NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- With nearly 1 in 10 Americans out of work, most of us who are employed these days feel lucky just to have a job. But what if you sense impending layoffs? Or you're just flat-out miserable with your current gig?
Common sense dictates you shouldn't wait until it's too late or you've reached the end of your rope to start the search process. You can never bee to prepared ... or prepared too early.
Start by building up your network, beyond colleagues you've met at the office and business contacts you've forged at evening cocktail parties.
Consider carving out time in your schedule to attend professional association meetings or industry conferences in your current field -- or perhaps -- a new field in which you're interested.
Many recruiters utilize web sites such as LinkedIn to find talent, so you want to be sure that you've created a profile and that it's up to date. "The beauty of LinkedIn," says Liz Lynch, founder of the Center for Networking Excellence, "is it's not just a site for job seekers." With more than 75 million members, she points out, "it's THE place for business professionals, so it won't be a red flag if your boss sees you there."
In fact, if your job depends on good networking, your boss may even be disappointed if you're not reaching out to potential sources and clients online.
The next step is to ask some of your LinkedIn connections for recommendations. According to the LinkedIn Corporation, users with recommendations on their profiles are three times as likely to be found in searches. So go ahead, ask your colleagues to write a little something on your behalf. Just make sure to return the favor.
Conversations are so much more productive than mere contacts. While a count of Facebook friends or Twitter followers in the thousands might seem impressive at first blush, step back and ask yourself if these are meaningful contacts. Put your new friends and business associates to good use!
"Getting face-to-face and talking with people -- friends, former colleagues, new networking connections -- about what they're doing might help you pinpoint what you want to do next and where there might be opportunities for you," says Lynch.
So when do you tell your boss that you're looking around?
"Typically it's a good idea to wait until you have a job in hand and are ready to go," advises Lynch. "However, a big caveat to this is if the position you're looking at is internal. [In that case], you want your boss to hear from you that you're interviewing before he hears it from someone else."
Look at jobs you're interested in, and if you see gaps in your skills or knowledge, now is the time to start filling them. Consider taking a marketing or finance class at your local community college, or taking advantage of some of the in-house training your company might offer in managing or communications.
"This could be good for you not just in your current job," says Lynch, "but in your next one as well."
"You're always more attractive to prospective employers and will have more negotiating leverage when you're employed," says Lynch, "so make sure your work is still getting done."
And lastly: keep an eye on your wardrobe! While this may seem trivial, arriving at your current job dressed up more than usual is sure to raise a few red flags. By keeping it casual and consistent, no one will be the wiser until it's time to offer you a heart-felt (or not) congratulations.
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