Being unemployed is bad enough, but when unemployment stretches out for a long period of time, it brings all sorts of new complications. There are a few things you could be doing during this time to ensure you are able to navigate this tumultuous time.
Assess your finances. Based on your personal situation, will you have the luxury of conducting a prolonged job search, be able to take a temporary contracting position, or will you need to take a “survival job” to get some income in the door quickly? If you get into “survival job” mode, are you choosing a job that brings you more than just a paycheck? For example, you could work at a local coffee house, restaurant or grocery store geographically close to a company at which you would like to work, and strike up conversations with customers there to learn about the company and potential openings. Ideally, the job will bring you into contact with people who help connect you to your preferred work, providing both networking opportunities and financial support.
Evaluate your priorities. Are you willing to relocate for a new position, or do you have geographic or other restrictions? If you are unwilling to change location, are there enough suitable opportunities in your location? If not, you may have to re-adjust your definition of ‘suitable’, which might include taking additional training courses or an internship to make yourself qualified for related occupations within your local area.
Attend technical and professional meetings. Many professional meetings have reduced or waived fees for unemployed members. Take advantage of them! Search out related professional societies, such as the American Chemical Society, and find local or regional meetings in areas that are of interest to you. Use the time between jobs to attend conferences and meet other professionals; while keeping current on scientific discoveries. Keep yourself focused on the latest chemical information and processes.
Read journal articles. Check with major universities in your town, and find out which ones allow public access to the journals you prefer. Being an alumnus may also grant you library access. Browse the table of contents, or use what you learned at the technical meetings or from reading Chemical and Engineering News as search topics.
Attend networking events. Find local organizations that are chemistry or life-science based, attend a few of their events, and if it’s a good fit, join. Not only will this broaden your professional network, but it will also give you another avenue to learn about local employment trends. You can create and print business cards at a very low cost, or even free, to leave with your newly encountered contacts. You should also create and update your ACS Network and LinkedIn profiles, and use social networks to find new contacts in your area. Invite them for coffee, or ask to meet and discuss what their day-to-day life is like on the job. Never come right out and ask for a job, but use your network to find openings and solicit feedback on potential companies and bosses.
Volunteer and become active with professional organizations. Beyond just joining an organization and attending meetings, volunteer to help. You can do something as simple as offering to help out at the registration table (allowing you to meet everyone who attends), or something as complex as organizing a technical session with multiple speakers (allowing you to invite people you’d like to hear speak). Helping out lets you meet the active and involved people who can connect you to opportunities. It also shows them that you are a reliable, valuable addition to the team, and someone they would be happy to work with. You could even volunteer to facilitate a group of unemployed professionals who might need emotional support or ideas to jump start their own job searches.
Continue your education. Even if you don’t need a certification for your next job, taking a class can help add structure to your time off and increase your value to your future employer. Local community colleges, online courses, your professional association, or regional training centers may offer continuing education courses in technical writing, business administration, intellectual property, public speaking or even biotechnology and Six Sigma Certification.
No matter how long your period of unemployment lasts, you will always have to answer the question “What have you been doing with your time?” Whether asked during a networking or social event or during a job interview, you need to have a prepared and professional answer to that question. By putting into practice some of the actions outlined above, you will have positive constructive things to talk about, and you can steer the conversation back to what you have done lately making you even more valuable to that particular employer.
As a matter of fact, all of these are good things to do, whether or not you’re currently employed. Keeping your eyes open and preparing for your next opportunity should be something you do routinely, so you’re always ready for the next step on your career pathway.
This article inspired by a conversation with Joe Martino, ACS Career Consultant, and written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC. Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists: New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.