“Are you becoming more marketable or less marketable with each passing day of your job search?  If the latter, why are you allowing this to happen?”

It’s certainly no secret that it’s a  “buyer’s market” right now out there for employers seeking talent.  Companies realize that when they get the budget to increase headcount, and advertise a job opening, they’re going to get a healthy influx of resume submissions and will likely have hundreds of eager applicants to potentially choose from.  As a result, in the risk-management exercise known as resume-screening, most companies fall back on applying a safe, standard, conservative set of criteria for determining who might be the most qualified for the job at hand — and this filtering process often includes docking candidates a certain amount of points if they’re not currently employed.

I know, I know.  This seems extremely short-sighted and unfair.  Why should a company penalize you if one day you’re a brilliant engineer, or doing terrific work as a landscape architect, and the next day you get laid off through no fault of your own?   Why should your stock value drop, so to speak, when you’ve got exactly the same qualifications today as you did yesterday when you were still employed?

The reason, like most things, is perceptual.  With each passing month that your resume shows you’ve been out of work, hiring managers are going to become increasingly afraid you’re out of practice in your field, your skills have become rusty, and that you’d face a steeper learning curve (i.e. offer less ROI as a new hire) than other candidates who would be coming to the job directly off the payroll of another employer.  So if you fancy yourself a professional-level employee, accustomed to the rewards, perks, and benefits that accompany a salaried white-collar assignment, you’ve got to step up to the plate.  The word “professional” implies that you’re committed to being a top-notch talent in your field and that you accept the fact that ongoing study and practice will be required to maintain your proficiency level.  Do pro athletes go for months without training, even in the off season?  Do professional musicians?  Would you want to hire an accounting professional for your own business who hadn’t kept up with the latest accounting software or IRS requirements?

So if you’re one of the many unemployed professionals who has essentially “checked out” from their occupational discipline during the course of their job search, and you’re losing confidence (and interviews) as a result, it’s time to get back in the game.  There are NUMEROUS ways in which a motivated individual can increase their marketability, especially if you’ve had 40+ hours of time per week suddenly freed up via pink slip.  Take a relevant college extension class.  Or two.  Or three.  Get that certification you know you should have, but never made time for.  Finish your degree.  Order all the latest books in your field and scour them to become familiar with the emerging trends and thought leaders shaping the future of your discipline.  Follow any blogs that specifically cover your industry — or start writing one, yourself.  And try to engage in several hours of practice each day in whatever it is you do for a living, either on your own or through volunteering to a non-profit, school, or start-up who will feel incredibly lucky to have you.  Trust me, all of these things will make a difference, and you CAN and SHOULD list these activities on your resume so that potential employers will realize you’re a serious professional, not a slacker drifting along in search of a paycheck.

To sum up?  While it may not feel like it, and you might not even like to hear it, I’m afraid to say that much of your “marketability quotient” is under your direct, conscious control.  It just takes an attitude adjustment, at times, and the realization that expecting a professional living goes hand-in-hand with accepting responsibility for maintaining a professional set of competencies — even when you’re not getting paid to do so.  Sure, such activities aren’t usually as fun as remodeling your house, working in your garden, or tackling the endless honey-do list that tends to accompany the unemployment process, but neither is watching your bank account dwindle!

So don’t let your skills atrophy — forge a plan, even if it’s just a part-time plan, for keeping your qualifications in tip-top shape.  Heck, with the speed at which many industries are changing, you might even be able to leapfrog some of the people who are currently working and learn the new skills they’ll be wishing they had in the next 2-3 years!  Something to think about, at the very least…