What To Do While You’re Unemployed

by Emily Guy Birken · 21 comments

The unemployment rate has been extremely low for what seems like years now, but that doesn’t change the fact that six million Americans are currently out of work, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report. Add to that the 2023 college graduates who are competing for every job out there, and it’s clear that it could be tough to land a job even if the statistics make it seem like there are plenty of opportunities to go around.

Since the average length of unemployment is still a depressingly long 20 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 doesn’t 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 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.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • GAIL says:

    The hardest part for me is getting past my age phobia. I am 66 and don’t feel there is anyone who will hire me. My UI has come to an end and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t get responses to my applications and the one I did get did not hire me. It’s very frustrating after working for over 40 years without ever having to take unemployment to be in this position.

  • Lance says:

    I think networking is huge like Daisy said! Get out and meet people because a lot of times it can be who you know in addition to what you know. If you have the who you know edge the similarly knowledgable what you know lose the job and you’ll get it 🙂

  • Padgettshcom says:

    I think these are some great ideas–especially volunteering–but how about some old fashioned entrepreneurialship? A great idea, a ton of effort, dedication and time can be very satisfying and rewarding.

  • Joe says:

    Excellent post!!! While most are unemployed right now, they believe that feeling sorry for themselves is the only thing they can do. Complaining and being sulky won’t help at all….it will probably deflate your confidence. Basically people who are unemployed should still do things that are relevant and keep them going/upbeat and give them something to look forward to!

    I did a lot of this while I was unemployed for 6 months. The only con is that if I was unemployed again and did more… I would probably not want to go back to work full-time!

  • Luis South says:

    Very well written. You give good, three-dimensional advice to folks who are experiencing unemployment. It’s not easy, but good things happen going through a hard time. Rising to the challenge brings great joy.

  • Bob Prosen says:

    Landing a job in today’s economy requires you to think and act differently. If you’re wed to the traditional way of job hunting you’re destined to compete with everyone else chasing the same few opportunities.

    The most effective way to get a job is to think like an employer. Sounds simple but many people don’t appreciate the importance or know how to do it.

    Before beginning your search you have to understand why all companies hire. It’s to solve problems and your challenge is to position yourself as the solution. In other words, hiring you allows the company to solve problems faster, better and cheaper than they could without you. Here’s how to start.

    Step 1 – Identify your skills and expertise.

    Step 2 – Find the companies you want to work for and research them to uncover their problems. Use the Internet, Google alerts, read press releases and speak with current and former employees.

    Your ability to uncover your target employers’ problems and position yourself as the solution is what will get you hired.

    Here are just a few potential problem areas. Completing projects on time and on budget, improve product quality, improve customer service, increase sales, reduce costs, enhance online marketing, etc.

    Step 3 – Identify the hiring manager.

    Step 4 – Create a personal marketing plan to get your solutions in the hands of the hiring manager.

    Step 5 – Develop a “One-Sheet” resume, to separate you from the crowd, along with a set of compelling cover letters that show your experience solving similar problems.

    Step 6 – Follow up is essential to getting an interview. Be persistent but not a pest.

    As a former executive with several Fortune companies I know how leaders think. People who have followed this process have gotten hired.

    Good luck and never give up!

    Bob Prosen –
    The Prosen Center for Business Advancement

    P.S. And yes, this works for recent college grads as well.
    P.S.S. Market yourself to the companies you want to work for whether or not they have an opening.

  • Emily Guy Birken says:

    @Dan, thank you for bringing up the issue of depression. Unemployment can send anyone into a tailspin, even if they have never dealt with depression before. And the horrible thing about depression is that it can feel next to impossible to get help. My stepfather went through a similar situation when he lost his job when I was in elementary school.

    Part of the reason I wanted to write this post was because I wanted people to know some of the active things they could be doing while unemployed because staying busy can help to ward off depression. The main thing to remember is that your family and friends can help you through a crisis, so don’t be afraid to ask them for help.

  • Dan says:

    I got seriously depressed and did nothing. Seriously, if you find yourself without the will to take care of yourself, tell friends and family. Ask for help. There are probably options for mental health treatment out there for you. If you are depressed you probably aren’t up to the task of making the necessary calls to make appointments and inquiries. This is what you will need help with.

  • Lulu says:

    It is very easy to become depressed as I found out when I lost my job. I kept applying and getting rejections and with each one I became more depressed. I had a really good friend who kept me from losing my mind so it is extremely important to have a good source of support who will keep you sane.

    Keep trying and don’t give up because something will turn up eventually!!!

  • Daisy @ Add Vodka says:

    When I was coming to the end of my term with my current job (before it got extended for a year), I was planning on doing all of these while I Looked for another job. I’m glad I didn’t have to, but I think lots of these are a great idea even if you’re employed. I would also add networking to the list!

  • Jean says:

    During my unemployment period a few years ago, I took up some volunteer work and even signed up for a few art classes. Now I do freelance art on the side along with my main job.

  • Marbella says:

    Try to get an education in any profession with little demand. It might be a good opportunity to change career.

  • david says:

    Starting a blog has additional potential too. Aside from keeping your writing skills sharp, a blog can turn into full time employment in and of itself.

    It may not be the norm, but it is possible and there are several blogs on the Internet that provide a full time income for their owners.

    If one cannot find a job, perhaps one can ‘make’ a job

  • swampwiz says:

    I have just given up, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection to free myself of 6 figures of unsecured debt (while keeping my even higher amount 401K/IRA intact), and applied for SNAP benefits (i.e., food stamps.) To break the monotony, I get out of the country and teach English to earn my keep.

  • Charlotte@EverythingFinance says:

    I retired early and then decided to go back to work, but couldn’t find anything. I found myself not wanting to get dressed in the morning. I was fortunate to have a loving and supportive husband to keep me on track until I found a job.

  • Chris says:

    Two more things that I would add when you are unemployed. First of all, read relevant self-help articles and books on how to get a job and how to improve your sales skills (including selling yourself). If you are on a tight budget, go to the library. But don’t just read them, make notes and summarize, then type them up like you do in college. I find you retain more information if you do this. I ended up with useful summary notes this way, and used some of the techniques to get my next job.

    For anyone getting seriously downcast, there is a book called “Get It Done When You’re Depressed”, by Julie A. Fast. This includes 50 strategies, some of which may be more relevant than others. It’s written by someone with clinical depression, and while most people are not in that situation, it could be useful for anyone who becomes seriously depressed while unemployed.

  • Tim Odoms says:

    The minute I saw the title of the post I knew doing a blog would be in there. I think the issue is before most people become successful at blogging they find another job. Luckily, I’ve been able to stick with it after I found another job. It’s my dream to be a successful Internet writer. I know I have a long way to go. I also know only 1% make it. Wish me luck! 🙂

  • jordan says:

    During my unemployment I cant forget to go up north to my cabin gotta stay current with the fishing and hunting while collecting my benefits for 9 months gotta enjoy life a little bit too.

  • Carl Lassegue says:

    Great article! I wish I could have read this when I graduated college a couple years ago. Volunteering in your field is a great idea, it keeps you occupied and doing something productive in your field, which can be hard to do when unemployed.

  • Shane says:

    You are right about staying current. I had a friend who was unemployed and stayed involved, volunteered and helped out friends, as well as organize, minimize, and learned how to budget tighter. He is now better off than he was. Plus has a job.

  • mike burns says:

    Your ideas of taking a class, teaching a class or volunteering sound nice. But keep in mind that your unemployment money will be cut if you choose to do any of these things.

    When people are unemployed, money is often very tight, so most people don’t have the luxury of giving up the unemployment compensation for the luxuries that you suggest.

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