How to stay up in a down economy

Laid off or overworked, IT pros still need to mind their emotional health. Here are six ways to keep your outlook bright in dark times.

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Beyond that, if you're thinking at all about striking out on your own or getting work from a small business, local entrepreneur clubs and small-business associations are also good bets. The beauty of smaller, local clubs and associations is the opportunity they offer for face-to-face contact.

Improve your soft skills

Working on your communication, negotiation, relationship-building and presentation talents -- the so-called soft skills -- can maintain your sense of self-worth now and help you nail a promotion or land a new job further in the future.

Courses are widely available at low cost at local adult education centers and, in some areas, through your local library. Practice the skills you learn as well. Write reviews for Amazon.com -- reviews of IT-specific books or any other book or product that excites you. Think of your reviews as an opportunity to practice your writing plus get a little visibility in the process.

Or go a step further and submit a written proposal to speak at a professional association meeting, advises Karten.

These groups are always seeking speakers, and they can benefit from your wisdom and lessons learned.

Being on their agenda creates professional connections that can prove useful, and it also adds a credential to your résumé.

Get smart

Keep sharp mentally and position yourself for the economic upturn by pursuing technical certifications and learning new technical and business skills now. If you've been thinking about a bachelor's or master's degree, for example, now is the time to enroll. If you're a manager and want to make it to CIO, enroll in an MBA program. If you have your sights set on being a chief technology officer, go after a master's degree in computer science.

Another, more affordable, option is to attend webinars hosted by vendors, consultancies and research firms on a weekly basis, often at no charge. Doing so can help you feel less isolated and more in touch with the world outside your office. Webinars can help you stay abreast of the latest tech trends, and they're an excellent option for the overworked IT pros whose company budgets no longer allow for formal training.

Don't take it personally

This downturn is affecting companies in every sector and employees of every rank.

As companies cut costs, they're forced to either overwork or lay off experienced, highly-qualified IT professionals who have done nothing but superb work.

For people still on the job who find themselves constantly worrying about when and where the axe will next fall, Paul Glen has this advice: "Worry about things that are in your control only. Don't watch too much CNN. It just induces hysteria. Look around your business to understand the real risks."

If you've been laid off, remember, it's not you; it's the economy.

"Being laid off is never considered a negative when managers interview these days," says Belludi.

"So IT folks should be candid about the fact that they were laid off," he says. "We ask [candidates] what lessons they've learned and what take-aways they have from the problems they've experienced while being laid off."

Related reading:

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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