A guide for successfully navigating your employment gap, getting back into the market and identifying your best job opportunities.

Industries and markets such as tech are constantly evolving and modernizing, but don't rule yourself out for having an unemployment gap with dated IT skills. Why? New jobs are generated with innovation and progression, requiring individuals with the new skillsets to support the advancements in tech. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, total employment is projected to increase by 11.9 million jobs from 2020 to 2030. And this, my friend, puts you back in the running! Furthermore, your tech experience from years before is an added element, a differentiator that can help you stand out amongst other job seekers.

The Importance of Differentiators and a Pitch

Yes, the job market is still competitive for recent graduates, and many are obtaining certifications and degrees. However, you have experience representing your differentiators, which will set you apart. Your differentiators should include what you learned from your previous job to help position yourself for a new one. Leverage these differentiators to develop a type of elevator pitch. When composing your pitch, consider what makes you capable of doing something better than other candidates seeking the same position. Your pitch should focus on the solutions and trade the hiring manager seeks, which takes us to upskilling.

You've been unemployed, and out of the market, so it's essential to demonstrate that you're still enhancing your skills. How have you been upskilling, staying connected to the industry, and doing other things that relate to the job description? If you're unsure where to start, look at various job descriptions (posted for similar positions) in detail. Pick out the important things and make sure you can talk about your capabilities, regardless of having been out of the market for some time. Also, include these differentiators in your pitch to show what you've done to develop your skills. Differentiators can consist of things such as the following:

  • Prepping for the security plus exam or others relevant to the job for which you're applying
  • Having a home lab demonstrating your activities relating to the cloud and AWS
    • Indicative of your being up to date in pertinent technologies
  • No home lab, no problem!
    • Include conferences and webinars you've attended

Once you've developed a pitch including your differentiators, you can confidently chime in with, "Let me tell you about my capabilities and why I'm the right candidate!"

The Value in Networking

Now that you've developed a memorable pitch include it as part of the first paragraph of your resume and use it when networking. A notable statement will help your resume stand out amongst other similar resumes from applicants sharing the same skillsets but no differentiators. Dedicate time to practice your pitch for interviews and networking. Ensure you're taking every opportunity to present it whenever possible. The more you practice, the better you'll be able to convey why you, which includes your differentiators and the value you bring.

Use your pitch, making connections off and online. Today's virtual environments allow us to make more connections than ever before. When networking and reaching out, clearly convey your reasoning for connecting. Identify who you are and your interests. Start reaching out to who you know and then consider who they may know to increase your chances of having conversations and building relationships. Remember that on the flip side of networking, be prepared to pay it forward by doing the same for someone else in need, whether now or in the future.

Eliminating the Discomforts of Attending Networking Events

Virtual webinars, conferences, and meet-ups don't require walking the floor and approaching individuals. However, you still have to show up because a wallflower is unimpressionable. Networking online requires a proactive approach, reaching out to others, and even speaking or posing questions by chat. Gain more confidence attending online calls, conferences, webinars, etc., considering the following:

  • Address your attire and appearance; is it appropriate for the engagement?
  • Ensure your background is tidy or use a blur filter
  • Decorate your environment to fit the engagement or temporarily move to a more suitable part of your home
  • Consider using engaging or appropriate backdrops
  • Eliminate or reduce potential distracting or off-putting sounds
  • Turn on your camera and use your pitch
  • Be prepared to partake and engage

Furthermore, it can be instrumental in considering your and others' facial expressions, body language, and voices. Body language matters because it comes through your voice. When properly used, body language or expressions can make a positive impact during your phone, video, and live engagements. Other non-verbal prompts can help show your engagement and attentiveness to help you stand out. Learn more by watching our Toolbox Talk recording and panel discussion, Find Your Voice, Part 1.

Physical event attendance ceased and altered during the COVID pandemic, which means many of us are trying to get back on the saddle to network in person. A buck off the horse draws attention to caution, bringing a hoard of other discomforts and insecurities. However, if you're new to networking in person or haven't done it in a while, use some of the following tips to help ease your worry.

  • Ask a friend or colleague to join
    • Are you going solo? Help break the jitters by striking conversations while waiting in the sign-in line, at the event beverages counter, etc.
  • If you aren't holding up the line, strike up a conversation with the sign-in or welcome attendant to practice your introduction
  • Are you approachable? Use eye contact to connect, smile, and gesture as an invitation to say hello 
  • Approach individuals versus larger groups; individuals attending solo can relate

Once you've become comfortable attending networking events, you can further refine your engagement and build trusting relationships utilizing resources from our articles, Building Trust and Confidence and Building Trust and Rapport in Phone and Video Meeting, Part 1 and Part 2.

Failing Forward

You may have to network and apply many times before getting an interview and many times more before getting an acceptable offer, but don't let impatience get you. Impatience may try to convince you to jump at the first offer. You may even want to take a job solely for the salary, but do you actually know what you're signing up for, and will the work be satisfying down the line?

Reduce the risk of selecting the wrong job or organization that doesn't support your thoughts on success, career growth, and all that matters to you. How? Prepare and ask questions during your interview to evaluate and better understand the opportunity. You can ask questions about support and growth, such as those below.

  • Is this a new role, or am I back-filling someone? Can you elaborate on why they're no longer in this position?
  • Is coaching a part of the work or team environment?
  • What processes are in place to solicit feedback and opportunities for improvement?
  • Does the company offer programs, discounts, and resources to support growth and career development? If so, can you please elaborate?
  • Save this link: Breaking Barriers: How to Launch Your IT Career article and access a complete list later.

Once you've learned how to assess opportunities better, you may interview and find that the positions aren't what you thought or weren't suitable for you—good job asking the tough questions.

Working for an organization with a work environment that allows you to fail forward is essential, as everyone is working towards the same goal for success. Undeniably, nobody likes to fail. However, when you realize that failure is inevitable and think of it as failing forward, it takes on a different connotation. The concept is that we're not growing if we're not failing, and if we're not growing, we're not pushing ourselves to add more value. Learn from the experience to build differentiators and confidence; it will get you closer to achieving your goals. Develop your skills, grow your network, reach more interviews, improve interview skills, ask the tough questions, and find the right opportunity and company that supports your ideas for success.

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