Stay current in your profession while looking for a job
Managing your own professional development while looking for a job can be a real challenge, but with a certain amount of planning, it can help to burnish the resume and open some doors. With the luxury of time, a rare commodity in the careers of most accountants, you can update your business and computer skills while expanding their technical expertise. Ideally, your continuing education program will encompass interests as well as needs, and will be enjoyable.
Take Advantage of What's Free
A first step in taking charge of your professional development could be signing up for some of the free, web-based opportunities for staying in touch with new technical developments. These would include:
- Free online subscriptions to IRS Quick Alerts and newswires and CCH's Tax News Headlines.
- The IRS Tax Talk Today series
And check the continuing professional education providers and professional associations for free CPE credits for online study. Examples of these are:
- AICPA's CPExpress, Bisk's CPEasy, and MicroMash, which offer free introductory courses and self-study programs,
- The Institute of Management Accountants, which gives one hour of free CPE credit for attending their live Inside Talk webinar series. 
Combine CPE Courses and Networking
Meeting certification requirements for continuing professional education is uppermost in the minds of most professionals. While online study is convenient and timely, attending a few workshops and courses is one way to network with other professionals. State societies offer moderately priced continuing professional education courses and also provide members with great informal opportunities for connecting with their peers. Minimizing travel expenses for conferences and meetings is important, and local chapters often hold state-sponsored conferences and courses.
One example of an informal event scheduled by local chapters is a breakfast meeting sponsored by the Illinois CPA Society (ICPAS) called, "You can't have too many friends," designed for people who are looking for new business or a new job. The cost is very affordable: $5-$10 for a "Dutch Treat" breakfast.
The wealth of offerings sponsored by state CPA societies, including workshops, meetings, and online courses justifies the cost of membership. Members of the New Jersey Society of CPAs, for example, have access to more than 350 programs yearly. These events and courses range from full-day technical seminars for CPAs in public practice as well as industry; to committee-sponsored conferences, breakfast and dinner meetings; tax seminars; and other programs offered through the eleven local chapters; as well as live programs and webcasts.
Many states offer an affordable online course that will assist CPAs in meeting their ethics requirement.
Look in New Directions
Staying current can also mean taking advantage of the opportunity to investigate and prepare for coming changes in the field, such as International Financial Reporting Standards and the New Form 990. Many state associations offer "Hot Topics" webinars at a very low cost.
For those who want to look into new specialized practices, but not for CPE purposes, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners offers two-hour courses in archived webinars with no prerequisites. Courses for accountants who are thinking about entering the field of personal financial planning are readily available for credit. 
Update Skills -- Excel 2007 and QuickBooks 2009
A candidate with up-to-date computer skills, and the skills that are most in demand, has a real advantage in a job search. Kim Isaacs, director of ResumePower.com, a career-advice site recommends looking at job postings. "It's just very competitive out there. If you go into the job-search world and you see a lot of skills on job postings, you need to have those," she says according to The Wall Street Journal.
Taking a look at AccountingWEB's Excel Zone and QuickBooks Zone is a great way to get started with or expand your knowledge of these essential programs. You will find tips, advice, tutorials, and news, and you can interact with other users on these sites.
Free trials are also available on the Web sites of companies that sell accounting software, including Intuit  for QuickBooks, Sage for Peachtree, and Microsoft for their Office Accounting program. There are also courses available for CPE credits in computer skills.