How to Survive & Thrive Between Jobs


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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
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Few things are more stressful than a job loss. Scrambling to find more work, struggling to meet your financial obligations, wondering where to go from here: it can be a profoundly destabilizing time in your life. The waters might be choppy but there are things you can do to sail through them smoothly. A period of unemployment could turn out to be very fruitful for you, much in the same way that a field needs to lay fallow every now and then so it can continue to yield bountiful harvests. 

“This gap in employment may allow you time to pursue a new job or career and turn out to be a positive experience in the long run,” said Gina Pinch, Rio Salado Faculty Chair for Business, Management, and Public Administration.

Read on for this month’s Career Corner blog as we look at how you can survive and thrive when you’re stuck between jobs.

Be Prepared

It’s hard to be prepared for the worst case scenario: a firing or layoff can come without warning. There are things you can do before that happens to help you hit the ground running. For starters: make sure your resume is current. Check in with your professional references every now and then (an annual cadence is fine) to say hello and to make sure that they’d still be willing to vouch for you should that situation arise. Regularly attend networking events and keep in touch with mentors and other people in your industry who may be able to help you find a new job if you suddenly find yourself unemployed.

It also doesn’t hurt to “scout” and see what other jobs are on the market while you’re employed. It can give you an idea of what the playing field looks like and give you a shortlist of places to pitch your resume should the need arise. Make sure you’re being discreet with these efforts, though: if you’re circulating your resume around while you still have a job, you don’t want to give your employer the impression that you’ve got one foot out the door.

Having emergency savings is important but not everyone can put aside enough to float them for the recommended 3-6 months. Saving what you can is important; what can also help is taking an inventory of your finances. Budget out your monthly expenses so you have a clear picture of what you need to get by each month. This will give you important information on what luxuries you should reduce or cut out entirely to stay on even financial footing if you have to suddenly tighten your belt.

It also never hurts to invest in non-perishable foods. Safely stockpiling some extra canned foods, dried beans, rice, pasta, nuts, granola bars, and soups could help you save money down the road and get you through lean times. The same goes with medication: make sure your prescriptions are up to date and you’ve got refills so you can get by in case you lose your insurance coverage. This is also why you should take advantage of your health coverage while you have it: don’t put off getting that check-up or seeing the dentist while you can.

File for Unemployment

Don’t wait to educate yourself about this. Each state has different rules on how to file for unemployment benefits. Do the research, learn what documentation you need to have to apply, and as soon as you find yourself in a situation where you need to apply DON’T WAIT. It could take weeks, perhaps months, for the process to resolve before you start receiving benefits. The sooner you apply, the sooner you’ll get the help you need.

For some people, there can be a stigma around applying for unemployment. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to do so. Unemployment insurance exists to help workers like you get through tough times.  Remember: it’s YOUR money. We all pay into the unemployment system when we work. Instead of thinking of it as “the government’s money,” see it for what it really is: getting back some of the money that YOU paid in advance to cover this exact scenario. 

Don’t forget to apply for Nutritional Assistance as well. “Food stamps” are a separate benefit from unemployment coverage with their own requirements and restrictions.

It’s a Numbers Game

Some cliches happen to be true. Take the idiom “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” That holds especially true for job hunting while you’re unemployed. You may have a dream job at a dream company that you want more than anything; do you have enough savings set aside to keep you afloat while you wait for that dream to come true? You may be better off casting a wide net at this stage, applying to as many jobs as possible. It can take MONTHS before one of your many applications pay off, so you want to make sure you’ve got a lot of irons in the fire in the meantime.

Whether you should take any job or wait for The Right Job depends on how precarious your situation is. If you have enough latitude where you can take your time and pursue the job you really want, this could be the perfect opportunity to do so. But if your savings are tight and you can’t afford to play the long game, keep this in mind: your next job doesn’t have to be forever. Find a role that will support you in the short term, that can help you build a financial base you can stand on and gives you enough breathing room where you can continue to (quietly!) job search for your ideal role. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good in this situation. Find out something that feeds you NOW so you’ll have time later to find the thing that will feed your soul.

One technique you could use to see a way forward is to make a vision board. "It's a tangible representation of your goals and desires, crafted through a collage of images, words, and symbols that resonate with your aspirations," said Dr. Lily Davidov, Rio Salado Faculty Chair for Accounting and Small Business. "Rather than fixating on limitations, a vision board allows you to channel your energy into envisioning the future you truly desire."

Don’t Suffer in Silence

Some people try to keep their hardships to themselves because they feel like it would burden others to “trauma dump” about their problems or they’re embarrassed about revealing their current situation. This is an understandable impulse but one that you should resist while you’re between jobs. Don’t keep your jobless status to yourself: tell your family and friends. 

Being candid about where you’re at professionally serves several functions:

  • It’s a way of activating your network—telling people you’re looking for work makes it more likely they’ll reach out to you with promising leads and opportunities.
  • Emotional support is crucial in a time like this. Having a supportive group to lean on could help alleviate stress and keep you from spiraling off into negativity and depression.
  • Someone you know may offer critical advice and an outside perspective that could help you see a way forward.

Being open about being unemployed also lets your friends and family know that you need to reprioritize and be more conservative with your spending habits, so there’ll be less hard feelings if you have to abstain from attending costly social engagements.

Build Yourself Up

One of the best things you can do for yourself between jobs is to work on yourself. This is a great time to take a class or two, teach yourself a computer program or skill, and/or pursue a certification that can take you further in your chosen field. This is also a good time to work on improving your soft skills. Want to be a better public speaker? Attend a Toastmasters meeting or join a club to practice that skill set. Volunteer in the community to work on improving your leadership, communication, and collaboration skills. These are all things that will make you a more well-rounded person and have the added benefit of being experiences you can add to your resume.

Another way to make your employment gap more productive is to focus on fitness. Use this free time to pick up some healthy new habits. Joining a gym, taking up hiking, or even a weekly pick-up game of basketball can help improve your mood, increase your energy levels, burn calories, and give your body a steady rush of mood-enhancing neurochemicals that reduce your stress & leave you with a feeling of accomplishment.

Enjoy the Pause

While a gap in employment is a great time for investing in your education and pursuing new professional goals, don’t neglect the lighter side of life. You have more free time right now, so why not use some of that time to practice a craft or investigate a hobby you’ve been interested in picking up? Ever wanted to learn how to play an instrument or take up baking? Use these more idle days to follow your muse and have a good time.

“Be sure to take care of your well-being,” Pinch said. “Keeping active and engaged will help you manage your mental health and motivation.” 

On a practical level, having fun and engaging in hobbies can reduce stress, expand your social circle (which could add to your network), and teach you new skills that you might be able to turn into a side hustle or become an entire new career path for you in its own right. Taking time to enjoy yourself is crucial for maintaining an optimistic attitude. The temptation to slide into shame and apathy during this uncertain time can be powerful, so it’s important to remind yourself of the sweetness of life so that the bitterness of unemployment doesn’t overwhelm you.

Curate Your Online Presence

If you’re active on social media, you’ll need to pay close attention to how you’re conducting yourself online during this transitional period. When you’ve worked somewhere for a while, you get used to what their standards are for social media use. Your future employer may not be as laissez-faire about your memes or political commentary online, so it’s best to play it safe until you know where you’ll be next. Set your socials to private/friends only. If you need to use your socials as part of your job hunting (especially  if how you post online/maintain your personal brand is something your employer needs to review as part of the role you’re applying for), review your social posts and delete anything you wouldn’t want a boss to see

A good rule of thumb here is to ask yourself “would I want my parents or my in-laws to see THIS post?” If it’s too spicy for family, it’s probably gonna get a raised eyebrow from a hiring manager. Don’t forget that a review of social media activity can include likes and shares as well as content you’ve posted online. So even if you haven’t written or shared anything controversial yourself, LIKING the wrong post could still land you in hot water.  Also make sure you deactivate any old social media accounts or blogs that you’re not using anymore. Don’t assume that something you wrote in 2013 won’t resurface in a Google search.

Don’t forget that social media cuts both ways: you can also curate your social media to make yourself MORE attractive to prospective employers. Share industry news and articles on your feeds. If you have a work project you’re proud of, highlight them on your profiles. Post headshots and photos that paint you in the most professional light possible. 

Reach Out for Help

Do you need help finding job search resources, crafting a winning resume, or working on building a more marketable personal brand? Rio Salado College’s Career Services can help. Check out Career Services’ free webinar series on developing Career Change skills. 



Article by Austin Brietta


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