With resume gaps now the norm, workers should pay attention to how they use spent time between jobs.
The reason is simple: Employers want to know how job candidates spent their time when they were out of work. Learning? Traveling? Moping? Unless you project the image of a can-do job seeker, you're likely to have a tough time bouncing back from periods of unemployment.
"What they are looking for is that you were productive with your time," says Jenna Gausman, a career counselor with Kerwin and Associates, a California-based career counseling and consulting firm.
Career counselor Linsey Levine of CareerCounsel in New York concurs. She emphasizes the importance of demonstrating continued involvement with career-oriented activities. "It's not only critically important to the employer, but it's important to the candidate as well," she says. "It takes away feelings of depression, discouragement and hopelessness."
To project an active, engaged attitude during a job search, consider these tips for being productive when you're out of work:
Volunteer Your Services
Volunteering provides "a double benefit," Levine says. In addition to giving back to a cause or organization, you get to work with people who see you in action. "It becomes a great new networking environment," she says.
Be a Leader
Join a professional organization, Gausman urges, but don't just attend meetings. Instead, take your involvement to the next level by serving on a board or organizing events. "Through that, people often end up finding jobs," she says.
Take a Class
Employers are often wary about job candidates with outdated skills, especially in technical fields. If you take a class, or even begin pursuing an advanced degree, you have a ready-made way of countering that perception as you demonstrate your engagement in the field.
Find an Internship
Those early in their careers may want to consider an internship, even if they have previously held a full-time job. The same goes for workers considering a career transition. Gausman says she worked with one client in her mid-40s who got an internship, which helped her with a career transition.
Teach a Class
Universities, community colleges and continuing-education programs often seek professionals to teach classes. Aside from being a potential avenue for networking, teaching gigs look impressive to employers, positioning you as someone with expertise in your field and the ability to impart that expertise to others.
Be a Consultant
Don Sutaria, founder and president of CareerQuest, a New Jersey-based career coaching firm, advises those involved in a drawn-out job search to set themselves up as an independent consultant by getting business cards and a Web site. Your assignments may be small ones, but being a consultant allows you to market yourself as someone active and involved in your field.
Join a Job Seekers Group
Churches, libraries and other organizations often host groups for job seekers, Sutaria notes. These groups often serve to help people make contacts and provide support.
Build Social Networks
With jobs and other commitments, many people find they don't have time to develop the sort of social networks crucial to a productive life -- and career. "They get it done after they get everything else done," says career coach Lynn Berger, who recommends people spend time expanding social networks. Those connections often mean as much as professional ones during a job search. "You start talking to your neighbor, and you learn they know X, Y and Z," she says.
Start a Business
If you've ever dreamed of owning your own business, a period of unemployment may actually be the time to try to pull it off. Levine knows one telecommunications executive who started a Web hosting company with a number of friends. The partners have other engagements now and then, but their cooperative arrangement allows them to spend more or less time on the business as their schedules permit. And, not surprisingly, networking for the business helps in other aspects of their careers.
Play golf. Go for a run. Or, like one of Levine's clients, build something -- in his case, a pond. "It gives you something good to talk about," says Levine. "It sets the tone for a conversation." And conversation, whether online or off, is often the lifeblood of a productive job search.