How to Stay in the Game When You’re Unemployed

“It’s easier to get a job when you already have one.” Sound familiar? This widely-held belief can make your job prospects seem pretty grim if you’re unemployed. While you can’t control whether employers are biased against the unemployed, you can control how you spend your time without a job. Some say you should treat your job hunt as a full-time job, but that doesn’t have to mean sitting at home surfing job boards all day. Instead, prioritize building your personal brand and sprucing up your resume. Consider these options to keep yourself in the game while you’re unemployed:

    • Volunteer

A recent job survey found that 60% of hiring managers thought volunteering made unemployed candidates more marketable. Volunteering can be a huge—and often overlooked—boost to your job search. Not only does volunteering allow you to contribute to a worthwhile cause, it also keeps your skills sharp, exposes you to new ideas, expands your professional network, and fills resume gaps. As Alison Green notes, “The worst case scenario is that it doesn’t lead to paying work. But you’ve spent time helping a charity you feel good about, you’ve made new contacts, and you now have additional work to add to your resume.”

    • Learn new skills

It’s simple: most employers want skills, not credentials. If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you may have heard that there are huge skill gaps—especially in IT—both in the US and abroad. So why not take this opportunity to learn some new skills that will make you more marketable? With Skillshare communities and the plethora of websites offering online education (Udacity, Udemy, Codecademy, Treehouse, Course Hero, just to name a few), new skills are more accessible than ever. Be strategic and pick a skill that’s coveted in your industry, then dedicate yourself to learning it. But don’t stop there—show what you know either by assessing your skills online or making something for your portfolio.

    • Perform freelance or contract work

The freelance economy is booming right now. A recent job survey found that 79% of hiring professionals advise taking on temporary or contract assignments if you are unemployed. Finding contract work is now very straightforward thanks to sites like TaskRabbit, Elance, and Odesk. If you’re unemployed, offering your services as a contractor or freelancer can be a great way to both pull in some income and build your professional portfolio.

    • Blog

At the risk of sounding redundant, blogging is a powerful tool in your job search. If you haven’t already, consider starting a blog as a way to showcase your writing skills, expand your online presence, and show that you’re up to date with developments in your field. Start a blog and prove that you are in the job loop.

    • Build your network

While it never hurts to make connections, networking should be your top priority when you are unemployed. According to studies, networking is still the best way to find jobs. Business strategist Bill Barnett recommends massive structured networking and says that massive outreach “is the only reliable path to victory.” For more tips on networking, check out Helpguide’s tips on how to find a job through building relationships.

Searching for a job is always a challenge—especially when you’re unemployed. But with new innovations in online education and the growth of the freelance economy, there are plenty of opportunities to stay active in your field outside of a full-time job. Expand your definition of a full-time job search to include professional development and use your unemployment to propel you forward, rather than set you back.

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