies or even the more honest responses of getting more sleep and spending time with families.
But what I am truly hoping to hear from candidates? A convincing conversation about how a prospective employee spent their time to make themselves unique in their industry. In this current recession, it’s time to propel and escalate yourself to the top of the mountain of candidates all vying for the few available jobs out there.
Here are five action oriented steps you can utilize today to significantly change the topic from “employment interruption” to a dynamic time where you furthered your career development. It works for everyone from entry level to senior executives and business leaders.
1. Volunteering. Do something with your time that gives back to your community, is possibly relevant to your expertise and/or that will open you up to new experiences. For examples, the Helping Hands program through the United Way and Habit for Humanity often pulls professionals together for various industries and companies. Not only can you give back and feel good about it, you expose yourself to limitless networking opportunities. Share your own expertise by coaching and mentoring the next generation or fellow job seekers in your field only increases your own management experience and sharpens your skills. This is a big seller to a prospective employer.
2. Attend Professional Training & Development. Sign up to obtain additional certifications, attend workshops, audit a course at local community colleges or enroll in online e-courses. All of these activities speak to the attention you pay to advancing not just your career but your skill sets, knowledge base and expertise. A potential employer will get an idea of your motivation and drive as well.
3. Create and Manage your Online Footprint. Make sure your social networks are up to date and secure. Do not just log in and “play” on Facebook, LinkedIN and Twitter, but make sure you your privacy settings are accurate and anything you post or comment on represents you and your professional brand appropriately. Employers are using social media as the primary background screening tool prior to inviting a candidate in for an interview. Makes sure your profile promotes you and not hinders you.
4. Competitive Intelligence. Apply critical thinking to how you approach research about your own industry or a field in which you want to transition. Invest time in becoming an expert in the closely related fields, not only your industry. This will allow you create a 30-60-90 day to plan to a prospective employer and present to them solutions you can bring to their organization.
5. Enhance Your Personal Brand. Create a personal website for yourself where you can promote your own career portfolio, resume and any special areas of interest to a prospective employer. Check out free sites such as www.weebly.com.
Once you do land that job, these on-going efforts will serve as instant supports to help keep you focused and protect yourself from falling behind should you ever find yourself in a similar position in the future. Paying attention to all aspects of your career development whether you are gainfully employed or looking for the next opportunity are both sides of the same coin – enhancing your personal expertise, branding power and career presence.