Dear Sam: I worked for the same company for over 8 years, but was recently laid off. The experience was a big “aha” moment for me, because I realized that I haven’t been taking the time to grow my skill set or to build my resume like I should have been. I think I was comfortable in my role, so I didn’t find it necessary to think about how I stacked up against peers in the same industry. I’m also busy with kids/life, so I don’t have the time to go back to school. What can I do to make myself more marketable now? — Maria
Dear Maria: It is never too late to learn new skills and grow professionally. In fact, it should become part of your regular routine! By taking part in professional development opportunities, you can benefit from a more robust skill set as well as an expanded professional network. Below are some easy ways to start getting more involved in your field and adding to your resume:
Join a professional association.
There are multiple ways to get involved with groups that interest you, including national-level organizations, industry-specific associations, neighborhood business associations, or special focus groups like women entrepreneurs. By joining a group of professionals dedicated to the industry you’re in or would like to be in, you can make valuable professional contacts and get access to a wealth of information. For example, many groups offer conferences (both regional and national), training seminars, and even webinars that can help you build your industry knowledge. You can start by becoming a general member, and then work your way up to a leadership role to make an even greater impact! The website www.careeronestop.org (which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor) has a Professional Association Finder tool that you can use to locate national associations by occupation or industry served.
Take a class.
While beginning a new degree program may be time prohibitive, consider taking a course or two through a local university or community center. Many schools offer classes for adults and continuing education students on evenings or weekends, or even online. You could take a course to learn technical skills, enhance your writing/communication skills, or to learn a second language. Most employers appreciate candidates who have an interest and dedication to lifelong learning.
Teach yourself a new skill.
Structured classes aren’t always necessary when learning new skills. There are many free tutorials, training programs, and reading materials online (and offline) to that you could take advantage of. Do some research on skills that are desirable for your line of work, and then try to find ways to practice these skills. For example, social media skills are becoming increasingly popular and desirable among almost every industry. After finding some free training materials online, you could even volunteer to take on some social media projects for your church, a group/activity your child is a part of, or a professional association you’ve recently joined. You can then add this skill to your resume and LinkedIn profile!
Read and write.
Books, articles, magazines, blogs…read as much as you can! There is no limit to how much knowledge you can gain. Focus on content that is recent so that you are up-to-date on the latest industry trends and opportunities. Having this updated knowledge will be especially important if you plan to interview soon. If you feel like you have wisdom to contribute, you could also start your own blog. There are many free or inexpensive website builders available, including www.Wix.com and www.WordPress.com, and www.Blogger.com. Reading and sharing professional resources is a great way to stay involved with your industry and to possibly make a name for yourself as an industry expert.
Being laid off can be a challenging experience, but hopefully you can take this time to learn and grow before reemerging as an even more qualified candidate. Even after you reenter the workforce, I encourage you to stay involved in industry associations and to actively pursue professional development opportunities, as learning and growing is never a finite process. Best of luck, Maria!