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What’s the smartest way to fill unemployment downtime?

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Question: "I was laid off a month ago and now I spend a couple of hours a day job-searching, and the rest of the time just trying to fill in the day. There must be something productive I could be doing that will look cool on my résumé—but it can't be too much of a time commitment that will interfere with being able to suddenly go off to an interview, or even start a new job on a moment's notice. Any suggestions?" - Neil, Woodbury, Minn.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

JoAnn Paules October 27, 2014 at 8:59 am

As many others have suggested – volunteer work. And if you can find something that is directly applicatble to the type work you are looking for, even better. Contact the Red Cross, local animal shelter, locan women’s shelter, etc. Our local United Way has a website with local volunteer opportunites, yours may as well. In addition to doing something to look good on a resume, it’s good for your heart – spiritual and physical.


Madeline October 23, 2014 at 10:53 pm

By volunteering. I’m doing that right now. Even though some of the opportunities are connected with what I did in the past.
Because the SUNY Attain program at the Henry Street Settlement House gave me the opportunity to learn MOS 2010 Word, PPT, Excel, Outlook and especially Access (I’ve passed all five exams on the first try) I’m giving back some the Henry Street Settlement House on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan.


DB October 23, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Building on the idea of volunteering, you may find a company that is in your field/in a related field, seeking interns, or a related field that would appreciate your volunteer-time. These opportunities can be added to your resume.
While seeking opportunities in “likely” places, remember to look in unlikely places, such as Lowes (best benefits ever), Pharmacy chains, Trade Schools, Restaurant chains like Braum’s. You may find yourself embarking on new (and improved) territory and new skills. Best of luck!


Jennifer October 23, 2014 at 4:58 pm

I will join the chorus saying “volunteer”!

I run a one-woman office at a small non-profit, and would love to have someone with an administrative skill-set to help out. I know I would bend over backwards to make any time commitment work. I’m sure most groups would. And you never know when it could turn into something paid. The last several hires my organization has made came from our volunteer pool.


Ann October 23, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Definitely volunteer somewhere. It will make you realize that you are very fortunate even though you were laid off. Volunteering is a win/win situation. Improve your skills, network, read, and above all – take care of yourself. Exercise, eat well, and try to rest. Long walks are good to clear your head and re-energize.


Laurie Voedisch October 23, 2014 at 4:39 pm

On-line courses or training webinars to build your skills or knowledge base in relevant topics would be a great way to spend some of your available time and build your resume. Many on-line courses are self-paced and provide the flexibility to complete as you are available. Since unemployment often means reduced income, funding may be a concern. However, there are many free courses that you can take, such as the FEMA Independent Study Program on the National Incident Management System (http://training.fema.gov/IS/NIMS.aspx). Completion of this program would likely be a positive factor in your consideration with any prospective employer as emergency preparedness and business continuity is critically important to every type of industry.


Lynda Dickey October 23, 2014 at 4:36 pm

I was out of work/underemployed for almost two years. I took a minimum wage part-time position at a non-profit for over a year. It expanded my skills, kept me busy at something I loved, gave me a wonderful opportunity to network, added to my references, and gave me something solid to fill the gap on my resume.

Temp work is also great. I have been hired at one temp assignment and hope to be hired at my current temp assignment. I have gained new skills and new references at all the temp jobs I have had.

Another thing I did was teach elderly family members computer skills. My own skills become more solid when I teach something. And it is fun to find a use for computers that a non-user did not anticipate. Through the internet and Facebook my elderly aunt is back in touch with her hometown and childhood friends in Ecuador.


Karen October 23, 2014 at 4:33 pm

With the holidays quickly approaching, you can find great satisfaction in volunteering while providing much needed assistance. I have volunteered at hospitals reading to the sick and elderly, homeless shelters; providing assistance with sorting donations, local fire departments assisting with selling holiday trees, battered women’s shelters; lending my experience in the work force and how to logically look for employment and I started a donation program for those who left a bad situation with only the clothes on their back – I was able to collect furniture, all kinds of household goods, business suits, shoes, handbags, etc. The Red Cross will welcome any assistance in any increment of time and when all else failed, I looked for short term internships in my field.
It is very important to stay busy while looking for work and volunteering is great for the soul! When the chips are down, you have no idea how much further down they are for others until you volunteer your time to help the less fortunate. Pay it forward!
Wishing you good luck!


Diane October 23, 2014 at 4:28 pm

I have been there before. What I did with my time is devoted some time for the job search, spent more time to polishing and honing my skills, and the rest of the time I spent nourishing my soul (household projects, cooking meals ahead of time knowing that I will find a job some time in the next six months), if you will. Being laid-off/downsized was a hard thing to get through, so the time spent nourishing my soul was especially important in rebuilding myself. The polishing and honing was especially handy when it came time to do typing tests, time management skill tests, and organization tests. I even fit in some professional reading to see what was happening in the world that wasn’t necessarily happening at the company I was with.


Lisa - !! October 23, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Neil, I’m sorry to hear that you got laid off from work.

I read your question a few times because it was a bit confusing. From your question, it seems that you are ONLY asking what to put on your resume that will look “cool”. You shouldn’t worry about that. You should only focus that your resume work experience is honest, positive and strong. The last work experience should be the job that you were laid off from. You will definitely get interviews if your experience is good even if it means that there is a gap in employment.

When you go on the interview, you can tell the interviewer that you have been taking online classes for your field, etc. An interviewer wants to hear that you filled your day by improving your skills, not that you’ve been looking for jobs.

You can sign up with a temp agency, but I would leave that off your resume.

As far as your other question, you can fill up your day with any activity you want. BUT, I would seriously consider either taking an online course or try to tweak your resume/cover letter.

Best of luck!!


Jackqueline October 23, 2014 at 7:19 pm

I agree Lisa, I was too puzzled by the term ‘cool’.

As other have said keep your skill levels high. I would also try a temp position, we have hired a temp who really wanted full time and they were a good fit with our group so we offered her the position, could be a win/win for you.

From the flip side of a not-for-profit I have lost two very good volunteers this year to them getting a position elsewhere, it’s hard to lose a volunteer.


Treva October 23, 2014 at 4:25 pm

How about looking for volunteer opportunities in your area (Habitat for Humanity, food banks, etc.). You can do it for a few hours a day and this is something that will definitely look good on your resume. I commend you for wanting to do something positive while you are job searching and wish you the best of luck.


Amy October 23, 2014 at 4:24 pm

I agree with the others who are suggesting volunteering. There might be something as simple as meals on wheels or reading for the blind that could use you. Or something that resonates with you deeply that you can find some way to volunteer for.

I was unemployed for 2.5 months a few years ago. I used that time to take every free online and local training seminar for updating my skills that I could find. That might also be helpful. I “worked” at finding a new job for an average of 7 hours per day this way. And it paid off.

Good luck!!


Linda October 23, 2014 at 4:22 pm

When my company left my city I received a generous severence package and took several months off before finding another position. My husband is a web designer who works from home. I spent that time doing web content work for him on his websites. That added to my skills and looked good on my resume.


Theresa Kasel October 23, 2014 at 4:09 pm

I agree with Mary — find a place where you can volunteer your time. Most organizations can work around your schedule. I volunteer at our world famous zoo — I have for three years. I love it way more than I ever thought I would.

I would also encourage you to sign up with a temp agency. While they might not send you on an assignment right away, many of them have free software training that you can do from home. Maybe there’s a software package you’ve never learned — now you have plenty of time to learn how to use it.


Lisa - !! October 23, 2014 at 4:29 pm

@ Theresa,

Neil asked what he can put “cool” on his resume. Any suggestions?


Melody October 23, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Neil, may this interim period be a short one! I agree with the suggestion that you volunteer somewhere. Don’t worry too much about the possible need to leave quickly. Some organizations need volunteers who will maintain a steady commitment, but many know that there’s going to be a lot of transition–trust me! I’d find something, if possible, that could highlight skills you prize on your resume. And then put the volunteer work on there after a couple of weeks.


Penny Nelson October 23, 2014 at 4:04 pm

How about signing up with a temporary staffing agency? A lot of times temp jobs turn into permanent positions. You’ll be gaining experience and possibly gain new skills, yet still have the flexibility to go to job interviews. Few interviews are scheduled for the same day, and most employers seeking candidates understand the need for advance notice.


Mary October 23, 2014 at 4:01 pm

How about volunteering? Find something of interest where you can donate much appreciated time. You could do a little or a lot and you never know where it might lead!


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