- Q: I am a 25-year IT professional who grew up in the business. I was laid off from a director of IT position almost a year ago because of severe cutbacks and the shutdown of a major part of the business. I have not been able to locate a similar position since. However, I have been doing consulting work during that time. Will the consulting work be looked at as a negative going forward? How should I explain it on my résumé?
A: Being downsized from a company does not carry the stigma it once did. In addition, many executives have turned the "opportunity" into a wonderful new start with a company in the same industry and functional area or in a different industry altogether. Make sure you take this time to reflect on what your skills are, where they would have the greatest impact and what type of work will be most satisfying to you going forward.
Consulting done well is rarely a negative. On the contrary, depending on the engagements you elect to take on, you may be more valuable to a prospective employer. There are many positive elements to consulting, including remaining current with the issues of the day and the ability to work with clients on their business problems that are important enough for them to be paying someone like you to solve. Consider projects where you know you can succeed, that will add value to your client's business, and will sharpen and enhance your skill set. Remember that when consulting, your goal should be to exceed your client's expectations. If you can accomplish that, you will have plenty of projects to choose from and can be selective about the work you take on.
When listing consulting engagements on your résumé, indicate specifically what you were hired to accomplish, what the condition was when you arrived, and what was accomplished under your leadership, guidance and direction.
Finally, if there is a downside to consulting, it is the fact that consultants rarely remain with a company long and thus do not experience the ramifications of the choices and decisions they recommend. To repeat, that's why you need to exceed expectations and make sure your work can be easily referenced.
-- Gerry McNamara, partner of Heidrick & Struggles, Charlotte, North Carolina.
Short job stints
Q: I was laid off in spring of 2002 from a multinational company, and shortly after I was able to land a position as a director in a consultancy. Then I was let go because of the economic conditions. Should I revise my résumé to include this job that I held for less than six months?
A: I suggest you do add the most recent assignment, and note why you were laid off. You are not alone in being laid off. Most people will not judge you based on this one job situation but will look at your career progression during the past 10 to 15 years. However, if there are extenuating circumstances for which you have held a few short-term jobs in a row, you might use a cover letter to explain that. A cover letter enables you to tailor and highlight certain experiences that will be of interest to each particular client.
-- Beverly Lieberman, president of Halbrecht Lieberman Associates, Stamford, Connecticut.
Out of IT
Q: I was laid off from an IT position almost one year ago. My unemployment insurance has run out, and I was forced to take a low-level job that is not in IT. Will this hurt my IT career?
A: Taking a job outside of IT can be risky unless it is in another business function that will teach you valuable skills. If it is in planning, finance, marketing or sales, this can only enhance your overall knowledge. If it is really just a way to make a living, then do it and keep your résumé out there with good recruiters and keep up your networking. Obviously, this is a difficult economic period, but hopefully your off-track job will only be an interim step. Most employers will respect that you did what you did to pay the bills. In addition, this might be a good time to take some business or technology courses that enhance your value as an IT professional.
Q: I was recently let go as part of corporate restructuring. I was one of the top producers, resulting in president's club status and other recognition during the past three years. I am finding it difficult to answer when invariably every recruiter asks me the question, Why were you let go when you were so successful?
A: There are really two areas to address. The first and most important one is to secure new employment. The good news is that you are getting interviews, which indicates that you have a strong résumé. I recommend you answer the question, "Why were you terminated?" by stating the truth: "I don't know". Bring with you whatever accomplishment-supporting documentation you have, such as your president's club letter and performance reviews (you should always ask for and keep a copy of your evaluations). And urge all of your interviewers to check your references firsthand.
The second issue is quite a bit trickier. There is an infinite number of subjective reasons for your being put on the cut list. Perhaps someone didn't like you, or maybe you were perceived as expendable because of some behaviour other than your productivity. You may never discover the real reason. If you are confident that there has been foul play, check with an attorney. Otherwise, just make sure that your ex-employer is not giving damaging reference information regarding your separation, and move on to looking for your next job.
-- Mark Polansky, managing director and member of the advanced technology practice at Korn/Ferry International, New York City
Q: I have been unemployed for six months. Should I wait out the tech slowdown for another three to six months? Financially I am able, although it will be tight. I could take a lower-paying job, but my main concern is that being unemployed for six to 12 months can make me seem technically obsolete.
A: I am far more concerned about how six to 12 months of unemployment will reflect on your real or perceived lack of marketability rather than any potential technical obsolescence. It is always better to be employed than not, for many reasons -- particularly financial and emotional. Plus, it keeps you in the game. Your new employer will recognise your talents, and getting back to your former earning level will be a matter of a promotion. A recruiter or potential employer would much rather hear, "I took this very interesting job and have made a difference at my company while waiting for an opportunity more in line with my previous level of achievement," than, "I have remained unemployed all this time waiting for a suitable job at my last salary level." And I very much like your prediction of a technology recovery in three to six months. Let's hope that you are as clairvoyant as you are practical.