Professional development while unemployed

I’ve written a lot about what we as fellow avid doers can do to manage our careers and progress professionally, and while I’m a strong believer that with the right attitude anyone can manage their career with confidence, it struck me that there may be a group of people that feel as though this blog doesn’t apply to them – those who are currently out of work.

Now this post doesn’t go into the ins and outs of being in between jobs. The reasons for being out of work are specific to each individual.

Sometimes it’s voluntary, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s a happy experience, sometimes it’s not.

You may be on a career break or maternity leave; you might have been made redundant or left to pursue a career change; you might have decided to spend more time at home to look after your children or might not be well enough at the moment to be working.

So with the multiple reasons and viewpoints on unemployment, I couldn’t possibly begin to write about them.

What I can do though is remind you that if you are in between jobs at the moment, this blog is absolutely for you.

Granted there are a couple of posts that walk you through presentations or writing a business case that you may not be able to put into practice immediately but these are still soft skills that you can put in the bank if and when you return to work.

The majority of the posts can still benefit you. I want to dedicate this post specifically to those who are in between jobs at the moment to explain what you can do to manage your paused career.

Keeping up with the industry

If you are keen to get back to work whether in your current field or a new one, keeping up to date is absolutely essential.

Keeping your finger on the pulse and being kept in the loop with the industry keeps your interest fired which is at risk of dwindling if you’re out of work for too long. You’ll understand what the hot topic du jour is (which can change on a daily basis these days!) so that if you return to work you’re not out of touch either in the workplace or at the interview stage.

Community

Adjacent to the above point, surrounding yourself with the industry’s community while proactively maintaining your spot in it will help you combat the loneliness that comes with being out of work.

As social creatures we need to be surrounded by people, or in career terms, our ‘tribe’. Even us introverts need this (just in different quantities) so by maintaining a strong position within your career community and contributing to it via social media or networking events, you get to have this same social interaction as if you were at work.

As with being part of any ‘tribe’, doing this will also keep your perspective broadened as you hear people’s opinions and experiences on industry matters.

Volunteering

A step further from the previous point is keeping your skills and social interaction sharp by volunteering.

Now, when I heard ‘volunteering’, I used to immediately think of working in a charity shop which doesn’t really float my rubber duck. By no means am I saying this is a bad thing at all; I’m suggesting that many others out there may be thinking the same and feel as though that’s their only option.

It isn’t.

There may be many volunteering opportunities in your local area and the first port of call should be Do-It, the UK’s national volunteering database. You simply enter your postcode or town, the distance you’re willing to travel, and hey presto, you have a list of all your local volunteering opportunities.

I live out in the sticks and a 10-mile radius search for me brings up 238 results.

Don’t want to travel? No problem – select the ‘Do it from home’ option and you’ll usually find even more results.

Be sure that you don’t want to forego the opportunity for the social interaction volunteering provides though as this is something particularly important when you’re out of work. Missing out on socialising that you would normally find on a daily basis at work can lead to mental health issues like depression or low self-esteem.

The volunteering opportunities cover all sorts of skills, requirements and experience. For example, this can be from administration support to being on a board of directors.

There are other volunteering databases out there that focus specifically on the community and your local area, for example Volunteering Matters.

Volunteering is particularly great for those who lack certain experience, for example managing people, but have the correct aptitude for it; these opportunities may allow you to become a volunteer people manager (for a project, or wildlife excursion for example) and thus bring something new to your CV, skillset and future employer.

Being heard

If you enjoy writing, you may want to consider starting an industry-related blog, or if you’re a born entertainer, a vlog, or have a silky smooth radio voice, a podcaster, etc.

I’ve written about this before in my post on developing professional credibility – it’s such a boost to your professional development as you learn a lot about yourself and the industry.

You should have the intent of being heard as a profession contributor rather than looking for a money-maker.

Figuring out new and interesting content can be hard work but it’s also really rewarding. You’ll find yourself researching new topics to strengthen your content, learning heaps from the blogging/vlogging/podcasting/etc. community, as well as demonstrating to new employers your dedication to the profession and your career.

You can find LOADS of tips out there on YouTube and the like about starting any one of these up, but nowadays I’ve discovered that it’s important to remember 4 things:

  • You don’t need to be an expert – you’re perspective is uniquely your own
  • You don’t need fancy equipment – despite the shininess…
  • It’s incredibly easy to set up – technology today makes this ridiculously easy now
  • Procrastination is your enemy – just get it out there and stop faffing with the tiny details!

Courses

Enrolling in a course – whether it’s paid (local college course or distance learning), or free (check out MOOCs out there like FutureLearn) – is another way to keep your skills sharp, while also learning new ones.

If you haven’t already, check out my post on training courses here and here which explain this in more detail.

Re-assessing your career

Taking a breather from work from whatever circumstances gives you an opportunity to think with a clearer head.

In this new headspace you may want to consider a career change and decide which new direction you might want to take.

Transferring your existing skills into a new field is easier when you break the components down and clearly define any skill gaps that need filling.

Check out my 5-post series on discovering which career is right for you. Start with this one and then click ‘Next’ at the bottom of the post until you’ve worked your way through the 5 part series.

(Have you noticed this post has a lot of plugging for my own posts? Told you this blog was relevant to those out of work….#JustSaying)

Starting your own business or side hustle

Spending time out of work may be an opportunity for you to explore starting your own business. This could become a side hustle if you decide to return to work to fund the business until it’s providing enough income, or if you’re happy working on both within a portfolio career.

I realise I say this in such a blaze way – I understand it isn’t easy. I’ve made a go of it a couple of times and it can be demoralising when things don’t happen the way you want, whether that’s not enough money, not enough confidence or losing interest in doing something that sounds fun as a hobby but is torturous doing it all day every day.

I would recommend learning from people who have made a success of it and especially from those who made a number of failures beforehand. These can be found all over the internet and local bookshop.

How to take this forward

By this point hopefully you should be getting a clearer picture on how to keep your career wheels turning even when you’re out of work.

As an added bonus, these are all perfect examples of professional dedication and career management that you can demonstrate in interviews. There may come a point in the interview where you will have to respond to their questions on a job gap.

Usually, this can make people feel uncomfortable but by following the above suggestions, you’ll be able to give them the full itinerary of all the things you’ve been doing while in between jobs. They’ll see someone very self-aware, very busy and very determined.

I must add a huge disclaimer here though before you do anything: check with the appropriate people/officials that any of these activities do not contravene conditions set on your employer’s policies (if you’re on a type of leave) or those set within your receiving of benefits/jobseekers allowance. Please seek professional advice if you are in doubt of these conditions.

 

 

Persevere with perseverance

We avid doers aren’t afraid of doing things to get things done. We know what we want and we know what to do to get it. We roll up our sleeves and through grit and determination (and sometimes a bit of stubbornness) we do what is necessary to achieve our goals.

Nothing breaks our spirit…well, assuming it happens in the time we anticipate.

In our quest for managing our careers and developing our professional skills, the excitement of achieving our goals can sometimes be hampered by not managing our expectations. If the results aren’t as expected (whether it’s outcome, or time, or focus etc.) we lose perseverance, we have a change of heart and question whether to carry on or not.

Or is it just me?

Personal reflection

I am notoriously impatient; always have been, always will be. It has its advantages but in terms of perseverance, my impatience somethings gets the better of me and makes me question my efforts in relation to my goals.

The other weekend I had a good sort out of my, what-I-call ‘Cupboard of Broken Dreams’, a shame-filled pit of ex-passions and dropped-hobbies.

My painting easel. My photography equipment. My massage table. My Reiki books. My keyboard piano.

All the things that I once loved but struggled to conjure up enough perseverance to keep them going.

Don’t get me wrong; from each of these I have developed a number of useful transferable skills to my career.

There are a few I’m particularly proud of – my painting took me to exhibit in London’s Mall Galleries (and coming runner up), write and publish a book, and be the subject matter of someone’s GCSE project.

There are a few I still take up every now and then – I still enjoy playing the odd tune on the piano, and my friends and I still reap the benefits of a Reiki blast every now and then.

I also enjoy taking photos, and for those who follow my personal account on Instagram will see I love taking photos of homemade dishes and the countryside here in the Peak District.

Have you noticed my photographs in the last couple of posts as their featured image (the image that is displayed when it is shared on Twitter or LinkedIn)?

This was following a re-evaluation of The Avid Doer blog. The visitor count to this is good (and global!) but after nine months of it being up and running, I really want the audience to be wider, to help as many fellow go-get’em professionals as possible.

After doing some research it turns out that people like to share posts on social media that have a nice accompanying image – my posts came with generic and boring imagery that quite frankly wouldn’t encourage anyone to share at all.

So having a rethink, I’ve now combined my enjoyment of taking photos with my passion for professional development by using my photos as the featured image for each Avid Doer post.

Perseverance

This got me thinking about the importance of perseverance. Once you have a career end goal (or goals) in mind, and the right amount of professional motivation, you also need that perseverance.

Persevering with something is the difference between instant relief (letting go of something you’re struggling with, like job hunting) and knowing that you will one day be thankful for not giving up (like finding the perfect job following struggle).

Time is a constant. You can’t control it. It will happen whether or not you’re paying attention.

When you lack perseverance for achieving a professional goal, time doesn’t pause to let you try a different way. You don’t want to persevere because you feel you aren’t getting the results you have anticipated and planned for. So you give up.

But when you give up, time still carries on. That same time that you felt wasn’t going to come by when you wanted that instant assurance.

To give you example, perhaps you want to learn a specific skill like project management. You want to be seen as competent project manager and have a skill that will be higher in demand the more organisations continue to adopt the project management approach in conducting business.

Only the topic is quite tedious. There are three levels you need to complete before you even have a chance to be a full member of one of the project management bodies, APM. You can even self-study, which is still a lot of work and a lot of time.

Possibly in about 12 to 18 months of hard work and knowledge retention, you might achieve it. You start but slow down half way through because it’s just not going at the pace you thought it would.

Or you decide not to take the course because of the length of time.

Time carries on.

Eighteen months into the future, you’ll still be around (touch wood). The difference will be:

  • You have full membership and a set of useful and practical, transferable skills after successfully completing the required exams
  • You’re still studying but slowly understanding the concepts in order to reach your goal eventually
  • You had given up and settled for an easier life (if you started at all!)

This is where perseverance makes a world of difference to your professional development. You will eventually meet the end of those 18 months, and sure they’ll be hard, but will you have regret, or a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and pride?

Giving up

Is there any shame in giving up? Not at all, and this relies only on you. If you realise that the course of action you are taking isn’t going the way you planned, or is never going to lead you onto achieving your goal, then ‘giving up’ could be a smart move (this is, of course, after considering whether or not to change you goal or your efforts, as I’ve written about before).

But without coming across too cheesy, persevering in the right circumstances lead you onto bigger things – whether that is by meeting your goal exactly or introducing you to new and exciting opportunities even when the goal isn’t what you expected.

So what are the right circumstances?

Below is a list of ideas you should consider whether or not to persevere:

  • Regardless of the effort needed, will you eventually meet your goal?
  • Are you just looking for an easy way out?
  • Are you jeopardising your career for the sake of an easier route?
  • Have you tried every alternative way of doing something before deciding to quit?
  • Will you regret giving up this time next year?
  • Will you regret not giving up this time next year?
  • What is the impact of giving up (positive and negative)?
  • What is the impact of persevering (positive and negative)?
  • Have you asked for help?

The final point is such an important one (as are most of my bulleted lists – I need some sort of segway into the next paragraph!).

Deciding to persevere or quit comes after a lot of thinking and mulling, and most times to a point of analysis paralysis, where you have thought of every scenario and outcome that now your thinking is just stunned into paralysis or caught in a thought circle.

The best way to prise yourself out of this is asking for help. Talk to someone – your other half, a friend, a close colleague, your mentor, your manager. Sounding out your thoughts to a fresh pair of ears not only helps you articulate your concerns so that you can hear them outside of your noisy head, you get to hear an outsider’s perspective and their thoughts on the matter.

Whether it’s a pep talk, a sympathetic ear, or a stiff (verbal) slap across the face, they might be able to help you see your situation from a different perspective.

If you’re like me and have a million ideas swirling around your head, delegate your thoughts. Offload your snippets of ideas and concerns to someone else who will help you piece them together in a logical and coherent way.

After considering all of these points and understanding the impact of giving up and persevering you should then begin to understand the next steps you need to take. Being an avid doer isn’t enough. We’re happy to slog our guts and get dirty to achieve what we want to achieve, but perseverance helps us through the tough bits and helps keep our avid doing focussed.

I’m definitely persevering with my blog (not that I thought about giving it up!). It makes me happy, it helps and teaches the readers and visitors it does attract, it develops me as a professional, and I’m confident that I will stumble upon more exciting professional opportunities in the future as it already has so far.

Persevere with perseverance – if all the signs point to success one way or another (and yes, even if it’s hard), then it can only be a good thing.