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How to Survive Unemployment (And Thrive)

Updated on November 9, 2015

What to do When You're Unemployed

So you’ve found yourself in the post-college or between-job gap. Those 100 applications a day are turning out to be dead-ends and you’re getting frustrated. So what do you do? You take the opportunity to grow.

The job market in the US sucks. And being jobless feels horrible. To many it’s wasted time, applying for jobs endlessly, and struggling to make ends meet. But it doesn’t have to be wasted. You can use this time to grow as an individual and look more appealing on job applications.

5 Things to do When You're Unemployed

Moving beyond the application, what you can do while unemployed that will make you more employable.
Moving beyond the application, what you can do while unemployed that will make you more employable. | Source

1. Develop Professional Skills

Of all the job search tips in the world the #1 most important tip is this: no matter what, you need to actually have the skills. That means you need to take every opportunity to develop those skills.

The internet is a truly wonderful thing for a plethora of reasons. For one thing, it offers you seemingly unlimited opportunities to learn. And many of them are free.

Your free time could be wasted bemoaning your ill fortune, or you can use it productively to develop the skills that can make you a better job candidate. Figure out what your passions are and take the time to develop your skills. A lot of online programs offer certifications that you can list on your resume to further stand out.

Think about it this way. Does it sound better to say “I spent the last six months looking for a job (and you’re the only ones willing to interview me)” or “I took these six months to find my passion and further develop my skills”.

Some ideas:

  • Learn programming and teach yourself to code
  • Take a free design class, do a project with your skills, list it on your resume and LinkedIn
  • Learn a new methodology
  • Get Hubspot, Google Analytics, or Google Adwords certified
  • Download a free trial of a video editing software and try to master it in a week
  • Attend free college classes online
  • Subscribe to blogs related to your topic of interest
  • Teach yourself how to create a website
  • Master Excel

Showcase Your Skills

If you’re going into web design – design a sample website

If you’re going into writing – create a personal blog

If you’re going into design – create design samples

If you’re going into coding – code!

If you’re going into art or photography – create an online gallery

How to build a personal portfolio website

2. Build a Portfolio or develop a blog

The reason you can’t find a job is probably two-fold: 1) you don’t have the necessary experience; 2) you don’t stand out.

Everyone applies to jobs with a resume and (hopefully) a cover letter. But you can do one better. Providing samples of your work and capabilities will set you apart and put you ahead of the pack. Instead of just having a nice sheet of paper that says that you’re good at something you need to put together something that showcases your abilities.

Experience doesn't only come from the workforce. You can gain, and show, experience by designing, drawing, budgeting, or writing for yourself. As long as you can show evidence of your work to potential employers you've got experience.

There are a lot of ways to show off your skills to employers beyond listing them on a resume. Having work samples sets you apart. It makes you shine. Plus – it’s a good, productive way to spend your time.


You can also take existing work samples (from past jobs or college courses) and put them together into a beautiful portfolio. Creating a website is not only a demonstration of skill, but it also allows you to create a space all your own. You can use it to showcase your work and personality. Link it up with your LinkedIn and social media sites and share it in your resume’s (and cover letter’s) header. Make it so every time an employer Googles you they find this website, instead of your junior high Myspace profile.

A personal portfolio isn’t just about showcasing hard skills. It’s also about showing employers who you are. Showcase personal accomplishments, what you’re proud of, and your passions. Display your education and travel. Tell your story. By creating this website you’re giving yourself the unique opportunity to show off.

You can create a website or professional blog using Wordpress, Blogspot, or Wix. I personally used Wix. I have a horrible domain name ( but I didn’t have to pay for it. If you’re passionate about creating an awesome website (or having an excellent domain name) you can usually pay a small monthly fee and get more freedom.

3. Volunteer

Trying to figure out what to do when you're jobless? How about you work for free?

Finding a job is hard, finding a volunteer opportunity is easy. Non-profits everywhere need help. So take some of that free time and volunteer in your community. You’d be surprised how much it can help you develop your skills and network.

There are two main routes you can go with volunteer work.

1. Take up a random volunteer position. Work at a soup kitchen, help save the dogs, work with your favorite charity. This work may not directly correlate with the career you’re pursuing, but taking these positions shows passion. It helps develop you as a person. And they’re great opportunities to network. People love to network while doing good in the world.


  • Networking opportunities
  • List volunteer experience on resume and LinkedIn
  • Shows passion and initiative
  • Use stories and experiences from volunteering in interviews
  • Everyone loves to see involvement in the community

2. Volunteer in a career-related position. Nonprofits everywhere are looking for help – so there’s a good chance your skills are needed somewhere. While you won’t get paid in a volunteer position, you will gain experience. Most of these positions are only part time – 20 hours a week or less – and can be paired with another job so you can make ends meet and gain experience in your field. This may not be the easiest path, but it’s a good way to use your time. Often volunteer jobs offer excellent networking with other passionate professionals.


4. Freelance

If you don’t have any experience freelance work can be hard to find. But if you have an education or are self-taught but have a portfolio, you can get started finding freelance jobs. First, check with the people in your network, professors or ex-coworkers, and see if they’re working on anything. If you can’t find freelance work from your personally network, try one of the many freelance websites.

These jobs won’t make you rich, chances are you’ll be making small amounts of money when you start out. But with this work comes experience that can help you land a spot in your dream career. And hey, some people make a career out of doing freelance work. But that’s a topic for an entirely different blog post.

5. Get a Job

I know, that sounds like ridiculous advice. But so many post-grads looking for professional jobs refuse to work while they’re job searching. While the job search can be a full time job – it is important to keep in mind that you still need to make ends meet. If that means you have to work at Starbucks or take a part-time position at a bookstore, take the job. Having work experience, any experience, is better than having blank spots on your resume. Potential employers are not going to judge you and your rent will actually get paid.

It’s hard to work, improve yourself, and look for a career at the same time. But if it’s important to you, you can do it.


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