Many of you probably saw that eBay recently had a lay-off, and given the condition of the economy they are not likely to be the only one doing so. What I wanted to talk about in this article was what to do if you find yourself in the same boat.

Others talk about dealing with the effects of a lay-off and how to find another job, but I wanted to talk about using this time between jobs to significantly improve your skills as a product manager and your desirability as a job candidate.

The only thing I¹ll say about the actual job search is to get active on social networks for professionals ­ both LinkedIn and Facebook. Make sure you have an accurate and up to date profile, plenty of endorsements, and that you¹re connected with people that can help you either because they know people you might like to be introduced to, or because they can vouch for you. There are also local off-line networks such as the ProductTank Meetups (http://www.mindtheproduct.com/meetups/).

So now on to some very concrete and valuable skills that you can dive into during this time between jobs.

For many people, while they are working, they are so busy rushing to put out the endless stream of urgent fires at their job that they spend almost no time developing their actual skills. And especially if you don¹t have a manager that is committed to your professional development, it’s unlikely that you’re improving at the rate you could and should have.

What follows is a list of actions you can do right now, to significantly bump up your capabilities:

1. Remember that product management is all about product discovery. Great product managers are great at product discovery, and you can always improve your skills here. Product management is by its very nature interdisciplinary, and product discovery combines business value, user experience design, and technology. The better your skills in each these areas, the better you¹ll be as a product manager.

2. Develop your technical skills. There is never a shortage of technologies to learn about. At the moment, there are social network platforms like Facebook and Open Social. There are mobile device platforms like iPhone and Android. There are user interface technologies like AJAX, AIR and Silverlight. There are new run-time platforms like Google App Engine, Amazon Web Services and Force.com.

3. Develop your design skills. The most in-demand position right now is an interaction designer. It¹s not impossible for product managers to move into interaction design. There are several excellent courses and books on product design and countless articles online. Even if you don¹t want to become a designer, learning about interaction design makes you significantly more valuable, and since many companies are dramatically understaffed on interaction designers, you can help fill that gap.

4. Develop your user research skills. Learn about different quantitative and qualitative techniques for learning about your users.

5. Develop your prototyping skills. Check out the latest prototyping tools and learn how to use them. Create a prototype for an idea you have. Test this prototype on some target users.

6. Develop your market knowledge. Read one or more of the major blogs following the startup world (e.g. www.techcrunch.com) and learn about the companies they like, and check out the portfolio companies of the major VC’s.

7. Develop your financial skills. This is an area many product managers are lacking in. See the article ‘Make a Friend in Finance’ (svpg.com/make-a-friend-in-finance).

8. Learn about different product development processes. If you don’t already have experience with Scrum, read a few books, or better yet, take a course and get certified as a Scrum product owner. If you do have experience with Scrum, read some of the articles talking about the challenges of doing product software using Agile methods and how to succeed with Scrum.

9. Create a business plan for an idea you have. If you don¹t have any business or product ideas that you¹ve been thinking about for the past several months, product management is probably not for you. Show the business plan to some friends and have them critique it. If they really think its a great idea, show it to an angel investor or VC friend. If it’s not a great idea, make sure you understand why.

10. Develop your competitive analysis skills. Great product managers need to be able to quickly and accurately evaluate competitive offerings. As part of your business plan above, evaluate the major players in the category. Ask yourself what you’d do if you were the product manager for each of those products. Identify what you consider the top three strengths of each product, and the top three weaknesses.

BONUS: Read the book ‘Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love’ and/or the articles in the SVPG archive (www.svpg.com/articles) and/or apply for one of the scholarship positions in the “How To Create Products Customers Love” workshop.

If you have the personal discipline, this can actually be an extremely valuable period for you. Mostly you will do these things in parallel with your job search, but others you may want to make an ongoing part of your professional development, long after you¹ve landed in that choice new spot.

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