(Be sure to read part two of this entry for tips of a more general nature on answering the question).
That question came up in four of the last six interviews I have had.
Given the economic downturn, employers seem to be realistic about job prospects over the last couple of years. If you had a relatively stable work history before November 2007 when the downturn started, a lack of stable history between then and now doesn’t seem to have been cause for concern.
But they did want to know what I was up to between jobs.
I’ve participated regularly in five professional organizations, volunteered regularly at a community service organization (and was elected to its board of directors), organized a volunteer service project event (and am working on a second one), and presented two different topics at three venues. I’ve also been trying to keep my skills fresh by attending online training and reading technical publications related to my career.
All of this in between searching for the next work engagement and working on several short-term gigs and some brief consulting engagements.
What have YOU been doing since your last job?
Here is an idea for you that you might be able to use that could impress a potential employer.
Imagine you have gotten the question. Your answer, “I’ve been taking training in [skillset x] to keep my skills fresh.”
Now imagine instead your response being “I trained others in how to use [skillset x]“.
Sometimes the attitude I have seen from people is “Why would I want to train someone to do what I can do? It will just be more competition for me!” Go back to the scenarios, and ask yourself, “Which would be more impressive to an employer - taking training, or giving it?”
Here in beautiful Austin, Texas, we have an organization called LaunchPad Job Club. I’ve gone on at length about it a few times. At the most recent meeting of the Board of Directors, the subject of “Brain Exchange” was brought up briefly. “Brain Exchange” was a program that LaunchPad had done in the past, where a member of the group that has knowledge in a certain area would train other interested members about that subject. One course was on HTML, another on using Microsoft Excel, and there were a few others. I recently presented at the local project management association, teaching how to use SharePoint to manage project documents and tasks.
The training you give doesn’t have to be on a technical subject, that’s just my own personal bias. It is best that the training you give is relevant to your work skillset, but even if what you are training people to do is underwater basket weaving which has no relevance to your work at all, you can still frame it for a potential employer as a willingness and ability to share what you know.
Whether at LPJC or at your local job club (and there are a few around the country – if there isn’t one in your area, you can start one!), here are a few recommendations for adding training others in an area of your expertise.
- If you haven’t done training before, it might be helpful to partner with someone who has experience in training, or developing curricula, or something similar.
- Partner with someone who can be your backup if you get employed before you have the opportunity to give the training. Remember, the point is to get you working again!
- Once you have actually started planning the training event, get that onto your resumé!
- Find a guinea pig to go through your training, to work out the bugs and make sure you aren’t leaving your audience with unanswered questions.
Hey, look! You have a SWAT team now too!
SWAT in this context means “Search With A Team”. Your SWAT team is a sounding board for each of you to use to test your elevator pitches, check over your resumé for mistakes or ways to improve it, roleplay interview scenarios, share job leads, and provide some emotional support. It also provides some accountability – if you tell the group you are going to apply for six jobs this week, you’ll feel pressure to have fulfilled this promise by the time the team meets again. And in Texas, meeting with your SWAT team counts as a job search contact for the purposes of unemployment compensation.
If you are not in Austin, the training location is left as an exercise for the reader. Here in Austin, as we get the “Brain Exchange” back up and running, we’ll have more info about venue availability.
What have you been doing since your last job? What can you be doing right now to give yourself a great answer to that question?
(For more tips on how to give yourself a great answer to this question, be sure to read part two of this entry!)
Jim Adcock is Vice President of Launch Pad Job Club, an organization in Austin, Texas, whose mission is help people who have lost their jobs to get the skills they need to land their next job, and to help them cope with the interim between jobs. Check out other career-related entries.