Layoffs and terminated contracts can happen to anyone, at any time. Sometimes it's expected; other times, you're completely blindsided. Regardless of the circumstances, you now have the difficult task of finding your next source of income.
Although you're not working for someone at the moment, you still have a job to do, said Kimberly Schneiderman, a practice development manager at RiseSmart, a company that provides outplacement and career transition services.That job is to represent yourself and continually build your expertise to stay relevant in the marketplace.
To that end, here are seven smart career-building activities to focus on during your time in between gigs. [See Related Story: Laid Off? 5 Steps to Move Forward]
1. Work on your personal brand
When you're looking for jobs, your application materials — your resume, portfolio and online profiles — are essential to creating a good impression on employers. David Gilcher, lead resource manager at Kavaliro staffing firm, said one of the first things you should do during your "in between" phase is update your resume.
"Your resume is your brand statement," Gilcher told Business News Daily. "Employers want to know what you’ve been up to [and] are interested in learning about the technologies and tools you've used lately. Be sure to list your recent accomplishments. Make sure those items are very clear to see on your resume. Once your resume is good to go, make sure it's online as soon as possible."
Gilcher also advised polishing your social media presence and showing off your latest work and skills.
"Social media is a great way to show what you're all about and what you know," he said. "You can use … blogs [or LinkedIn] to post about topics relevant to the work you do. Providing your insight in a public forum can help potential employers see your perspectives and depth of knowledge."
"Let the world know about what value you can bring to their business," added Fred Mouawad, CEO of Taskworld. "There are many tools available, like Wix, where you can build a website/portfolio with zero coding skills. However, web presence is not just limited to having an online portfolio. Follow influencers in your industry on social media, [and] write articles showcasing your expertise."
2. Find relevant volunteer opportunities
Volunteering in your area of interest is a great activity to pursue between jobs, said Marian Valia, another practice development manager at RiseSmart. This could entail working an event hosted by a prominent industry player, or even offering pro-bono consulting.
"Volunteering in an industry [you] would like to land a job in works in two ways," Valia said. "First, it allows the job seeker to network with their area of interest and tap into the 'hidden' job market (jobs that haven’t been posted yet). Second, this is a great way for job seekers to better understand if the industry is right for them."
Gilcher agreed, adding that it can also be personally rewarding to volunteer.
"Having those 'feel-good' moments when you're in between jobs can be a morale booster even if times [are] tough," he said.
3. Learn a new skill
On an average, it takes about one to three months to find a new job, according to Money. However, it can take up to six months to find a job that you really like, Mouawad said.
"That's long enough to learn a new skill," he said. "Learning a new language, doing short-term professional courses or even pursuing a hobby can make your resume stronger and justify breaks in work experience."
"A mastery of [industry] skills will set you apart from your competition time and time again," Gilcher added. "If you're concerned about having the money to pay for the courses, it is worth noting that many courses are free. There are thousands of resources either online or out in the real world that are within grasp to use for your education."
4. Keep a close eye on your industry
When you do land an interview with a potential employer or client, you'll want to show them how you've remained connected to the industry during your time away, Schneiderman said. She advised professionals who are looking for work to make sure they're staying on top of industry trends by reading trade journals and speaking with peers in the industry to stay in-the-know.
This is a good idea even if you are currently employed, so you're ready to make a move if and when the time comes.
5. Network as much as you can
You might be feeling stressed or anxious about not working, but rather than sitting around worrying, it's better to get out there and talk to as many peers and mentors as you can, as they may hold the key to your next job.
"Reach out to your contacts and former colleagues to let them know when you're back on the market," said Alexis Joseph, head of talent at Rocket Lawyer. "Let those relationships work for you while you're taking the time to rest up and improve your skills."
Mouawad added that people in your network, especially those from former jobs, can serve as great references as well.
"When you are between jobs, make sure you get in touch with your former colleagues for recommendations," he said. "This will not only help you in updating your resume, but might also reveal new leads for job openings in your colleagues' professional circle."
6. Ask for help
If you're feeling stuck or lost in your search, don't be afraid to reach out to an expert for help. For example, Schneiderman said a professional resume writer can help you craft your application materials, which frees you up to network and search for jobs that truly interest you.
Valia added that working with career professionals can provide you an action-oriented and customized approach to helping job seekers find work. They will "hold [you] accountable through all stages of their program," and empower you to land your dream job, she said.
7. Map out a path to your next opportunity
A break between jobs is a great opportunity to map out your needs and wants for your next gig, Joseph said. If you didn't love everything about your last role, this is the time to do some soul-searching and think about what makes you happy — and conversely, what doesn't.
"You don't want to hop back into something that was giving you angst, or even worse, was completely uninspiring," Joseph said. "We spend the majority of our days and weeks on the job, so why not ensure that your next job is something that gets you excited, day in and day out?"