Make unemployment work for you. Until you find that dream job.

In a difficult job market, it is not unusual for professionals to spend several months between jobs. This can be particularly hard on young professionals. Recent research by the Economic Policy Institute shows that the unemployment rate is twice as high for younger workers. That is driven by a few factors. Recent graduates and young professionals often compete for the same positions that could be filled with someone who has more professional experience. Once employed, they are often subject to layoffs due to less seniority.

While some recruiters are sympathetic to a resume gap, others may use it as a reason to disqualify your candidacy. How do you make the most of the time between jobs – and possibly fill that gap? This quick unemployment guide shows what to do when unemployed to make the most of it.

1. Stay productive.

Regardless of what the Internet may tell you, unemployment is not the new vacation. There is nothing wrong with using your in-between jobs time to have some fun, 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 10 AM 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. As a standard routine of what to do when unemployed, this 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 full for 9 hours every day, but making a commitment to use 3-6 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.

2. 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 towards making you feel better.

When looking at temporary opportunities as what to do when 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 skillset will also make logical sense on your career timeline.

Freelancing has been made easier by online platforms that serve as a marketplace 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.

3. 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, network 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.

4. Launch a blog.

A professional blog is a fantastic way to stay current on industry issues, learn a new skill 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, making new friends and 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.

5. 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.

6. 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 you look your best in the interviews, boost your spirits, and improve your energy levels.

7. 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 and technical 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 towards positioning you as a candidate with sharp skills.

8. Stay connected.

Unemployment can be difficult if your social circle overlapped with your old work group. You might be wondering what to do when unemployed for social connections, and find yourself feeling lonely and disconnected – particularly if your friends are busy with work projects. Make an effort to remain connected with the people who matter most. In addition to formal networking, making human connections at the gym, in your hiking club, or at a coffee shop is a great way to expand your friend circle.

On the subject of networking, here are some more tips that will help take the pain out of it.

9. Minimize what does not serve you.

A full-time job can be an effective distraction and time-filler. It can make it easy to eat out of the vending machine, skip the gym and buy things mindlessly, because you are stressed and busy.

Unemployed time is a fantastic opportunity 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 does your 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 create benefits that last well into your next professional opportunity.

Want to see how your resume stacks up? Try out our free critique today!

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