Even if you're not working, you can still improve your career.

Searching for a job can take months, so it's no surprise that some professionals spend long stretches of time unemployed. Now, levels of unemployment have been exacerbated — exponentially so — by the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Millions of Americans have filed for unemployment, and that number is only expected to rise.

Of course, pandemic or not, unemployment is a reality for many workers at certain points in their careers. That said, just because you are currently unemployed and conducting a job search doesn't mean there are no opportunities for productivity. No, you do not have to sit at your kitchen table staring at your computer screen for hours on end, day after day. Instead, turn your time unemployed into something good, and find ways to stay positive along the way.

Create a schedule — and stick to it

Unemployment is not a vacation. There is nothing wrong with using your time in-between jobs to relax, but your primary focus is best placed on being productive and moving in the direction of your next opportunity.

Do you know that feeling when you wake up on Tuesday at 11 a.m. and have nowhere to be for the rest of the week? The easy thing to do is to grab a bowl of cereal and curl up on the couch to indulge in a Netflix-powered binge. If this becomes your standard routine of what to do when unemployed, it will sabotage your efforts, deflate your motivation, and generally leave you feeling worse off.

Instead, add a little structure to your week. It can work wonders for your motivation and results. You don't have to schedule yourself fully for 9 hours every day, but making a commitment to use three to six hours each day on your job search is a good start. Decide when you will do it, block the time, and stick to the plan.

Consider temporary work or freelancing

Don't like that resume gap? Make it disappear by adding temporary projects or freelancing to your work record. It's a great way to make money while unemployed, which can go a long way toward making you feel better.

When looking at temporary opportunities while unemployed, choose something that makes good use of your existing professional skills. You will find yourself more in demand, as hiring managers want to minimize the learning curve on short-term assignments. The projects that are a good fit for your skill set will also make logical sense on your career timeline.

Freelancing has been made easier by online platforms that serve as marketplaces for project-based work. There are many benefits to freelancing, including flexibility, a chance to choose the projects that get you excited, and an opportunity to shape your personal brand. Because the projects usually start out small, you can enjoy a boost of dopamine from the easy gigs you score — which helps you keep up your motivation when the progress on your main job search is stalling.

Learn something new

If you're wondering what to do when unemployed beyond looking for a job, try learning something new!  Whether through a seminar, an online class, or a community college, use the time to learn a new skill. Always wanted to learn how to code? How about SEO, speechwriting, or the mechanics of launching a startup? This is your big opportunity to learn and grow.

In a gap between jobs in 2008, I was living in Boston where driving was entirely optional. Yet, it was something that I had wanted to learn and had not carved out the time for. While in search of my next opportunity, I took driving lessons three times a week and got my driver's license the same week as my job offer.

Launch a blog

A professional blog is a fantastic way to stay current on industry issues and stay engaged.

A blog can become your personal branding and marketing tool, position you as an expert, and give you an outlet to share your ideas. You get to refine your written communication skills and research technical topics. It can also become a powerful platform for networking and making new friends, and it could even lead to a job opportunity.

If the idea of a personal or professional blog sounds intriguing as what to do when unemployed, check out more tips on how to boost your online presence with a personal website.

Volunteer

Every unemployment guide will tell you: Volunteering experience looks great on a resume. It is also a wonderful way to contribute to your favorite cause, stay busy, connect with other professionals, and deepen your sense of gratitude for what you have — even if the unemployment time is difficult.

I remember meeting a candidate for an upper management level position, who had been in the “gap” for six months, driven by a tough economy, his unique industry focus, and a lack of open positions at his level. His resume proudly listed his volunteering experience: Several times a week, he was building homes with Habitat for Humanity. I was impressed, which led to an extended conversation about his passion for helping those who are less fortunate get their basic needs met so that they can elevate themselves out of poverty. This kind of passion could ultimately help land him a job doing something he loves.

Exercise

Wondering what to do when unemployed after you're done looking for jobs? Get active! Whether you walk, run, spin, lift weights, or do yoga, do something active and physical every day. Exercise will help boost your spirits and improve your energy levels.

Stay informed

Following hot topics and favorite companies will give you fuel for starting conversations and help you spot new opportunities. Loss of hands-on industry knowledge is a concern of many hiring managers when they see a resume gap. Your ability to converse about current issues will go a long way toward positioning you as a candidate with sharp skills.

Stay connected

Unemployment can be difficult if your social circle overlapped with your old work group. You might be wondering what to do for social connections when unemployed, and thus find yourself feeling lonely and disconnected. Make an effort to remain connected with the people who matter most, whether that's by scheduling dinner with friends or joining a club or two.

Even better would be remaining social by connecting with your professional network, as these people can help move your job search along. Stay active on LinkedIn and reach out to those professionals who you've connected with in the past, particularly if they work in your industry. Attend networking events as well, where you'll be able to meet new professionals who could potentially open doors for you, either for your immediate job search or later down the road.

By cultivating these professional relationships, you'll hit two birds with one stone; you'll have social interaction while also moving your job search in the right direction.

Minimize what does not serve you

A full-time job can be an effective distraction and time-filler, leaving little opportunity to look at the big picture of your life. Therefore, unemployed time is a fantastic chance to take stock and re-assess where you spend your time and money.

Now that you have been jarred out of your normal loop, focus on what matters most. Where do your time and money go? Is your answer aligned with your values and purpose? How can you have more of what matters in your day? This reflection goes beyond the typical “drop your cable subscription” advice, and may lead you to reshape your job search into one that will better fit your needs and goals.

Another way to be productive while unemployed is to get expert feedback on your resume. Click here to receive a free resume critique.

This article was updated in April 2020 by Lauren Settembrino.

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