Cisco Systems layoffCisco Systems announced its largest layoff ever in July 2011, and employees are certainly feeling the aftershocks.

With 6,500 staff being cut (up to a 14% drop in its workforce), Cisco has announced that it plans to restructure in order to maintain a competitive position.

If you’re one of those affected by this or other layoffs, what should you do? It’s no secret that professionals have bemoaned the state of the job market now for several years.

Will YOU fare better? Yes (and you can read more here about your chances of finding a job quickly), but you’ll need to map out a plan that is as sound as any project you’ve ever tackled.

Consider that most people going through the shock of a layoff tend to react quickly, aggressively responding to posted jobs without taking time to regroup or prepare a plan. This is at least one main reason behind a job search that drags on for too long.

Then, there’s your competition: even though like Google, Apple, Yahoo, Citrix, and NetApp will be waiting at Cisco’s door to lap up well-qualified talent, there’s no shortage of eager job hunters ready to outdo your search tactics.

Therefore, it pays to take these key steps in your search:

1 – Decide if you’re able to relocate.

One of the biggest decisions you’ll face in the job search is also one that can have the most impact. If you have the ability to put down roots somewhere else, you’ll become a better candidate for other technology companies outside of Cisco—and for recruiters.

2 – Map out your desired targets.

You’ll need to not only identify the best companies for your talent, but also research their needs.

What is going on inside your target companies or industries? What business challenges do they face? And most importantly, how will YOUR skills make a difference there?

When you sit down to write a cover letter directed toward these firms, you’ll be glad you went through this exercise. Spend some time online and within professional journals to extract data on what these companies need, then write directly to their pain points.

3 – Polish your resume – but not in a vacuum.

Yes, your resume needs to be as ready as possible to compete against others, but don’t forget that a large part of what gets someone hired is the reaction they get from employers.

Therefore, it makes sense to circulate your resume among former Cisco colleagues and networking contacts for feedback—ensuring that you haven’t missed anything critical about your skills or projects.

This is true even if you have it professionally written – you’ll want to verify that your resume writer understands technology.

4 – Identify networking venues (online or otherwise) and potential contacts.

Networking doesn’t always mean in-person contact, but the more personal, the better. If you already belong to a professional or trade association, start using these contacts. If you don’t, now’s the time to join one.

Getting involved at either a local or national level in these associations can help boost your visibility, as can joining Groups within LinkedIn. Here, you’ll want to join in professional discussions, but on the subject of technology or engineering topics, NOT to advertise your job search.

Within LinkedIn, you can also use the Advanced People Search function to gather names of potential contacts, either because they work at your target companies or they have some insight to offer. Don’t forget recruiters, either – online networking gives you a good chance to check them out.

5 – Maximize your LinkedIn Profile.

If you’ve ignored your LinkedIn Profile for a while, now’s the time to beef it up. Recruiters like to look carefully at your job titles, education, and critical achievements online before considering you for a potential slot.

You’ll also find (as many of my engineering and leadership clients do) that your interviewers will look you up on the site, and so you’ll want that Profile to be more than ready – with a professional or personal headshot, a powerful Summary, and solid listing of job titles and accomplishments.

Following these 5 tips will give you a strong head start on the competition you’ll encounter, both in the job market at large and from other Cisco employees.  

Even with substantial job market challenges, strategic planning pays off with a faster job search – and a better position on the other end.

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