How to Stay Busy When You’re Out of Work

I have been out of work for a few months. At first, I enjoyed having a bit of stress free time. As I look back on the most tranquil times of my adult life, they were almost certainly the summer after I finished college, the summer after I finished my law degree and the summer after I was severed by my most recent employer. I used those unemployed periods to bring myself closer to my family and friends and to refocus my energy on planning for the future. I was never idle, even if I was relaxed.

If you find yourself out of work during our current economic slowdown, you should not be idle either. Indeed, even if you have no idea what you might want to do with yourself, there are plenty of baby steps that you can take that will help you to discover the path you want to take. Here are ten steps that I used on my most recent hiatus (which, if I am to be precise, has not yet ended!) and which I recommend you consider as well:

Let People Know that You are Looking for Work: I realized this past October that the opportunity I was pursuing was not right for me and that I was not right for it. After a couple of days of consideration and discussing options with my wife, I resigned from my position and began to consider ways of letting my network of former work colleagues know that I was in need of a job. I started by sending e-mail messages off to everyone I knew who might be in a position to help me find a job. I did this in early November. Initially, I did not get any responses but in mid-December, and again this morning, I received two separate job inquiries, both of which appear to be leading to interviews in the next week or so. The jobs were not advertized but my colleagues had evangelized on my behalf and the results appear promising. If I had not been honest with my colleagues and admitted I needed help, I would not have the two opportunities that I currently have.

Update Your Resume: I hate updating my resume. Indeed, this morning I had a preliminary interview with the CEO of a company and had to scurry after the call to complete a resume for his review. If you have not been a good personal record keeper, it may take you some time to gather all of the information that you need for your resume, so jump on that project early and then make a point of always keeping an updated resume on-hand for the rest of your career.

Consider New Opportunities that You Might Like to Explore: If you are between jobs, there may be no better time to consider changing to new fields of work. If you have been trapped in an office for a number of years, perhaps you would like to jump into an artistic endeavor or into a job that will let you work outdoors. Consider your qualifications and talk to people who have jobs that you might like to try. You may find that you have the credentials to make a relatively seamless transition to something that you will really enjoy.

Take Classes that will Improve Your Resume and Bring You Up To Date: If you have been out of school for a few years, you may find that you will benefit from taking a class or two that will bring you up to date in your area of expertise. Perhaps you want to go in a different direction and now is the time to pursue a new field of study, if you can afford it.

Seek Additional Licenses that May Help You to Find a Job: I have a friend who is licensed to work as a hairdresser in 8 or 9 states. Every time she is between jobs, she gets another license. She is now looking for a job and can do so with the flexibility to move to whichever state gives her the best job options. If she had not obtained the licenses during past periods of joblessness, she would not have the flexibility that she needs now.

Take Care of All of the Chores that You Have Put Off Because of Work: If you are out of work, you have no excuses if you fail to accomplish all of the chores that you have avoided during your past periods of employment. When you go back to work, you should have a house that is organized, painted, wallpapered and in every way how you want it to be, to the extent that the tasks are within your ability. If you go back to work and find yourself lamenting that you wasted all of your time while you were unemployed, you will have only yourself to blame.

Find a Part-Time Job: Any job is better than no job if you need money. Do not be ashamed to take a job that is below your usual level of employment. My Dad worked construction before he became a dentist. My brother worked in a kitchen before he became disabled. I worked retail for many years before I graduated from law school. Whether you think of yourself as a white collar worker or not, consider taking any job just to keep you from sitting around your house watching TV and to keep a bit of cash coming in.

Explore Unemployment Benefits: If you have been terminated from your job, even if you received a severance payment, you may still be eligible to collect unemployment benefits.

Master the Use of Internet Networking Tools: I have used my current hiatus to develop my LinkedIn and Facebook networks. I have obtained as many endorsements from past colleagues as possible and generally raised my visibility among all of my colleagues. In short, I have used the Internet to make sure I stay in everyone’s face so that they will think of me if opportunities arise.

Take Some Time to Enjoy Yourself and Your Family Even if money is tight, find ways to enjoy your time off with your family. Take walks together. Play board games. Sit together and read. Go to the gym. Whatever else you may do, use the time that you have to both revive your mind and body.

What do you do when you are between jobs? What advice do you give to family and friends who are in the job market? In the face of a rough economy, what do you recommend for those of us who are looking for work?

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12 Responses to How to Stay Busy When You’re Out of Work

  1. Ann says:

    It’s also a good chance to sit down and list all of your skills, then consider what other jobs those skills might apply to. For instance, I know a guy who was a general contractor in the building trade — he knew everyone and just about everything that’s involved in the building trade AND about estimating, but he’d never thought about the fact that he could do an excellent job doing coordinating buildouts for companies downsizing or expanding or managing properties, etc. It just never dawned on him until he listed his skills and areas of knowledge. He’s now working in one of the other fields identified. He’s not making as much as he once did but there’s potential for growth and he’s at least earning!

    Another friend found a field that he absolutely loves and has tremendous earning potential but there’s a huge lag time between work efforts and a paycheck. He looked for and found a part-time job that allows him to still pursue what he wants to do while paying some of the bills so his reserves aren’t totally depleted.

    Don’t make assumptions concerning which friends might be able to put you in contact with the right person for the right job. I actually got a potential lead to pass along to a friend in a field that was totally unrelated to anything I’ve ever been in from a CFO I kow simply because I asked, on my friend’s behalf, whether he knew anyone or of anything in that other field. This guy knew that at one time I was in accounting but thought of me as a carver/sculptor and I’m sure he thought I was about the longest shot out there! LOL But some of us have had varied careers and have made some friends in high places along the way… or have relatives no one is aware of! LOL

    Even though I never intend to return to corporate finance on a full-time basis, I keep an updated resume on hand. If nothing else, it’s good for a giggle occasionally and reminds me of what I left behind!

    I remember, years ago, meeting a cousin and her husband, who was a professional football player. He was out due to injuries and I mentioned to him that now might be a good time to get credentials for another job (he was interested in coaching) “just in case.” Not sure whether he started on it then, but the guy is working as a coach now and, after his initial startled expression, did seem to think that my idea had merit.

    Basically, you have to look forward, not back, and come through rough spots as whole as possible — financially, relationship-wise, emotionally, etc. If losing a job has damaged your ego, taking care of those household chores you’ve put off, not only prepares you for when you won’t have time to do them, but also sends yourself a subtle message that your time is still valuable, so you’d better make good use of it while you can.

  2. Carl says:

    Dave has great and very useful advice. When I was severed with my employer, I found it very difficult to stay home. I would become depressed and very unproductive. What cured my problem was that I got up each morning and showered shaved and dressed as if I was going to work. I would then head to the local library or university and check out what they had to offer. I also, would drop by various companies from time to time to see if they had any opportunities. As this was pre internet, I kept up my network through phone calls or letters. Ultimately, everything worked out and I was back in the business world.

    Networking is by far the best thing that you can do for yourself. As usually, by the time a job ad is placed the job is usually filled. Keep networking and adjusting that resume.

    Dave thanks for the good advice.

  3. Ann says:

    Carl, you definitely did the right thing ’cause keeping busy and networking, rather than having a pity party, is definitely the way to go.

    I was in a position once where the whole group I worked with was let go. While others were sitting around moaning, I contacted my headhunter and started the conversation with “you’re not going to believe this!” I interviewed with the company I eventually went to within 2 weeks (while others were still updating their resumes), even though I didn’t start with them until nearly 2 months later (they actually had to get board approval to hire me because of a pending joint venture). I was still doing some cleanup work at the old company, so I didn’t really even have a break between jobs.

    Hmmm. Guess that also means that it’s not a bad idea to touch base with headhunters occasionally, even if you’re employed, so that you’re already on their minds should disaster occur.

  4. spicoli says:

    all 10 are great things to do when the time is avalible.
    I would also use that time to catch up on my favorite T.V. shows.

  5. Persephone says:

    Excellent advice. Doing anything positive is a step in the right direction while in between jobs. Work out, eat healthy foods, organize your house, get that physical you may have put off. When that job interview presents itself you’ll be ready and when you start your new job you’ll value the time you had to devote to yourself.
    And by all means, continue the healthy habits you put in place during your hiatus from the work force.

  6. Ann says:

    Actually, for those of us in the wintry north, now’s a good time to take care of those household things and updating of resumes and keeping in touch with old friends, etc. I’m certainly better at being productive with those things when I don’t have the distractions of nice weather and the garden.

  7. Liz says:

    As I prepare for my journey into unemployment in the next week, this really hits home. My resume is now posted with a couple of the major boards and I am in the process of contacting all those recruiters that have called me over the past couple of years looking to place candidates at my current organization. For me the biggest thing is not getting dragging into the bad-mouthing and negativity that has pervaded my current organization as people continue to leave, the halls become quieter and a depressing atmosphere is everywhere. To combat this, I have turned my office into a mock Tiki Room. Although it is cold and dreary here in Chicago, I have turned my office into a tropical haven by hanging grass table skirts around my desk and on my white board, added a couple of inflatable palm trees and added fun slogans to my white board. Everyone (who is left) has gotten in on the act – stopping by to laugh about the funny times, leave their own creative additions to my white board, etc…

    From a personnel perspective, I have decided to re-engage in volunteer opportunities and will be heading to the Gulf Coast again to help rebuild homes after the Katrina disaster. This will be my second trip (the last one was also after a layoff). I will say it absolutely gave me perspective when I returned last time. As much as I thought I had hit hard times, it was really revealing to realize how luck I was that I still had a safe home to live in and still had a healthy family.

    Keep the positive attitude, take a step back and remember the things that are really important in life!

  8. Ann says:

    Liz! I wish you all the best and, knowing you, believe you won’t be on the unemployment lines for long! Love the volunteering idea. Also, take it from one who knows, make sure you have/keep health insurance!!! My danged hand cost me over $20k. When I did look for health insurance (after the fact), I was turned down for individual. Luckily, I found a program for people who can pay but are turned down for whatever reason and, as of this week, am insured again. Whew!

    You’ll come through this just fine!

  9. Jimbo says:

    Dave, has excellent advice but then he is a good lawyer.
    I learned from hindsite to make sure you are networking while employed as well. Keep a good list or business card stack handy, and as Dave said don’t be afraid to email or call all of them. You don’t know who might have a position. Using LinkedIn and Facebook is also good to keep in touch with old colleagues. Being unemployed is a new thing for me as I have been blessed to have had continuous work since college, two jobs and 20 years. Now a new beginning for me, looking for a new job, maybe even a new profession. The last piece of advice is to always, always stay positive as it can get worse. So enjoy each day that God gives you, because He put you here for a reason.

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  11. TPS says:

    Just wanted to let you know you are speaking to my soul, so much that I submitted an article to several magazines this week on this particular topic. When I was younger I would have been beating myself up about the job market, what will I do next, etc. I am not stupid; of course I am concerned. But it makes absolutely no sense for me to be miserable, deprived and all around unwell at this time. It’s only been a few weeks for me, but at 41 years old, I know that while I’m waiting for the phone to ring after sending out resume after resume, it’s perfectly sane to enjoy the simple, inexpensive pleasure I could not only a month or so ago. A bubblebath in the daytime; going to the grocery store during the day when it’s practically empty instead of packing myself into crowded aisles on a Saturday; getting a full eight hours of sleep every single night just because I can. I download audio books for free from the public library so I can keep the tv off and enjoy something new, fresh and engaging.

    While friends of mine (I’m sure) are certain I’ve lost my mind, I just can’t imagine how running around like a chicken with my head cut off would do me any good. I might be unemployed another month or another six, but is it any better to feel and look depleted, anxious and stressed when going to interviews? I think not, so I’ve got to run now. Time for my steam facial. NO matter what I do, the phone isn’t going to ring any faster, so why not be gorgeous, healthy and content while waiting? I start every morning with a delicious breakfast, a good workout, time for prayer and then I’m off and running to the sites. This economy might break my bank, but I’ll be damned if it’ll break my spirits. As Ali would say, I’m just too pretty!

  12. rick says:

    I don’t want to sound disrespectful but this is all good if you have money saved aside and a spouse that is working. But most of us don’t have large piles of cash lying around and some of us don’t have spouses or family to fall back on. Some like me have done one thing and one thing only for several years and now that the well is drying up, our buckets are empty without much water in site to save us. I just want a job now. I am within weeks of losing my house. My self respect is almost all gone. My friends distant themselves, maybe they feel the stigma of bad carma can carry over to them. Before I go to sleep at night I beg the Lord to help me find a job the next day so that I can keep my house, self respect and my life as I know it. I want a job, is there anyone out there hiring
    Pmaha. nebraska

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