From Unemployed to Very Employable: Skills to Learn Between Jobs

WorkCoachCafeA job seeker commented on a post here about doing very well in the interview process for an employer, and then, apparently, blowing the opportunity by failing a test of her skills with a software package at the end of the process.  Unfortunately, using that software was a requirement of the job.

She did know how to use an older version of this software, but the test required her to understand how to use the most current version (2 years old at this point).  Hopefully, the employer will assume that she would be able to adapt to the “new” version of the software, but, with the competition she faces in the job market right now, I wouldn’t count on it.  Oops!

Practice “Resume Management”

We all have things we wish we understood better or know more about to do our jobs better or to move up or on to a better job.  Call this “resume management” – managing what you can put on your resume, filling skill or experience gaps.

What Do You Need to Learn?

Look for areas you need to fill-in to compete successfully.  Also look for new requirements or opportunities to increase your value in the job market.

Look at the job descriptions for the jobs you want.  What are the skills that are required for the job that you don’t have?  And, what are the skills you have that may be a bit out of date (like the software version problem).

Read articles about your profession or industry.  What’s new – technology, regulations, and best practices.  Is competition developing from a different technology, approach, company, country, or type of organization?  

What Do You Want to Learn?

If there is something you’d enjoy learning more about for your career, this could be the time to find some classes or read a book about it.  For example, have you been having a good time with social media and want to learn how to apply it to your job?  Or, want to find a job that leverages your social media skills?

7 Ways to Gain Those New Skills

Now is the time for you to take the time to update those rusty skills, add new skills, and fill gaps on your resume that might help you qualify for better opportunities.  It can be done.  

1.  Volunteer

Often you can learn when you volunteer to work at a non-profit.  Be sure that the volunteering activities include work using the skills you want to learn, hopefully while you are coached by a manager or co-worker who is knowledgable.  This is sometimes known as”on the job training” or “OJT.”  OJT can be a great way to learn something new, and volunteering can be the quickest way to get that OJT.

2.  Take free online classes

From (high school math, physics, and related topics) to OpenCourseWare from MIT, Harvard, Stanford and other very well-regarded universities, the Internet provides many free or low-cost options for learning.  

If, like the job seeker mentioned above, your lack of skill is related to a software product, you may be able to find free tutorials from the software company.  On their website, Microsoft provides free webinars and ebooks, for example, about their products. 

3.  Find local classes

Local tutors, adult education, community colleges, universities, and commercial training companies can be great sources of low-cost instruction on topics from technology to basic math, writing, and language skills, and the cost may be quite low.  Perhaps you can exchange training in a field you know for training in a field you need with a private tutor or adult education provider or some other labor exchange to minimize the out-of-pocket expense.

4.  Attend industry or professional conferences

Professional and industry conferences can be an excellent source of the latest information on a field.  Often, visiting a conference’s “expo center” or “exhibit hall” to see what the vendors who serve that field are providing and promoting is free, if you can’t afford to pay for the full conference attendance fee.

5.  Check out local professional groups

If you are a member, attending local meetings should be a no-brainer and hopefully low cost.  If you don’t belong, ask if they will allow you to attend once for free to see if the group is a good fit for you.  Check out to see if there are any local meetings of groups related to the learning you want/need.  These groups can be very small and very helpful, and you can even start your own, if needed.

6.  Do research online

Dig into Google and Bing to see what you can find about the knowledge you need to acquire.  In a job interview, being able to knowledgeably and confidently discuss the topic you needed to learn is often all that is needed.

7.  Go to your local library or bookstore

Research the topic at your local library or bookstore.  Unless the topic you want to study is the latest, greatest, and newest technology, your local library or bookstore probably have books available on the topic.  

Bonus:  Attend Toastmasters International meetings

I think almost everyone can benefit from learning how to speak better in public.  It helped me become more comfortable giving presentations in my job, and, in fact, the Toastmasters group I belonged to met in the company cafeteria.  This training and experience can make you more comfortable and confident in job interviews, as well.

The Special Benefit from Learning!

In addition to increasing your market value by learning new skills or adding to your knowledge base, learning offers another important bonus for job seekers.  Often the learning process described above provides you with the opportunity to meet new people as well as learning new ideas, so your network as well as your resume will have improved when you are done.

© Copyright, 2013, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .



  1. Excellent advice. Many, many years ago I applied for an Administrative Secretary position which required shorthand. I didn’t think I knew how to do it but – surprise – my good listening and remembering skills gave me the required speed. You CAN do it!!

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