We at The Muse give a lot of advice to help people who don’t have jobs get them. Get your resume and cover letter in shape. Learn how to explain your unemployment when you’re networking. Keep your sanity in check.
But perhaps the most important advice that we’ve never given before? Turn off the damn TV.
We know—tough love. But hear us out: Using data from the American Time Use Survey, which has Americans track minute-by-minute accounts of their days, The New York Times recently charted the average weekday of a nonworking American. And the results were pretty shocking.
Something seems wrong with this picture. While this is an average, meaning it oversimplifies reality a bit, one thing is clear: “Watching television and movies is a significantly more common activity for the nonemployed than looking for work,” explains Josh Katz of The New York Times.
Let’s clear something up. If you’re unemployed and seriously looking for a job, you should be spending more than a tiny sliver of your day doing job-searching activities. And an easy way to open up time for that? Cut out that huge chunk of TV and movie time.
To be fair, not everyone who isn’t employed (or everyone who was surveyed) has the goal of finding work. Some are staying home with their children, caring for other family members, or taking time off between jobs, for example. But even if you’re not looking for a job now, there are plenty of ways you could be spending the time that’s currently dedicated to your screen that would make it much easier for you if you ever do decide to return to work.
So, whether you’re looking a job now or think you might at some point down the road, hit the off button and try one of these activities instead.
Working on a Side Project or Volunteering
Just because you aren’t working doesn’t mean you can’t be doing some type of work. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep you sharp and to have something recent to show off to hiring managers.
So, come up with a project that sounds inspiring or fun to you and devote a few hours each day (or even week) to it. A blog, a series of workshops you want to start teaching, some pro-bono work for a friend who’s starting a business, a volunteer project for an organization you care about—it doesn’t have to be something huge, but it should be something that keeps you thinking and could show future hiring managers the types of skills you have to offer. As career expert Jenny Foss explains, “Depending on the types of positions you’re applying for, anything from planning charity auctions to recruiting volunteers to bookkeeping for an after-school club can be relevant [in your job search].” Plus, projects like these can give you something more recent to put on your resume if you’ve been out of work for a while.
Learning a New Skill
While education did have a larger footprint on the average day of the nonemployed, it wasn’t nearly enough—especially for women. If you’re out of work and looking, having an updated skill set is a great way to make yourself competitive.
So, use some of the time on your hands to make that happen! Take an online class, look for continuing education courses at a local community college, see if there are conferences or seminars that you could attend to learn something new, or choose a side project that’s currently out of your skill set and teach yourself as you go. Spending some time keeping your abilities up to date will make you look much more relevant in the eyes of a hiring manager next time you apply.
You heard us right. An active social and professional network is a huge help when you are looking for work, so feel free to spend more time than you think socializing!
Set up lunches with old colleagues, informational interviews with people whose jobs interest you, regular coffee dates with mentors—even drinks with distant friends can foster connections that will help you find your next opportunity. Use some of your time out of work to keep these relationships thriving, and these people will be much more willing to help you out when you need it.
We’re not saying you can’t watch any TV at all—but if you really want to make a big career move, it shouldn’t be a significant chunk of your day (unless, of course, you want to be a screenwriter or producer). So limit the Downton Abbey intake (it will do nothing for your resume), and look for productive ways to allocate your time when you’re out of work.