Make the Most of Days between Jobs

So you say you're "in between jobs" or "taking a few months off." Let's face it, those are both just ways to make you feel better than saying you're "unemployed." Whatever spin you put on your status, you're not bringing in any cash. And the days can drag into weeks while you watch your bank account balance dwindle lower and lower.

If you've had a job before, making the transition between two jobs can cause a lot of stress. It involves letting go of a familiar routine, losing a source of income, and in some cases, dealing with the repercussions of making the wrong decision to leave. However, the time you have before your next job can be rewarding. It can be spent exploring your options. In fact, hiring managers will often ask these questions:

  • How do you spend your free time since you last worked?

  • What did you do to help your job search?

  • What did you learn from the process of looking for a job?

Your answers to these questions may mean the difference between gainful employment and independence and spending another month living in Mom and Dad's bonus room. Here are a few tips to help you make the time count.

Focus on life

It's the ultimate catch-22: You're not working, and you have a ton of time on your hands. But you're too upset by the thought of not having a job (and subsequently, not having any money) to enjoy your freedom. If you've fallen victim to pounding the pavement filling out applications, then waiting by the phone hoping that some hiring manager calls, break your paralysis and find a balance in your life. Instead of fretting, use the remaining time productively.

Don't beat yourself up over each small setback, instead celebrate the small victories and resolve that disappointments are little more than character-builders. Find a balance by dedicating a portion of each day or week to something that has nothing to do with the job search. Revisit the things you like but don't have time for when you're working. Sit down at the piano you've ignored for three years; play a pick-up game of basketball with friends; start working out, or put together a family scrapbook. Regardless of what you do, don't become so engrossed in your job search that you forget about what really matters in life: your happiness!

Consider an internship

What kept that cool company from offering you a position as assistant to the director of public relations? Was it your utter lack of experience in PR? Regardless of your 4.0 in English and of how your creativity would benefit their PR department, few companies want to take a risk on an unknown.

Internships offer you a chance to rack up experience. And because you're being paid very little (or nothing), you can often negotiate a flexible schedule that allows you free time to carry a paying job (or to spend a few hours on the beach). Plus, companies often offer jobs to interns who have displayed exemplary potential or ability.

Give back to your community

Community-based organizations, such as churches, nonprofits, schools, and medical centers, are often woefully short of help. In fact, many groups rely on volunteers to maintain their day-to-day operations in such essential roles as accounting, public/community relations, advertising, infrastructure, or training. If your interests or schooling lend themselves to the needs of an organization, you could play a key role in its ability to provide the services many people count on.

Not only does it feel good to help other people, but by volunteering, you're also gaining experience that will only help your job search. You're also networking with people, and sooner or later, you're going to connect with someone, or someone who knows someone, looking to fill a position that's perfect for you. As with internships, volunteering enables gain new skills that might otherwise be closed to you. (An organization may entrust you with a project despite your youthful, limited experience.)

Tackle odd jobs

Canvas the neighborhood asking the parents of young children if they'd like you to babysit. Put up flyers around town advertising your impeccable lawn-moving skills. Or offer to do odd jobs for small business owners or senior citizens. Don't forget to put these odd jobs on your resume or job applications — employers like to see your involvement in activities other than employment if you have no experience.

Go on informational interviews

Informational interviewing is just that — an interview during which you collect information about an industry, a company, or a job and its requirements by speaking with someone the field. Because there's no job on the line, you can feel free to ask what you want; in turn, the person you meet with may speak more candidly. Take the time to meet with people in the areas that interest you. You may find the industry you thought was calling you is not what you want, at all. On the other hand, it may open up doors you never knew existed. Either way, informational interviews are low-pressure opportunities to expand your network of contacts and explore your options. They are also good practice for presenting yourself and boosting your confidence when job interviews come up.