The unemployment rate keeps going in the right direction as the economy recovers. However, that does not change the fact that 12.5 million Americans are currently out of work, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report. Add to that the 2012 college graduates who are soon to walk across the stage — but not necessarily into a job — and it’s clear that unemployment is not yet a problem of the past.
Since the average length of unemployment is still a depressingly long 39 weeks according to BLS, it can feel as though those struggling to find a job have an uphill battle. However, it’s important to note that a long employment gap no longer has the stigma it once held. Employers are sympathetic to the difficulty of the job market. But that does not mean that you should stay idle while waiting for your dream job to open up. Here are some things to do while you are unemployed that will help your resume, your well-being, and your bottom line:
1. Stay current. While you are searching for a job, make part of your “work” keeping up with trends in your field. That could mean taking a class — which you can add to your resume and use to impress your next employer (Here are six skills that’s worth going to classes for). If money’s too tight to afford a class, you can still make sure you stay on top of your game by reading trade publications and news stories about your field. That means you won’t miss out on important trends in your chosen field while you’re out of work.
2. Volunteer. This could be anything from a traditional volunteer position with an organization you believe in, to accepting an unpaid internship within your field. Traditional volunteer jobs not only get you out of the house and help you maintain a routine and sense of purpose, but they offer you opportunities to network and work on skills that will help you in your next job. Employers will be pleased to see that you used your time so wisely.
Though it may seem strange to accept an unpaid internship when your are mid-career, these “volunteer” positions will open up a huge network for you, as well as give you an opportunity to learn new skills and build your portfolio.
3. Freelance or temp. Not only will taking even modestly paid freelance work or temp positions help your finances during a stretch of unemployment, but it also tells future employers that you are motivated and disciplined, even when searching for a job.
4. Teach a class. This is an opportunity that many people don’t think of. No matter what skill set you have, there are individuals who need to learn what you know. Whether you sign up to teach a course in business writing at the local community college, or volunteer to tutor high school or college students in mathematics, you can find a place that needs your particular skills. On your resume, this activity will tell future employers that you can supervise others and have great communication skills. You can often get paid for this kind of teaching, to boot.
5. Start a professional blog. Blogging forces you to keep your writing and research skills sharp. It will make sure that you make thoughtful connections between what is happening in the world and what is happening in your field. It provides a great landing page under your name when a future employer googles you. And, as this writer can attest, it’s an extremely fun and fulfilling way to connect with others who share your interests and passions.
The Bottom Line
“Pounding the pavement” no longer means what it once did. In a tough market, use these opportunities and activities as a way to get a leg up on other candidates — and as a way to keep yourself confident and encouraged during the search process.