Guest post from Gradspot.com, the destination for life after college.
In the current job market, the absolute worst thing you can do as a job-hunter is do nothing else except look for a job.
Sound counter-intuitive? Let me explain.
Before the recession hit, the average job hunt took four months. Now, you might realistically expect it to take up to six months (or longer). So when the right opportunity finally comes, you don’t want to walk into the interview with no story to tell. The interviewer will almost certainly ask you what you’ve been doing since graduation, and unfortunately, “looking for a job” is just not a compelling answer.
But how do you build that story that will help you stand out from the rest of the pack? Looking for listings and networking can only take up so many hours in the week. Here are five things you can do boost your stock while you’re looking for a full-time job.
Do volunteer work. Finding a non-profit organization that interests you can be a great way use your free time productively. From a personal standpoint, you will benefit from the opportunity to meet new people, pick up some new skills, and do something worth feeling good about.
And when it comes time for an interview, you can say that you wanted to donate your time and effort to a cause you strongly believe in, which will demonstrate your commitment and work ethic. End result? Everyone wins.
Find an Internship. I know I’m preaching the choir here, but it’s crucial to have intern experience under your belt in today’s market. Even if you get an internship that’s unpaid and only keeps you occupied a couple days a week, it provides valuable experience to add to your resume and speak about with potential employers. Furthermore, it could be your golden ticket to a full-time gig—many great entry-level jobs never even make it onto jobs listings sites and instead are filled out of the pool of available interns.
Learn a New Skill. The more skills you bring to the table, the more attractive you’ll be to potential employers. Take advantage of the free time you have and learn to program, use Photoshop, or speak conversational Spanish. Find something that’s coveted in the field that interests you and dive in. If you are a self-starter you can find books and websites to learn almost anything for free, but you can also check out sites like Craiglist to track down tutors of all types.
Freelance or Find a Temp Gig. Why not make a little money and gain some exposure while you’re searching for a full-time opportunity? In the age of online content, finding freelance gigs is easier than ever, though the pay has suffered as a result. Moreover, you don’t have to be writer to freelance—web designers, artists, programmers, and copy editors can all pawn off their services. In addition to Craigslist, check out Indeed, SoloGig, and Mandy.
Take a (Productive) Vacation. Ok, so maybe going to Southeast Asia won’t help you with the specific goal of getting hired. But if your job-hunt is dragging on interminably, why not take a trip to somewhere you’ve always wanted to go? The chances of taking off on a two-month backpacking trek grow slimmer by the day once you’re on a career track, and as long as you explain your travels constructively, they shouldn’t hurt your chances of landing a job. In fact, they may even help. Employers value a range of experiences and a proven ability to be independent, and many companies report that employees who have taken gap years demonstrate more maturity and stay on longer than their peers.
Chris Schonberger is Editor-in-Chief of Gradspot.com and author of Gradspot.com’s Guide to Life After College, a humorous manual for the transition from college to the real world.