Unemployment is easily one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through, even when you consider most currently employed people have experienced it at least once or twice during their career.

A lengthy unemployment, which is one that lasts longer than six months, can bring out feelings of shame, frustration, anxiety and depression. While it may be challenging, it doesn’t have to be a waste of time. The most resilient and creative people will find ways to use that time to its fullest!

How to find the upside to unemployment

Beyond the usual methods used by job seekers, which involve searching job boards, filling out applications, creating a profile on employment search websites, and refining a resume; there are other activities that will greatly increase a candidate’s chance of being hired.

Experienced recruiters and hiring managers understand the main difference between a winning candidate and a mediocre one is not simply a matter of skills and experience, but what a person does to turn a difficult time into an opportunity for growth, and increase their value. They will know the right questions to ask, and it is important for a job seeker to be prepare to answer those questions with answers that show initiative, creativity and innovation.

During an interview, many hiring managers may ask, “What have you been doing during these past six months of unemployment?” Being prepared to answer this question with a list of positive answers can make all the difference when being considered for a hire.

Suggested Activities during an extended unemployment

To prepare for the questions, once unemployment begins to reach the six month mark it is strongly advisable for a job seeker to consider these activities and strategies:

  1. Attend job fairs and networking events – Reach out to former colleagues and associates, monitor social media to learn about opportunities to connect, and stay relevant and informed.
  2. Volunteer in the community – Volunteering can lead to employment, keeps a job seeker active, and provides self-esteem and purpose during an extended unemployment.
  3. Pursue educational advancement and/or career focused learning – Increasing skills and knowledge can help to give confidence, and increase value as an employee.
  4. Join professional associations and societies – Networking and creating professional relationships can greatly increase exposure to hiring managers and executives within a company or organization.
  5. Work as a freelance or part-time employee – To keep skills fresh and exhibit initiative, consider working as a freelance or part time hire. It isn’t about the money, it is about exercising those intellectual muscles and staying professionally alive.
  6. Expand a current skillset and shift to a new career focus – A large number of unemployed workers have found new and exciting careers during periods of unemployment. Exploring new options, or sub-sets of a career, can make a job seeker more hirable and valuable in the job market.

Cleared professionals should take extra care during an extended period of unemployment

Cleared professionals should cautiously avoid situations which could potentially damage their ability to maintain, or regain, a security clearance. Hiring managers and recruiters will want to get a true sense of how a job seeker has been spending their time while unemployed, and they will be looking for answers that give them confidence in the integrity and professional character of the potential hire.

Unemployment is not a vacation or an extended holiday. If a serious job seeker hopes to remain relevant in the cleared community, they must be mindful that their choices and activities during unemployment will affect eligibility for a security clearance. Excessive drinking during a period of unemployment, or any other activity which wouldn’t normally occur if a job seeker was employed, may damage a person’s reputation and lead to more serious problems once the person returns to a job.


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Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.