The last thing you need is a set of questionable strategies that won't work. Here are some effective ways to effectively get in gear and into the workforce after a job loss.

By Sixto Ortiz Jr. | March 2007

In Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, author Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover, posing as a job seeker looking to reenter the workforce. The book is a sometimes funny, sometimes heart-rending look at the netherworld of career coaches, focus groups, and endless networking that displaced workers are thrust into as they try to rejoin the ranks of the gainfully employed.

If anything, the book proves getting back into the workforce can be tricky, confusing, and above all else, frustrating. The last thing a job seeker needs is questionable strategies that won't work. So, here are some effective ways to effectively get in gear and into the workforce after a job loss.

Cast A Wide Net

Most experts agree that networking is an absolutely critical element of a successful job hunt. Dave Opton, CEO and founder of ExecuNet, a career placement firm focused on executives earning over $100,000 per year, says "...without fail, networking has emerged as the single largest source of interviews and job leads every single year."

After a few years on the job, most experienced IT workers usually collect an impressive number of business cards from vendors, consultants, or colleagues working in other companies. So, those falling on the wrong end of a lay-off are wise to take their Rolodexes along for the ride when their employer lays them off. A brand new opportunity may be just a few flicks of the finger away.

And while employed, IT workers should take advantage of networking opportunities. It's easy to get caught up in the daily grind and neglect the chance to cast a wider net. Trade shows, consortiums, even the occasional lunch outing with that seemingly annoying sales person may provide that career-saving contact.

Katherine Spencer Lee, Executive Director of IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology, points out that lots of people presume the first thing they need to do after they¿re laid off is to start responding to online job postings as quickly as possible. But, she says, that alone isn¿t enough: candidates should research companies that are hiring, scour their network, and make sure their skills are current.

Here's a strategy that doesn't work: According to ExecuNet¿s Opton, the fewest job opportunities for executives looking for work was broadcast resume campaigns directed toward companies. "While it's not unheard of for someone to find a new opportunity by sending unsolicited resumes to dozens of companies, it is rare."

Keep The Saw Sharp

And speaking of skills: Maintaining a current skill set, especially in the fast-paced world of IT, is also critical to successfully reentering the workforce. Katherine Spencer Lee, Executive Director of IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology, says IT professionals wanting to rejoin the ranks of the employed need to ensure their skill sets are up to speed. ¿IT is one of the fastest moving industries around, and if their tools are outdated, they will have a hard time even getting interviews,¿ warns Spencer Lee.

So, she adds, displaced workers should make sure their resumes reflect recently learned skills, projects they have worked on, or certifications they have earned.

This is especially sound advice for today's rapidly improving job marketplace: companies today are hiring again, and that also includes skilled IT workers. As ExecuNet¿s Opton points out, the demand for MIS/IT professionals remains strong. So, Opton adds, as the job market improves formerly "passive" candidates are now actively seeking employment, and the overall competition for the most attractive opportunities is heating up.

But, candidates tempted to strike quickly while the iron is hot should temper their enthusiasm just a tad. "It's also very important," Opton adds, "not to jump the gun and enter the market before developing and refining a professional resume, a well-researched target list of companies, and polished 'elevator speech' that highlights who you are, where you're going, why, and what you can contribute."

Older, Wiser ... And Unemployed?

Age discrimination is a hot topic in corporate America today. Numerous lawsuits have been filed by older workers who felt organizations unfairly forced them out due to their advancing age and higher salaries.

According to ExecuNet's Opton, "anecdotal evidence suggests that an executive under the age of forty will typically have twice as many interviews as an executive over the age of fifty." The facts seem to support Opton's assertion: statistics collected by the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) indicate unemployed older persons - 55 or older - take longer to find work than younger job seekers. According to the AARP's research, the average duration of unemployment in 2005 was 24.1 weeks for those over 55 and just 17.8 weeks for those under 55.

In spite of these sobering statistics, older job seekers shouldn't lose hope. "Overcoming age bias in a job search," says Opton, "starts with being prepared to counter stereotypes head-on by demonstrating an ability to adapt to change, a comfort with relevant technology, and enthusiasm for tackling the challenges that lie ahead." In the IT world it is critical that job seekers, he adds, demonstrate they are current and well versed in the latest relevant technology.

A State of Mind

Sudden job loss is a traumatic and tough experience to deal with. But, it is essential to maintain a positive attitude, even in the face of adversity. Dave Opton recommends that job seekers give themselves time to get past the shock and anger of a job loss and point their energies in a positive direction. And, says Katherine Spencer Lee, "the best tonic for recovering from a layoff is to remain active."

At the end of the day, a job search is a sales job, and as Dave Opton points out, "you are now the sales manager for a product called 'You, Inc.'" Presenting that product in the most positive light greatly increases the odds of closing the sale and landing that new career opportunity.

Sixto Ortiz Jr. is a Houston-based journalist who has been writing about information technology since 1996.