What can applicants do to make themselves more employable when they don't have recent experience? What can they do to show potential employers that they still are technically sharp and that they have employable skills?
A few months back, I ranted about how so many engineers fail to maintain their edge. I whined that there's so many free options that people can use to self-educate themselves and stay sharp yet they do nothing. So when the boss asked if I had any ideas, I said "sure, I have a few opinions".
Of course, every good geek should be doing what I'm suggesting below, but my main point of this writing is to emphasize that if you're looking for a job, you need to show the employer that you're active in the field, that you care and are willing to go the extra mile.
- Read Technical Books. Don't just sit in front of the television, night after night watching another stupid reality show. Go to a bookstore. Go to your library. Search Google for eBooks. I usually ask interviewees "tell me about the last few books that you've read". I had one guy say "Harry Potter". That in itself wasn't bad but when I asked "anything else?", he had nothing. We didn't hire him. Not because he read Harry Potter, he just didn't show me that he cared about "bettering himself".
- Take Free College Courses. Many many colleges are now sharing webcast/podcasts of great courses. Here's a very small selection. Just search and you'll find gobs.
- Join a User Group. Many cities have a Linux User Group (LUG) or a Java User Group (JUG) or a whatever. My small city even has a 2600 meeting - not sure if I'd put that on my resume but the people that you meet are definitely interesting.
- Contribute to an open source project. Search the SourceForge help wanted system and join a project.
- Subscribe to Tech Related Websites. Add tech site's RSS feeds to your favorite reader so you can stay current with the latest poop. A few of my daily must reads are dzone, and Artima. Look over there on the left side of the blog and you'll see a few other good ones.
- Attend Seminars. There's bound to be seminars in your area that are free or next to free. Check out your local college. Pick up a continuing education catalog. Google for "free seminar". And while you're at the seminar, talk to the person sitting next to you. Be social. Besides learning something neat, you may run into a potential employer or meet someone who can tell you about an opportunity.
- Write a blog. Your blog doesn't need to be super tech-geek. It doesn't need to be competition to Joel on Software. It just needs to be a place to capture your thoughts - technical, non-tech, geek, life, whatever. Just write. Share a piece of code, write about a movie you just saw. Anything that keeps you involved. The blog doesn't even need to have readers (as evidenced by Buck Up Chinny). Just write.
- Do a 7 in 7. Identify 7 mini-projects that can each be completed in a day. And then do 'em. As you complete each, do a short write-up to document what you did and what challenges you encountered. Better yet, blog about each project. Each project can be something easy, just make it a challenge. Make an LED blink. Convert a table based webpage to CSS layout. Interface something to an Arduino Nano.