Beth Braccio Hering, Special to CareerBuilder
With hiring picking up, is it reasonable for a job seeker to believe that she can resume her career where she left off before becoming unemployed? While most experts agree that it may be possible, they also concur that such a rebound is difficult and takes a great deal of commitment. For those willing to put in the effort, here are five strategies for getting back on the career path.
1. Be certain of your career goals
Before trying to get back on track, be sure you’re heading in the direction you really want to go. Having a clear sense of what you want will make it easier to target your efforts towards specific positions and companies.
“I would recommend clients reflect if they want to re-enter the same career field or if this is a time to transfer into a new career,” says Mike Blount, a career coach at Messiah College Internship Center in Grantham, Penn. Adds Wil Lemire, director of career services at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass., “This may be a good time to do some career assessment to confirm that you are on the right path. Your college career office may be helpful here.”
2. Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses
What skills and qualities do you bring to the table? Being able to clearly convey your best assets will make you a stronger applicant. But to be an even better candidate, you also need to cast a critical eye and look for things employers might perceive as negatives — and fix them.
Linda Matias, president of CareerStrides.com and author of “201 Knockout Answers to Tough Interview Questions: The Ultimate Guide to Handling the New Competency-Based Interview Style,” suggests that job seekers write down all the reasons they shouldn’t be hired and then formulate a plan on how to address each issue. “Too often, job seekers only pay mind to the reasons they should be hired. When that happens, they are not taking responsibility for their own career. No candidate is a perfect 10, but each job seeker should do whatever it takes to get as close to the number 10 as possible.”
3. Stay active and informed
“Be prepared to explain how you’ve been filling the days since your last job,” says Cynthia Favre, director of career services at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. “Employers know that it has been a rough job market, but they still expect that you have something to say about what you’ve been doing. For maybe six months you can say you took time to reassess, regroup and refocus, but after that they’ll wonder.”
“Stagnation is a résumé shredder,” Blount adds. “Show what you have done for your career.”
Ways to keep sharp and prove dedication to your field may include:
· Enrolling in continuing education and skill-building classes
· Taking on temporary projects or consulting work
· Keeping up with trade publications and pertinent websites
· Volunteering in your area of expertise
· Participating in professional associations and conferences
“When people get to know you, or get reacquainted with you, they are more likely to think to refer opportunities to you,” Favre states. “Use LinkedIn to join groups in your career field or to connect with past colleagues to find out where people are. It’s important, too, to continue networking the old-fashioned way. Join professional associations and volunteer to be on committees, plan events or work the registration table at conferences.”
Lemire adds that career fairs provide great networking opportunities as well as a chance to hone your “elevator pitch.” “Research the attending companies and participate actively by engaging the recruiters in conversations about the nuances of their company and typical job requirements.”
5. Be confident
Finally, don’t neglect the fact that unemployment can take a heavy toll on one’s self image. You need to come to terms with that period of your life before trying to sell yourself to others.
“Where candidates go wrong is self-confidence. They get defensive, apologetic or uptight when an interviewer asks the perfectly reasonable question, ‘Why have you been outside of your field for over a year?'” Matias says. “Surprisingly, many job seekers don’t prepare a response to this question ahead of time. It is as though they are hoping the interviewer won’t broach the topic. Candidates should prepare a brief response, and then practice saying the response until the answer rolls off the tongue.”
Beth Braccio Hering researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.com. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.