here’s how you should spend your time while you’re unemployed

If you’re out-of-work and thinking about the best way to spend your time, you probably/hopefully have the obvious stuff covered, like updating your resume and writing great cover letters. But here are five other things you should do while you’re out-of-work to make the most of the time.

1. Volunteer. Volunteering for a charity or local community organization can be a great way to keep your skills up-to-date or help you learn new ones, expose you to new fields, and give you something to put on your resume for this time period. It can also boost your confidence and reinforce for you that you have plenty to offer, which can have a real impact on how you present yourself in interviews. Plus, by expanding your network, it will give you a whole new group of people who know from direct experience working with you that you’re reliable and competent, and who will be able to vouch for you to others.

One tip: Finding the right volunteer opportunity can take some patience. Small groups, who often need volunteers the most, don’t always have enough staff to respond to inquiries about volunteering. Larger organizations are generally more equipped to work with volunteers but will often funnel them to more menial work, such as stuffing envelopes. But don’t give up – it might take putting out a few different feelers, but if you give it time you should be able to find an opportunity that you’re happy with.

2. Make yourself more visible in your field. For example:

  • Join your industry’s professional association, go to its events, and volunteer to take on leadership roles, whether it’s helping to plan a conference or running for office.
  • If you’re young and your professional association doesn’t have a young professionals group, ask to start one under its umbrella.
  • Build your professional presence online. Find out where people in your field hang out online (such as particular blogs, news sites, or LinkedIn groups), and join their conversation. You’ll both build your knowledge (something that can be very handy in job interviews) and begin to build credibility as someone who’s passionate about the work you all do. And employers definitely prefer hiring candidates with this kind of track record of interest in theirsubject matter.

3. Learn a new skill. Whether it’s learning to code, expanding your Excel know-how, or brushing up on a foreign language, using this time to build your skills can make you a strong job candidate – as well as boost your confidence. From to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to local adult education classes or community colleges, opportunities abound for free or low-cost learning. Heck, you can even just do self-directed learning yourself using materials you find on the Internet.

4. Catch up with your network.Too often, job seekers feel awkward about reaching out to people in their network unless they’re connected to a particular job opening. But it’s worth reaching out to you full network and catching up one-on-one with people because you never know where it might lead. In particular, be sure that you reach out to past managers and coworkers who liked your work.They’re in the best position to vouch for you and recommend you to others.

5. Do things you can’t do as easily when you’re working. Don’t feel guilty if you’re not job searching 40-hours a week. People like to say that a job search should be a full-time job, but in reality the amount of time it takes will take varies significantly from field to field and from person to person. Particularly if you’re more senior or in a field without a large number of openings, you might find that it’s not realistic to spend 40 hours a week on your search.

And that’s not a bad thing. Unemployment is tough, and it’s okay to take advantage of the time that you have to do things that you didn’t have a chance to do when you were working all day. Go to a museum, exercise, spend the afternoon in a park, see family and friends, read a novel, or otherwise find ways to enjoy yourself. Hopefully you’ll be back at work soon enough, and then it may be harder to find time to do those things.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. hayling*

    These are all great ideas! If you’re in an area where Taproot Foundation has a chapter, and you have skills that they need, it’s a great way to use your skills. I really enjoyed the marketing project that I worked on. It also gave me something to talk about during interviews when they asked what I had been doing while unemployed.

    When I was unemployed, I did treat job searching like a full-time job, but that was it, full stop. Unless I had a last-minute interview to prepare for, I pretty much only did my job search during “business hours.” It can be really hard to actually relax and enjoy your free time when you are desperately trying to find a new job, so it helps to designate evenings and weekends as “free time” and not feel guilty about it.

  2. Nibbles*

    I tried really hard to find a volunteer position when I was unemployed last year. But the groups closest/of the most interest to me either wanted resumes/interviews or they wanted a time commitment that I didn’t feel good about committing to. Committing to four months of six hours every Tuesday and Thursday wasn’t something I wanted to take on, considering I could get a job at any moment and have to bail.

  3. ThursdaysGeek*

    Oh, Smart things to do. Well, the person I’m thinking about doesn’t have skills or a network or a field. Volunteering would take away time from playing, but I’ll suggest that. Nothing else seems to be working.

    1. fposte*

      Unfortunately, they have to want it. It doesn’t even have to be as much as you do, but they do have to want it.

  4. Construction Safety*

    I went a different path, I had my hip replaced & concentrated on full, fast RTW.

  5. Not Myself Today*

    I really think #5 is more important than people realize.

    I have a fairly specific job, fortunately in a large metropolitan area, so there are a decent number of jobs in my field – but not enough for me to have consistently spent 40 hours a week applying for them when I was out of work!

    Some weeks there would be two or three openings, and some none. Even with networking and everything else, sometimes there’s just not that much to do in your job search.

    I did do some work around the house, but when I got a job I wanted to start right away. Therefore I had much less time than expected beforehand to do all those household chores that never quite get finished. I should have spent more time on them and less obsessively checking the computer for job news.

    If I had only known which job I would finally get (and when), I could have taken off on an extended road trip or vacation that I never have time for while I’m working.

    Actually, other cities have the internet – I should have taken my laptop and hit the road! Maybe come back one week a month to handle my mail and work on cleaning out the garage –

    1. Anxa*

      Oh boy, the vacation part.

      I’m low-income and on the edge of being broke, but my family has more money.

      Few things are more frustrating than having to turn down almost-all-expense paid family vacations just in case you miss out on an interview opportunity.

  6. kristinyc*

    I’ve been unemployed twice (once from a layoff and once from voluntarily deciding to take a few months off because I was burnt out).

    Things I did:
    – Took a sewing class that met for 6 weeks at 2 in the afternoon (and sometimes 10 AM yoga classes)
    – Took my dog for walks in the park. In the middle of the day.
    – Grocery shopped at 10 am when the store was empty
    – Brought my laptop to a park with wifi and job searched outside
    – Actually accepted coffee meetings with vendors/startup people trying to “pick my brain” (it was nice networking, and I got lattes out of it when I couldn’t splurge on them otherwise!)
    – Cleaned my apartment. A lot.
    – Enough freelancing to stay afloat until I was ready to go back to work. It gave me the flexibility to wait until I found the right job, not just the first one available.

    I miss funemployment. :)

  7. Wendy Darling*

    My favorite thing about not working was being able to go places that are typically crowded at 2pm on a Tuesday.

    I actually had a very difficult time volunteering, and local friends have reported the same issue — apparently in my area organizations can afford to be extremely picky about their volunteers, so everywhere I looked wanted you to commit to a set number of hours a week — sometimes quite a large number — for at least six months (and some places aren’t even accepting new volunteers at all!)… unless you wanted to do fundraising calls. I didn’t end up able to find a volunteer opportunity that worked for me, so I ended up taking a bunch of online classes instead and really brushing up on some skills I’d developed an interest in at my last job but hadn’t had time to work on.

  8. AndersonDarling*

    When I was unemployed, I thought I had to dedicate all my time to job searching. I felt like I was carrying some kind of burden and I wasn’t allowed to do anything else. Then when I finally got a job, I looked back and wondered why I didn’t get some big projects done when I had the time.
    Now that my husband is job searching, he is tackling some of the big projects. At this moment, he is ripping the carpet up in our living room.
    You can be dedicated to your job search and career, but being unemployed can also be an opportunity to spend time on other things.

  9. F.*

    I rehabbed my husband’s house over eight months after I was laid off. I stayed out of the job market on purpose for the first 14 weeks because of full-pay severance from my former employer. Had I accepted a job, I would have lost that. I was also able to collect unemployment for six months. We then sold my husband’s house for at least $20,000 more than we would have had I not freshened it up. A win-win all around.

  10. Apparatchic*

    Wait, you mean sulking, watching Netflix, and taking naps because your feet are cold don’t make the list? Oops…

    (I was unemployed for four months last year after a very bad work situation and I actually DID do most of the things on this list! But my primary memory is mostly of sulking, ngl.)

    1. T3k*

      Same here. I was unemployed for almost a year between graduating and my first job out of school, and while I was job hunting for hours on end, I still feel most of that time I was just moping around the house… no crying here, nope <.<

      1. starsaphire*

        Ditto. Or is that tritto? ;)

        I look back on paperwork from my recent 18-month break, and I can physically see contracting jobs, freelancing gigs, and actual steady (if small) income. Laundry and dishes got washed; bills got paid.

        But what do I *remember* doing? Sitting on the couch crying, binge-watching Grace and Frankie, not eating, and not getting dressed.

        I kinda wish I’d taken on something monumental, like reorganizing the garage, but frankly at that point, slicing cheese and putting it on crackers to avoid blood-sugar crash was generally beyond my capabilities, so it’s probably a good thing I didn’t…

        1. Overeducated*

          It’s nice to hear that others have felt this way too! I have two part time Jobs but neither is a career job and both pay peanuts so it feels like doing “nothing.”

        2. Anxa*

          If it makes you feel better, I did some pretty big things, and I still remember the depression and lack of direction most of all.

          I helped rehab a family home after a hurricane. It was a terrible experience (knowing your family home is vulnerable to storms now, an insecurity, watching your community torn apart). As terrible as this sounds….I actually kind of enjoyed it. I felt useful and forget that I was unemployed. No heat, no hot water, no security, but I hadn’t slept better in years. As big of a job as that was though, I forget about it sometimes.

  11. De Minimis*

    This last time [four months] I was pretty busy with applying for jobs and interviewing, but there was still the occasional slow stretch. I did the grocery shopping and did a lot of dog-sitting.

    The time before that was super-long term unemployment, nearly 3 years. I tried to do household stuff [mainly shopping,] did all the tasks that generally had to be done Mon-Fri, but did do a lot of sitting around. The unemployment rate where I lived at the time was around 15-20% during that timeframe, and I actually ended up having to relocate cross country in order to find work.

    Tried to volunteer at various points but it wasn’t really career relevant, and since the economy was so bad there was a lot of competition for volunteer positions.

  12. Bowserkitty*

    I REALLY wanted to volunteer at the local animal shelter during my unemployment. That’s the one thing I regret not doing.

  13. Tuckerman*

    When I had been underemployed for several months, I felt trapped. Worrying about money day in and day out really warps your perspective. One day I made a list of everything I would do if I had money. And I realized that many of the items on the list required little or no money. Or I could modify them to be less expensive. Some of them were funny, like “Eat Medjool dates every day” and “Ramen detox.” Writing down what I wanted to do put my situation in perspective.

    1. great point*

      I think this is such a great point. It DOES warp your perception and you start to feel like you can’t do anything. I had a similar epiphany–I forgot how much is under my control because my job search was beyond my control.

    2. nani1978*

      This is so true. I love your list idea. I was unemployed for 10 months a few years ago (it ended quickly after I found this blog!) and found that I constantly had to reframe and reprioritize because of shifting finances and differing feelings of freedom or confinement. It was like going through a breakup with my old life, because it still took at least 6 months of steady employment for me to get over the daily guilt and worry and adjust to my new concerns, good and bad.

    3. Anxa*

      I feel trapped now.

      When I get home, sometimes I’m tired from my day. I love my job and it’s stressful or demanding, but I’m ‘on’ all day (like a teacher). Fast food and takeout aren’t options most of the time, and I’m also trying to eat healthier. Healthy on a budget usually means cooking from scratch (or nearly scratch), so I get right into the food thing. My boyfriend and I have stopped eating together because we’d get so lazy at the end of the day and want to spend time together and have a hard time getting focused on phase 2 of the day.

      I feel like my job keeps me from looking for my job, but I’m underemployed enough to never feel like I can just focus on doing my job and taking care of myself and family. I’ve been looking for a full time job for over 5 years and I’m at least three times as tired as I was when I worked full-time or was in school with multiple jobs.

      Also, while worrying about money DOES warp your perspective, it’s not really that illogical. I know poverty affect cognition and skew your perceptions in the way you mention, but of COURSE your not going to be able to look at the big picture or even think about what you want; short term needs come first.

  14. Teapot Coordinator*

    So when my husband and I moved early last summer for his job, we knew I’d be unemployed for an undetermined amount of time…we moved, I spent a couple weeks unpacking, changing addresses, finding doctors and dentists, you know the usual post-moving things that take an unusual amount of “Please hold” time.
    Then I started job hunting seriously.
    And then not two weeks later I sprained my ankle.
    So, I sat on the couch, elevated my ankle, and proceeded to spend the next 6 weeks with a severe ankle sprain, job hunting and cranky that it was hot outside.
    I’d like a redo on my unemployment, please!

    1. Wendy Darling*

      I was unemployed for a year after I left academia. In that time, my dad had a heart attack, my parents sold their house and moved to a different state, and my mom had (another) brain surgery. So basically I spent a lot of that year taking care of them, because it was the unhealthy caring for the unhealthy in that household.

      On the plus side when people ask why you’ve been unemployed for a year, “I was helping my mom after multiple brain surgeries, she’s feeling much better now so I’ve job-searching seriously” is pretty much a magic bullet. (As opposed to one recruiter who got shirty with me for getting laid off in late December and being unemployed in late February and actually asked me why I hadn’t found a job yet like there was something wrong with me — seriously?!)

      1. Anxa*

        Ugh, my least favorite interview questions are the ‘why haven’t you been work’ ‘why do you think you haven’t found a job’ or the ‘what do you do all day’ ones. I know I’m the one that needs to prove myself, but you must be remotely interested in me to interview me, right? So you should try not to be so rude, right? I think it’s so unprofessional.

        1. Crystal t*

          Seems rude plus regardless is someone going to say the real reasons they think they aren’t valuable.. I doubt id consider a job asking these questions unless it was a dream job.

  15. Erik*

    Excellent list – I did all of them when I was unemployed. I kept myself VERY busy.
    I went to a lot of Meetup groups, learned a lot of new skills, networked, etc. However, I did spend time for myself as well – this is a great time to relax, unwind from the stress, reevaluate your goals and make a plan to move forward.

  16. Overeducated*

    Here’s a question: is it better to spend your job search temping/doing short term work with no PTO (and no possibility of becoming an FTE), or keeping your schedule open for interviews? I am starting to have a lot of trouble scheduling interviews around my work hours, with interviewers often giving me a set of slots to pick from, so I am not sure whether to go back to my seasonal job in June or give notice and take a gamble that I will find full time work soon.

  17. Bryce*

    Another thing to do: Schedule doctor/dentist/eye doctor appointments. This is especially true if you still are able to be on your ex-employer’s health plan. That way, you can take care of those needs while still on your ex-employer’s plan, which can help you save money. That’s because when you start a new job and if you have medical/dental/vision coverage (or if you buy it on your own), you’re starting from square one with the new plan with deductibles and coinsurance. You may have made progress on your employer’s old plan toward meeting those/already met them.

    And no matter what your situation is, it can be harder to get the time off needed for the appointments once you start a new job because of limited leave for those first few months.

  18. TMW*

    I was unemployed for two years. While I still had my severance pay coming in, I took the time to travel a bit. (I also watched every episode of the series “24” on Netflix (LOL). I wanted to do some volunteer work, but as one of the posters said, trying to find volunteer work was like trying to find full time work– I had to go on the website to apply and forward a resume and cover letter. The same with trying to find temp work. But this, too, passed and I finally got a job. I’ll say this, unemployment is certainly a very humbling experience.

  19. Crystal t*

    Thanks all, currently going through this and sometimes so i am so bored. I too wanted to volunteer but can’t commit any months. I feel like the should accept they are fluid positions and go with the flow.. My biggest concern and question is that if you hated your last job and quit do you pass up on offers that may mean an income but one that you probably won’t like doing?

  20. 221B Baker St.*

    Number 1 is a solid YES! I did do volunteer work while job searching and after a stinking year of no work, constant rejection, being forced to move back in with family, AND dealing with other fun stuff I’ll decline to mention – I got a job referral through the company I was (and still am) doing volunteer work for.

    After reading Alison’s blog I didn’t get that advice on #1 about volunteering at first, but it one was of two things that kept me sane. The only thing I can add is that make sure it’s something that can help you not just in your job search, but that it can help you with furthering your career. I personally would avoid animals, religious stuff, anything centered around food, etc. because it wouldn’t help me at all in my career choice and I knew it wouldn’t keep me engaged. Find something you are just insanely passionate about and send a friendly email asking if they need volunteer help. It might be nerve wracking at first but believe me it’s worth it. While companies or certain industries need help, they may not have a pool of volunteers, people who are passionate about the industry, or have a steady stream of small jobs.

    My volunteer work centered around specialized work and documentation so I was happy to do this volunteer work and didn’t just receive perks from people I respect and admire – I landed a job offer and stayed (mostly) sane in the area related to my volunteer efforts! There were literally zero downsides (no urge to take a kitten home for example), and I am pretty happy doing this long term too. I can get paid working on the same type of work and also get to continue to volunteer.

  21. Allison Percy*

    Helllo! I am desperate for REAL HR ADVICE! I am seeking work and have a few great interviews but am wondering why I never get offers.

    It has been very frustrating for me and I do hear HR can by a $5 report and find out any gory detail of your social media accounts. I do not post often in social media but does anyone know how detailed information HR can uncover about candidates?

    Thank you
    Carolyn Knight

  22. hopeless naive*

    I was collecting unemployement, but got a job offer I couldn’t refuse.From the moment I started, my supervisor said 1000 times, how close she is to the owner, how many years of friendship she has with him, and much he trusted her and her judgement. She made sure that I new that pretty well. On my second day at night I received a text message from her asking me if I can give her one of my pills for ADD, I didn’t know what to say, the next day we were going to an office far from the one the rest of the company would be, so I was afraid if I said no, she’ll do or say something about me to have me fired, and at the same time I knew it was wrong, and I felt so uncomfortable, how dare she put me in that position? So I weigh my options, of I get fired because she gets mad at me for not giving her the meds, or quit because that was too much? I lost my unemployement benefits when I took the job, so I texted her saying things that would make her feel bad, in case she would take the hint, and she didn’t, she insisted instead ! So I told her I’d give her one. The next day I told the office manager, and she told the owner. I came on my own and spoke to him the same day, he apologized to me that I had to put up with that and said that nothing will happen to me. Now I found out they are going to give me a write up! why?! I came forward the very next day! I was honest! it was my second day on the job! they said in the employee manual stipulate those kind of things, but I didn’t get the employee manual until 6 days after! how can they do that? I am so mad! I lost my unemployement and will end up without a job, because I feel I have been punished for speaking out, and I don’t want to work with people like that!

  23. Brian*

    I’m currently unemployed for six months. The first three I got steady interviews. I averaged one interview for every 3 jobs I applied. I had several weeks were I had two in a single week. After that things came to a screeching halt. I’ve now put in 38 applications not 1 phone call. I now face a daunting task of overcoming a almost impossible wall of long term unemployment discrimination.

    I kept busy by being the family taxi driver, shopper and did the Costco runs. I was the bread winner and it’s been a constant struggle financially. No unemployment, wife’s 1300 take home pay and 700 from mother is what we have struggled to get by with. My mother has postponed her retirement plans to help out. But even with that, food stamps, energy assistance to pay our utilities, Medicaid. We have paid an absurdly amount of overdraft fees.

    I have applied fast food, unarmed security, pizza delivery, customer service and jobs I’m experienced in. It seems I’m blackballed from everything. I used every resource possible to get a job but failed miserably. I’m 39 college educated, spotless criminal record, no tickets, accidents, dui, domestic violence, above average iq.

    I used to run 3-5 miles per week, but lost the motivation. Almost everyday I fight depression, and anger as I am powerless to end this.

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