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4 Ways to Make the Most of Unemployment

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It's easy to get down on yourself during unemployment. Hunting for a new job and having more free time than you’re used to can both be big adjustments, but being let go can be a good thing. But, if you use your time strategically, the period of unemployment may help you shape your career into a more meaningful path that better utilizes your skill set.

Unemployment is a time to not only figure out what’s ahead, but to actively bolster your resume and skills so that you’re better prepared for your next career move. Taking this time to freelance, consider new job possibilities, take on a new volunteer position, or grow your network can all contribute to the types of opportunities you’ll encounter down the road.

Here are four things you can do while unemployed to ensure that your skills, resume, and connections are kept fresh and continue to work for you during your search.

1. Develop your skills and acquire new ones

Taking a course to hone your expertise in your desired field is a great option, plus, learning more never hurts. Consider the following:

  • In addition to considering classes in your sector, look to other fields for skills that might be beneficial to you. For instance, knowledge of basic html is no doubt helpful in the tech sector, but these skills are oftentimes universally valued in the nonprofit sector, too. Even if you’re searching for a job that seems completely unrelated to the digital space, acquiring a certain level of tech fluency could turn out to be your differentiating skill.
  • Taking a remote course online is convenient way to learn from your couch, or wherever and whenever works best for you. Looking for online learning resources? We’ve compiled a list of go-to sites for virtual learning in our post, "6 Websites for Online Learning."
  • For a more tailored experience, consider signing up for a tutoring session or one-on-one course via Skype or Google Hangouts. Language study especially lends itself to the conversational aspect of these media. As many job listings include a preference for multilingual candidates, this is a great way to brush up on your second (or third!) language.
  • A one-time class to update your resume might provide a helpful boost. To find free or low-cost classes near you, contact your local library or a nearby community college.

2. Volunteer your time

We’ve written plenty about how volunteering can increase your chances of finding a job. In addition to helping out within your community, volunteering allows you to develop your skills and may connect you to a new professional network.

The key, of course, is to volunteer in a way that aligns with your career goals. Start by making a list of skills you'd like to market during your job search, and then star each one that could use a little brushing up. As you consider your professional goals, think about finding volunteer opportunities that not only utilize the skills on your list, but also refine and expand upon the starred skills.

  • Chairing or joining a committee for a local fundraiser can help you showcase managerial skills and give you a recent experience to talk about in a job interview.
  • Identify a set of skills in which you have a high level of experience and fluency and look for opportunities to teach it to others using platforms like Skillshare or Youtube.
  • Find the correct audience for what you have to offer. Look into university or community college career centers that can connect you with students and alumni who seek your expertise or mentorship.

Pro Tip: If you’re comfortable teaching or training, this is also a great way to refine your professional presentation skills.

Once you find a volunteering opportunity that’s a fit for you, don't be afraid to spend a significant amount of time on the project: 50% of your 9-to-5 time is a fair amount to spend on a volunteer position that will give you a career boost.

Start exploring volunteer opportunities on Idealist today!

3. Discover the possibilities of pro bono

Just because you don’t have a full-time job doesn’t mean you can’t work on real projects. Organizations like Catchafire and Taproot Foundation enable professionals to donate their proven skills to nonprofit organizations. Opportunities range from hour-long phone calls to three-month pre-scoped projects, and can be done in person or online. An application and interview are required.

Pro bono work can be an avenue to test the waters of an organization or an interest without committing to a permanent position. It's also a chance to expand and deepen your network as it relates to a particular cause or impact area.

4. Always be networking

If you’re taking classes, volunteering, and trying to break into the freelance game, you’re already doing plenty to build your network. But, you can take it even further by being extra chatty in your free time. Here are a few ways to bring up your search when you’re out and about:

  • Make sure your immediate network knows that you’re looking.
  • Talk about your search as well as your goals at parties and don’t be shy about reaching out to friends of friends or previous colleagues to ask if they have any leads.
  • Talk about your search, as well as your career goals, on social media.

Not sure how to break the ice? We’ve got you covered. Check out "How to Meet Influential People," "13 Helpful Email Templates to Use while Job Searching," and "7 Tips for Digital Networking." These posts include actionable advice as well as helpful templates.

Remember, there's more than one way to network. Working groups, professional associations, alumni events, and networking events are all helpful. Our post on "Networking When You Don’t Have a Job" covers where to go, who to go to, and what to say when building new professional relationships.

The take-away

Unemployment can be a time to boost your skill set, expand your network, and develop interests. Using this time in a strategic and productive way can help you not only reap the benefits in the moment, but can launch you into a career that’s a good fit for you.

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About the Author | Gina Ciliberto first delved into social impact when she created a campaign to raise awareness around immigration in her high school. She now writes about social justice issues ranging from fracking to human trafficking for the Dominican Sisters of Hope, and volunteers with the ASPCA in her spare time. Her work is featured on the Huffington Post and Let’s Travel! Radio, among others.