Dear Career Adviser

A biweekly, interactive advice column in which selected questions will be answered by US columnist and recruitment expert Fran Quittel.

Dear Career Adviser:

I'm preparing for a layoff. What do I need to do to make sure I wrap up my current situation before I move on? - Looking Forward.

Dear Forward:

Here are some tips from a variety of folks who have already gone down this road:

Begin by documenting the dollar amounts owed to you concerning wages, bonuses, commissions, overtime and vacation pay. Document your retirement monies, making sure that any payroll deductions for your retirement plan and 125C cafeteria benefits plan have transferred over to your individual retirement and benefits accounts and that they aren't stuck in company coffers. Also, document any stock or other awards, including stock vesting schedules. Be sure you know and have direct contact with your company's 401(k) administrator, have confirmed that your health insurance is in force and will continue under COBRA, and have access to any outplacement services the company is providing.

Get all of this, as well as a written payment schedule regarding when to expect your checks, in writing, and have the company sign off. Then head over to the state unemployment office, making sure the company backs your claim.

Before your final goodbye, collect personal information from colleagues so you can generate the appropriate references and trade leads, and check with your attorney regarding whether the noncompete agreement that you signed when you joined the company still applies if you're being let go.

Dear Career Adviser:

I'm a senior programmer/analyst with 12 years' experience in IT, all in mainframes. I update my skills every year in areas including Visual Basic, MSAccess, PowerBuilder, HTML, Active Server Pages, Java and Oracle PL/SQL. But I have yet to find a position where a newbie is accepted. What skills should I pursue, and how do you see the mainframe IT market in the next five years?

- Mostly Mainframe.

Dear Mostly:

Companies have already finished converting from old legacy systems, and Y2k is over. And e-commerce jobs require real-world experience with Enterprise JavaBeans. Plus, you have lots of competition both from existing mainframe people and people who have real-world experience with newer skills.

"We haven't had a mainframe position in this area in a long time," says Brett Arnold, recruiter at CDI Professional Services in Springfield, N.J., who expects the mainframe market to continue to wane.

Realistically, your best chances now are in situations that others might not want. But what you're looking for is an entry point that's your opportunity for an upward move.

If the company is converting older applications, volunteer to be on the team. Take courses at schools that guarantee internships and placement, and upgrade your skills, your understanding of business and possibly even your appearance.

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