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STAY SHARP WHILE JOBLESS

Job skills can fade and wither for a variety of reasons, including an extended layoff or a prolonged time away from work after an illness or the birth of a child. Many retirees have spent years outside the work force before having to head back to the salt mines to make ends meet. If you're nervous about where you stand in the job-skills department, the following tips can help.

1 Stay plugged in. Even if you're not working right now, keep up with important developments in your industry. You can do this by visiting industry-specific Web sites online, subscribing to publications specific to your field (or reading them free of charge at the library) and attending events sponsored by professional organizations. By pushing yourself to stay informed and get out there, you'll likely encounter names of people who could be helpful to you in various ways.

2 Remember continuing education. This can be beneficial even if you have a job right now. Depending on your field, classes that provide certifications can give your resume a nice boost. Also investigate job-specific classes offered through community colleges and accredited online degree programs, as well as extension programs at local universities and colleges that offer classes for professional development.

3 When out of work, teach.Okay, so maybe you're not working at the moment, but that doesn't mean you don't have practical experience and information to share. Why not seek out an adjunct faculty position at a college in your area, or offer to teach seminars for professional organizations in your field? In addition to helping you stay sharp, this step can help you network effectively.

4 Mingle like a pro. You won't get the greatest benefit simply by joining a professional group or passively maintaining a membership. The real benefits can come when you get involved. Attend workshops and seminars that will broaden your skill set, and make an effort to hold an office or become membership chairman, if you can. That way you'll get to know everybody.

5 Volunteer your time to non-profits. Volunteer work can help you meet people, enhance your skills and take on leadership positions that can stand out on your resume. Check out the Web site of the Taproot Foundation (www.taprootfoundation.org), which connects volunteers with groups that are seeking expert help.

6 Volunteer your time for companies. One way to get your foot in the door at a business is to offer to work as an unpaid intern, an apprentice or a volunteer. The endgame, of course, would be to make such a good impression that you end up being offered a paid position. Another option in this vein: If you do belong to a professional organization, offer to help the group with Web site maintenance, finances or event planning.

7 Bone up on necessary job skills. Have you been out of work so long that you're nowhere near as computer-savvy as you should be? Check out a few books at the library or spend some time teaching yourself online to become familiar with applications such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint and Excel.

8 Get outside help to become more tech-savvy. If going it alone just isn't your thing, check for the kinds of classes that you need through community colleges, online degree programs and the New Horizons Computer Learning Center (www.newhorizons.com).

9 Think of other ways to find help. Other ways to get career-related assistance and tap into training opportunities are to contact a One-Stop Career Center (www.careeronestop.org or toll-free 1-877-348-0502) or ask about programs offered at libraries. Or check in with your college's career services department, even if you graduated long ago. Many schools offer alumni lifelong assistance.

10 Learn new skills by temping.A temp job could help you meet people, show off your skills and learn new skills. It also could help you build your network - and cash flow - while bringing you closer to a permanent position.

Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@tentips.org.

Sources: Associated Press; CareerBuilder.com; Monster.com

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