There has always been a stigma attached to having significant gaps in a CV, pushing candidates to fill their time with activities and seek excuses for any periods of downtime. This causes immense frustration in many people throughout the world, and understandably so: the stigma exists for reasons that mostly fail to hold up under any scrutiny.
Firstly, people who take some personal time aren’t inherently lazy: they might be spending time with their families, recovering from injuries or illnesses, pursuing passion projects, or even just enjoying their lives. Secondly, given the miserable state of the global economy and the level of competition, struggling to find work is neither an indication of incompetence nor slovenliness.
Regardless, the stigma persists — and even though it is not exactly fair, there is some sense in being troubled by inactivity between jobs. Employers are most impressed by candidates who keep advancing however they can: never willing to settle, they continue to hone their skills and do everything possible to make themselves top-value prospects. And that advance must not stop when you are not working. If anything, it should march ahead at a faster pace.
If you are between jobs, then, you should absolutely make an effort to upskill yourself. It will give you a sense of accomplishment, prevent you from getting rusty, help you break into new areas (very important these days), and show your prospective employers that you are proactive instead of reactive. But what is the best way to get it done? Here are some tips for how you can develop new skills before your next job.
Take some relevant online courses
The educational process is vastly more accessible today than ever before. If you want to get to grips with a new subject, you do not need to enrol in a university course, and you do not even need to head down to your local library. You can simply take some online courses. They vary wildly in quality, of course, but there is a massive range to choose from — and many of them are either free or extremely inexpensive, meaning that you have little to lose from trying them.
So how do these courses work? Well, there are myriad online learning platforms that make it easy for people without technical skills to create and sell their own courses, so you are not limited to courses from formal institutions — though you can find those if you wish. To quote from the Kajabi review at Learning Revolution (Kajabi, along with Thinkific and Teachable, being one of the most popular learning platforms), the goal is to “productise” intellectual property.
In other words, anyone who has skills can easily bundle up their insights and distribute them to everyone. It is great for altruistic professionals who just want to share what they know, as well as talented people who need more ways to make money. So, carry out a search for online courses in an area that interests you, and give one a try. It may be just what you need.
Volunteer at interesting operations
Many people recommend volunteering as a way of staying busy and giving back to society, but that is not all it brings to the table. If you find some interesting operations that could use some help, you can pick up some handy new skills along the way. So, what operations could suit you?
Well, there are two main ways to approach this: you can target organisations that need all the help they can get and would allow you to develop varied skills, or you can look for organisations that need specific skills but cannot yet afford to pay for them. The former is always going to be easiest because there are plenty of charities that need all the help they can get and will be very open-minded about what specifically you do for them.
If you are interested in getting better at financial management and you can find a startup that needs some accounting assistance, though, you could offer to help out for free for a fixed period (working for free is worth it in some circumstances, as Inc. astutely notes). Everyone wins. You get a chance to test your skills in the real world, and the company gets a free service.
Work on some portfolio projects
Picking up new skills does not always require you to study at great length or find an organisation to work for. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking opportunities to practice — and instead of just trying to hone skills through basic exercises, you can come up with projects for your portfolio (if you don not yet have one, The Muse has some good tips on how to get started). If you are a writer, try writing some pieces of content that suit different genres or purposes. If you are a graphic designer, create something using a new design tool or technique.
The more passionate you are about whatever you are working on, the easier it’ll be to stay motivated and achieve impressive results. And when you pursue your next position, you will have the advantage of being able to talk at length about what you learned and how much you enjoyed the process — showing your prospective employers that you will bring a strong level of enthusiasm to whatever company gives you a shot.
Wrapping up, upskilling yourself between jobs is a great way to set yourself apart as a candidate, and there are some great options available to you. By seeking opportunities to volunteer, learning from online courses, and creating some portfolio projects, you can ensure that you go into your next interview with great confidence.