As you leave the office today, pretend you've just been downsized, let go, fired, or laid off. For the rest of the evening, take a look at the employment ads and match the listed necessary qualifications against those in your resume. (You do have an up to date resume, don't you?)
Additionally, if you have any friends or associates who are currently "between positions", give them a call and see how they're doing. Where better to find out what it's really like out there, than by asking those looking for work? While you're at it, do you know anyone who might be a good lead for them? That's the real secret to networking, doing favours for others before you need them for yourself.
What is unfortunate, is that when you consider the state of the IT industry and the number of people who read this column, for some readers this won't be a "silly exercise", it'll be the real thing. We lose our supposedly secure positions at the most unexpected times. The best we can do is to prepare for the unexpected, even if all we do is take stock of our assets, skills and abilities from time to time and attempt to correct the obvious deficiencies.
Here's what you will find if you take the time to look at those ads. Certifications have become the mandatory passport to entry. Without skills certification you won't make it past the human resource gatekeepers. Regardless of how many hundreds of projects you've managed successfully, on time, on budget, unless you have a PM (project manager) certificate of some shape and size, you are automatically tossed into the slush pile.
We could argue the pros and cons of certification, but what would be the point? The reality is that certification is now necessary when applying for a new position. I know individuals who have successfully delivered huge, multi-year, multi-million dollar projects on time and on budget, who have been searching, unsuccessfully for work for more than a year.
While the economy has something to do with this state of affairs, these folks all state that their primary problem is their lack of a piece of paper "certifying" they have PM skills ... their real world experience, documented and verifiable through references, is all but worthless.
Two solutions to the certification situation spring immediately to mind. Surrendering to the inevitable seems like an appropriate response. What certifications are you qualified for, but haven't yet acquired? Get them now, while you have a job. If you're lucky, your current company might even pay for the certification process and whatever upgrading of skills might be necessary.
Admittedly, getting certified is a nuisance; it takes time way from current projects to prove we're qualified to work on those projects. Certification isn't something we need to do our job; it's become something we need to get a job.
The other solution to the certification issue involves a totally different approach. A certificate of achievement is very much like a passport, in that it is intended to serve as proof of identity, in this case "ability", to complete strangers. If I already know you, your work and accomplishments, then "certification" isn't an issue. I already trust you and your abilities; certification is a substitute for first-hand experience and trust.
While networking has almost become an annoying cliché, it is still a vital tool in a professional's arsenal. It's not only useful when looking for work, it's the way to solve common problems, keep an eye on trends and finding the perfect person for a new position.
Whether you do your networking on a personal basis by staying in touch with those you meet at conferences and in the daily course of business, or take a more focused approach by becoming involved with professional associations, networking is perhaps the only way to land a new position if your certification folder isn't filled to the brim.
We regularly back up our data; spending some time to backup our career is just another form of contingency planning.