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What to do when you're between jobs

February 27, 2014

Whether you're applying for your first job or making a change in your IT career, you should use your transition period wisely. You need to keep your skills sharp and show your potential employers that you've stayed ambitious between jobs. Here are a few ideas:

It's great to add volunteer work to your resume, and the advantages hardly end there. Volunteering can help you stay motivated and positive, regardless of the type of activity you're giving your time to. If possible, consider volunteering for an organization that will make use of your technical skills. You can build experience while applying your talents to a great cause—and possibly gain networking contacts as well.

One example of an exciting volunteer opportunity for IT professionals is the Code for America fellowship. This program, which requires a year-long commitment like Teach for America, draws talented coders and web designers from around the country to work on projects for a worthy cause. In past projects, participants created websites that gave residents updated housing information, apps that allowed citizens to participate in government discussions and mobile apps for parents to track school buses, WFAE reported. Although not everyone can devote a year to a program like this, there are many organizations that have projects where you can put your technical skills to work.

Keep your skills current
When you're out of a job, you should make sure your tech talents and knowledge stay sharp. You could take a class or online course to earn a certificate that would be a boon to your IT career. While you're between jobs, it's a great time to make yourself more competitive by developing in-demand skills and knowledge. You can also attend industry events and conferences to stay in-the-know on the latest developments in your field.

Freelance or temp
Aside from volunteering, you can practice applying your technical skills by taking a temporary job or freelance work. In addition to earning a little money, it's a great way to gain professional experience that you can put on your resume and discuss in your job interview. According to Career Builder, potential employers increasingly regard temp work with respect, especially as interim opportunities often include high-level consulting projects. Learning new skills, such as additional website frameworks, while doing freelance work is also a great way to expand the skills section of your resume.

As The Boston Globe mentioned, temp work can also turn into full-time career offers, especially as many companies offer temp-to-hire positions. Impress them and see where the opportunity leads.

Forming and drawing on professional connections is a critical part of the job search process. You can use this time period to get in touch with your alma mater's career center or connect with your alumni network on LinkedIn. Beef up your LinkedIn profile and let people know that you're searching for a job. It can also help to contact people in your field for informational interviews, where you ask them questions about their company and career even if they don't have any open positions. Through these activities, you can receive useful advice and create valuable contacts.

"Exhaust every avenue, from networking online and joining professional groups to targeting companies of interest and contacting them directly," Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group, told Business News Daily. "Utilize social media and your network to make introductions or even request informational interviews. Even if you haven't seen a specific job opening, tell everyone you know that you are in the market and the type of position you seek."

The news source also suggested working with a recruiter who specializes in your field, since they're likely to know about additional positions and roles you haven't considered yet.

Refine your online presence
In addition to fixing up your LinkedIn profile and following information technology companies on the networking sites, you should consider other ways to bolster your online presence. The Internet offers a number of opportunities to showcase your expertise and gain respect in your field. For example, you could write a blog about technology developments or post relevant articles on Facebook and Twitter. These steps can indicate to potential employers that you've stayed current on industry news and have ideas to share with others.

To protect your professional image, clear your online profiles of anything you wouldn't want a future employer to see. Many recruiters look up their candidates on Facebook and other networks, so a careful makeover is never a bad idea.

Update your resume
While you're pursuing all of these great activities, remember to keep your resume up-to-date with your latest skills and accomplishments. Even though you'll want to tailor your document for every position you apply to, it's easier to include everything if you update as you go. You should also take a look at the formatting and consider giving your resume a fresh look if it's been a while since you've changed it.

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