What Gap? 6 Creative And Productive Ways To Fill Time Between Jobs

unemployment advice job searchThis article originally appeared on Schools.com

By Janis Beem

What can you do in seven months? If you're unemployed, the way you answer that question can impact where you find your next job. David Rosenberg, chief economist at Gluskin Sheff, reported in 2010 to US News & World Report that over 6.5 million people in the U.S. had not worked for 27 weeks or more -- that's nearly seven months.

When you're looking at an employment gap of this time, your days threaten to stretch into endless weeks of daytime television and walks around the neighborhood. Take a few of the following tips to heart, however, and you'll be more likely to come out of that gap with a stronger resume and perhaps even a new direction in your career.

Top 6 tips for surviving any employment gap

Take a look at the best ways to not only survive an employment gap, but to thrive during your time away from work while gaining points to negotiate your salary when you land that new job.

  • Get creative: Dr. Deanna Cole, PsyD, MBA, a licensed psychologist who has had her own employment gaps, suggests creativity. "Many unpaid activities have a positive impact on your professional endeavors and make you a more valuable employee," she says. That summer you flipped burgers for church choir dinners? Think of your experience more in terms of meal planning, crowd control and culinary excellence, for example.

  • Intern: You might be going to work for free as an intern, but you're getting your foot in the door. Internships are one of the smartest ways to land entry level jobs, and they can help you learn new skills, check out companies from the inside and build your resume.

  • Self-develop: If you've been meaning to learn JavaScript or get that CPR certification, now's the time. Drew Stevens, Ph.D. and president of Stevens Consulting Group, stresses the importance of self-development. "As organizations rise from the recession, there will be less desire to pay for educating employees," he points out. Think about course or degree work that can help your chances at snagging that great job.

  • Serve: Take a management role in your community by serving on a board or committee. Whether the service takes place in a religious function, an arts organization or a neighborhood watch, you can feel good about the way you boost your management experience. Dr. Stevens notes that you need to properly frame your service work on your resume. "Service is about aiding others and offering assistance and collaboration when needed," he says. Focus on the skills you learned, not just what you did.

  • Volunteer: This suggestion goes beyond the boardroom. When you volunteer in your community, you also help yourself with potential job skills. "I volunteered at a taekwondo dojang owned and operated by a licensed psychologist," Dr. Cole remembers. "This was helpful to me as it provided both a mentorship relationship with the psychologist/business owner and offered an opportunity to become integrated in the local community." Plus, community service is one of the top characteristics hiring managers seek.

  • Network: You're already using Facebook to snoop your high school crush's new baby; now, use it as a tool to get in touch with other professionals. "The best way to find work is to seek referrals and third party endorsements," Dr. Stevens says. "If you want work, think like a sales professional and hunt for it." That means checking out professional organizations on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Make yourself known -- just take down those party pictures from Vegas, first.

When in doubt, cut the timeline out

If you're stressed about employment gaps, consider reorganizing your resume. Dr. Cole points out that, if you have a lot of gaps in your job history, you don't need to organize your resume by year. "Group your experiences in a way that easily conveys your experience without making gaps so obvious," she says. "For example, a psychologist might cluster experience into clinical experience and teaching experience."

Even though you may now find yourself with lots of free time, spend it wisely. Remember, it's important that job seekers not play down the work they've done for free - and more times than not, those seven months will fly by.

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