Your future self will thank you.

By Lindsay Tigar
June 29, 2020

The unemployment rate in April skyrocketed due to the impact of the pandemic, and while it has fallen slightly in the past two months, there are still an estimated 21 million Americans out of work, as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2020 report. This makes it likely that you or someone you know will experience a career setback, such as a layoff or furlough. Though it’s undoubtedly nerve-wracking to be without a job, find a sliver of comfort knowing you’re not the only one.

While you may be tempted to binge-watch Netflix, become TikTok famous, and sleep until noon, career experts recommend spending your time wisely during this in-between time. Yes, it definitely takes some self-discipline; but not only does it help you stay focused and positive, it’s a smart idea for your mental health, too.

“If you do not stay busy, you may find increased stress about how long the job search is taking or about other outside events you may not have control over,” explains career expert Wendi Weiner. “However, if you keep yourself occupied, your mind will have fewer opportunities to wander into areas of anxiety.”

This doesn’t mean you need to wake up at 7 a.m. and remain plugged-in to your inbox for eight hours. Instead, there are beneficial—and dare we say fun?—ways to keep your mind sharp, mood up, and creativity sparked while between gigs. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1. Learn something new

Before you were laid off from your job, you likely felt pressed for time. Between being productive on the job, plus tending to your commitments after hours, there was likely little time to invest in upping your professional skills. Consider the silver lining of this career ‘pause,’ says Amanda Augustine, the career expert for TopResume. She suggests asking yourself these questions:

  • Have you been looking at job listings or speaking with people in your desired field, and realized there’s a particular skill gap you’ll need to fill to increase your chances of landing the role you want? 
  • What are you proficient at—but could be better at?
  • Where is your industry heading, and how can you remain competitive?

“Now’s the time to invest in your professional development with an online course or certification program that will increase your qualifications and help your application stand out from the competition—all from the comfort and safety of your home,” she adds.

2. Create a schedule and stay organized

What time did you get up yesterday? When was the last time you showered? We aren’t judging, but if your schedule is all over the place, your brain will be scattered, too. That’s why Weiner says it’s essential to stick to a schedule and routine, so you remain energized, productive, and optimistic. She suggests carving out time to exercise daily—even if it’s a walk around the block (don’t forget your face mask!). Choosing a balanced, healthy diet will also prevent you from sugar highs and crashes. By prioritizing your health, you’ll be in the best position to complete job applications.

“Treat your job search as an important, structured activity by setting aside time for researching roles, applying to roles, and following up with companies,” she recommends. To go the extra mile, consider creating a spreadsheet to keep your job search organized, for example, with different columns devoted to the outreach you’ve done, progress made, next steps, and potential avenues to try next.

3. Be active on LinkedIn

Even if you weren’t diligently tuned in to your LinkedIn feed while you were employed, you’ve likely spent more time updating your profile lately. Keep it up! This professional networking platform is a stellar place to be heard and to stand out from the rest of the applicants in your pool. While adding new contacts is important, communicating with all connections is more important, says Amy Cooper Hakim, PhD, an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert. "Share your opinions or a recent article you found on a topic related to the field,” she says. “This type of interaction keeps you fresh and top of mind when a job does become available.”

4. Set up virtual coffee dates

Happy hour mingling is off the table for the foreseeable future, but there are tons of other ways to expand your network through virtual meet-ups. Hakim recommends reaching out to old colleagues, mentors, and friends who may be helpful. “Use this time to talk about interesting happenings in your industry and support one another on your respective job searches,” she says. If you’re both out of work, you can also consider attending an online meeting or workshop together. That way you’ll both have a friendly face on the virtual platform. 

Hakim says virtual social interaction is especially critical during this time of social distancing in order to ensure you don’t get lost in the sea of resumes. The bottom line is to remain active and vocal, so when a door opens, you’re the first to pass through.

5. Pursue a passion

When trying to find the next step on your professional ladder, you don’t have to race to work, work, work. In fact, Augustine reminds job seekers there’s always room for play. Since you have more hours to dedicate to your hobbies, passions, and interests, try to make enjoyable activities or passion projects a consistent part of your routine. “If you’ve always wanted to learn a new language or take a creative writing course, but could never quite find the time, now’s your chance to do so,” she says. “While these classes may not be directly related to your career goals, they still offer benefits. Finding a creative outlet that you’re passionate about can ultimately make you happier and allow the current job search process to feel more bearable.”

6. Volunteer your time

Though in-person volunteering gigs are few and far between right now, there are still many ways to dedicate your expertise and spend your time helping others from afar. And Augustine says it has the added benefit of meeting like-minded people, who very well may be happy to assist in your job search. She suggests looking for ‘SBV’ or skills-based volunteer opportunities to leverage your talents for a worthy cause. “This meaningful work will not only help you meet others and find fulfillment, but it can be a great way to fill an employment gap while you search for a full-time position,” she continues. “Remember, you don’t have to be paid for a job to include it on your resume.”

7. Get to know yourself again

If you’ve been doing the 9-to-5 dance for a decade, two decades, or more, this may be the first chance you’ve had for an extended break from the grind. Rebecca Mannis, PhD, a learning specialist and founder of Ivy Prep Learning Center, says it’s an invitation to do some soul-searching. Think about what motivates and drives you, what type of work makes you want to get up in the morning, and what fulfills you. Not everyone operates in the same way, and once you determine your own philosophy, it could open your eyes to opportunities you never considered before. “Some people are more thinkers, while others are more feelers. Some are more introverted, while others are more extroverted,” she says. The goal is to figure out where you land—and then take steps forward.