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8 Ways to Make the Most of Unemployment

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I lost my job this summer. Being laid off — for the first time in my 22-year corporate career — completely blind-sided me. Losing my main source of income wasn’t on my radar, and it certainly wasn’t in my 2020 life plan (neither was a COVID-19 pandemic!). 

When I recovered from the initial shock, I took stock of my situation. I was in decent shape. Thanks to some advanced planning, I could support my family for a while. I had a healthy emergency fund, along with a side hustle as a freelance writer, both of which could tide me over until I figured out “what’s next.” 

Not everyone is as prepared for an unanticipated job loss as I was. And due to the coronavirus pandemic, lots of people are finding themselves suddenly and unexpectedly out of work. Pandemic or no, even in the best of times, it can take months to find a new job. With millions of Americans out of work, it could take even longer.  

But even if you’re not working right now, there are plenty of opportunities to stay productive. Here are nine ways to make the most of this downtime. 

Take Action and Look Into Unemployment Benefits

First thing’s first: Apply for unemployment benefits as soon as you can. Each state has its own set of eligibility guidelines, but generally, you can receive unemployment benefits if you’ve lost your job through no fault of your own, such as a layoff. You also may need to meet other requirements related to the amount of time you worked or how much income you earned in a given period. Find out if you’re eligible for unemployment benefits. 

For starters, don’t just lie in bed wallowing and binge-watching Netflix. Don’t be afraid of this next step, now is the time to take action. Sure, unemployment isn’t fun, and looking for a full-time job again can feel crummy. But it is a gift of free time, and plenty of it, for you to take inventory of your essential career skills (and career goals) to figure out how to make your resume more enticing to potential employers.  

Create (and Stick To) a Routine

In the absence of a normal 9-to-5 schedule, the best thing you can do during this time is keep some semblance of structure in your days during the job search. You don’t have to time block out every minute in your calendar or pound the virtual pavement for eight to nine hours a day, but dedicating some amount of time daily to exercise, search for work, and reconnecting with hobbies or passion projects can do wonders for your mental health and motivation. 

Uplevel Your Skills

Think ahead: 

  • What can you do to make yourself stand out from the hundreds, possibly thousands of other applicants vying for a limited number of full or part-time job openings?
  • Are there certifications you can get to enhance your job skills and marketability?
  • Are there online summits or networking events you can attend to make new connections or learn new skills?

Some basic skills to improve are written and verbal communication, public speaking, technology and software, leadership, and team building. Take a business writing course, for example, or brush up on your PowerPoint or Excel skills.

Pinpoint Your Weaknesses

Now is a perfect time to address your weaknesses so you can show up even better in your next job interview. 

Consider the tasks and responsibilities that challenged you in your previous job. Those you procrastinated on or avoided may indicate weaknesses you may need to work on. For instance, perhaps you shied away from leading meetings because you dislike public speaking, or you consistently put off writing reports because you don’t feel confident in your writing abilities. 

Hiring managers commonly ask about your biggest weaknesses during an interview. Being able to discuss them candidly and openly, along with ways you’re trying to improve, is a sign of emotional intelligence. It’s also a great way to impress your potential new boss!

Take Online Courses

There are tons of online learning platforms offering courses in various subjects, from illustration and website development to marketing and music. Virtual learning platforms such as Skillshare, Udemy, Masterclass, and Khan Academy offer thousands of online courses for free or a low cost. Another benefit of taking online courses is it can help you stay productive and focused and stick to a routine.

Shake Those Relationship Trees

Networking and connecting with loved ones, friends, and colleagues is an effective way to land a new role faster and hear about job opportunities before they are posted online.

Let them know your goals and what type of roles you’re looking for, and get connected on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In addition, consider reaching out to former co-workers and others in your professional network asking them what they’ve been up to. Even a casual conversation can lead to a potential opportunity.

Spend time every day actively networking and making connections — it could open doors to unexpected opportunities in any job market.

Fine Tune Your Resume

Now that you’re actively job-hunting, polish your resume, and social media profiles.

Spend some time making your skills shine. Or consider hiring a professional resume reviewer, like Let’s Eat, Grandma or Monster.com for advice on how to really stand out.

And thoroughly review your social media profiles for any offensive or unprofessional posts or photos. Prospective employers typically check you out on social media before an interview, so it’s important to showcase your best self online.

Start a Business

Before I lost my job, I dreamed of freelancing full time. Being laid off turned out to be a blessing in disguise — it was the push I needed to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. Frankly, I couldn’t be happier. I love the freedom of being self-employed.

If you have the urge to start your own business, consider choosing something that’s in line with your career experience or skill set. It’s generally easier to create and sell a product or service that’s in your wheelhouse. And if you decide to return to corporate life later on, doing something that aligns with your past experience will make more sense to future employers. 

Obviously, starting your own business or taking on freelance work is a great way to make money during a period of unemployment. It can also do wonders for your self-confidence.

Final Thoughts

Being unemployed is scary. However, there are myriad ways for you to not only survive but thrive, during this time. How you choose to use it is up to you, but consider using this time wisely and productively to develop new skills and keep your mind sharp. The pandemic won’t last forever, and when it’s over, employers will start hiring again. The effort you put into improving yourself now will definitely pay off in the long run.

Conquer your student debt. Refinance now.

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.