Getting By When You’re Unemployed
by Tom Washington

During your job search you should consider such options as temporary work, part-time positions, internships, and volunteer work. Such options can either help pay the bills or provide you with new skills and experience which could make you more marketable. The income you gain from temporary jobs or part-time work may be the critical factor that enables you to hold out long enough to get just the right job rather than merely accepting the first job offer you receive.

Temporary Jobs

Temporary jobs provide income and contacts, and can provide you with valuable new skills. You probably won't get rich in a temporary job, but it can keep the wolf away from the door while you're looking. One major drawback is that if you're working full-time as a temporary, your job hunting time is limited. While your employer certainly wants high-quality work out of you, temporary employers may allow you flexible hours so you can get away for interviews. Before you ask for time off, however, you should establish yourself as a valued and trusted worker.

Many people have a strong psychological need to be working. Temporary or part-time jobs are excellent for meeting that need. Even if the job is frustrating it can help keep you sharp and motivated.

While on temporary assignments, become as outgoing as you can, and meet as many people as possible. During a six-month period, you might work for three to six different firms. There are a lot of people with the power to hire in those firms. Ask the people you work with who the key people in the organization are and find ways to meet them. If you see such a person in the hall, go up to him or her and introduce yourself. Tell the person where you are currently working and ask if you could set up an appointment some time in the future. Nine times out of ten the answer will be yes. Then go and sell yourself to that person. Explain that you really like the organization and would love to work there permanently.

If the organization has an HR department, get to know the director and learn more about opportunities. Let the person know that you like the organization and that you would be willing to take a position that you might seem overqualified for, just to get your foot in the door.

Once you get to know these key people, don't let them forget you. Make sure they have your resume. Give them articles you think they might enjoy reading. Looking for articles may take some time, but you'll learn things while you're looking. Go out of your way to say hi to these people. If you see a key person in the lunchroom, just walk by and say hello. Your efforts are designed to get them to consider you when a position becomes available. If you think you've got something special to offer, you could even propose the creation of a job.

Even look for opportunities to volunteer. For example, you could volunteer to get on a committee at the firm. A client who had taken several long-term assignments at a firm, got some excellent exposure by participating on a committee that planned the annual employee awards ceremony. Several managers who got to know her or became aware of her contributions, would never have known she existed had she not volunteered.

People working temporary assignments tend to keep to themselves. Fight that tendency and invite yourself out to breaks and lunch with your coworkers. Even if you don't say much, you'll learn a great deal about the inner workings of the organization just by listening to the scuttlebutt. Be an attentive listener—people always appreciate a good listener.

Use the job to build new skills. In fact, you should jump at every chance to perform something new. The new skill may be just the thing that gives you a competitive edge or improves your marketability.

Despite the positive aspects of doing temporary work, it is not appropriate for some people. Many temporary jobs are low paying and can interfere with a full-time job search. Also, working at low-paying temporary jobs can adversely affect your self-esteem. It is likely, in that case, that the small amount of income does not justify the time lost from the job search or the lowered self-esteem.

Part-Time Jobs

Most people take on part-time jobs only for the money, overlooking the fact that part-time jobs offer other opportunities as well. As with temporary jobs, part-time work gives you an opportunity to meet new people.

If money is your main reason for taking on a part-time position, do your best to find one that leaves you with as many free daytime hours Monday through Friday as possible. Even if you work 20 hours per week in your part-time job, you should still spend at least 25 hours per week in your job search. You need time during regular business hours to speak to people. For this reason, having a job where you work weekends or every other weekend can be a real help. Yes, it will be tiring, but if you are able to devote adequate time to your job search, you will not need to continue in that part-time job for long. Besides, if you work 20 hours a week at a part-time job, and then 25 hours per week at your job search job, that is still only 45 hours per week. You can handle it for a short time.

Many employers hire part-time and temporary workers in order to observe their performance in a position. Interviewing can never substitute for actually observing a person on the job. If a person can be observed for several weeks, the employer will know a great deal about that person. So, as you're working, assume people are observing you. Make sure they catch you doing positive things. Do the little extras that many temps and part-time workers simply do not do. A client received a job offer from a manager she had worked for two years earlier. She had worked for him for only three months and had not spoken to him since she had left. He went to great lengths to track her down because she had proved her worth.


If you are trying to break into a new field or you are new to an area, volunteering with the right organization can provide you with the contacts and experience you need to get the position you want. One of the best places to volunteer your services is with an association that represents your profession. Most associations are run entirely by volunteers and there are never enough people to oversee all of the functions and projects that a vibrant association wants to accomplish.

If you decide that volunteering your time is going to become part of your job search strategy, first identify two or three possible professional organizations and attend at least one meeting. Being a nonmember, you will usually pay a nominal amount for attending the meeting. While you're at the meetings, go out of your way to meet people, particularly the officers. Ask people why they are members and what they gain from it. Through your questions you are trying to determine whether your efforts might have a payoff. If you have a good feeling about the organization, seek out one of the officers and ask how you could get involved. Ask if there are any existing committees that might be able to use your services. If you are unemployed, you might offer several hours per week to the organization; if you are employed, you might offer several hours each month.

Whatever task you take on, do it well. It's better to take on a small task and do it well than a large task and simply do an adequate job. Reputations are built on doing things well.

Once you are on a committee, you may be able to use your new project as an excuse for calling key members, and either meeting them or speaking to them. Even if you don't have an "official" reason for calling, you should call anyway. Simply explain that you've become active in the association and you want to get to know the members.

When you call members, you should be very clear on what you intend to do when you meet them. If it will truly be a social call during which you do not intend to discuss your background, simply say you want to meet the person. It is very likely that the person will ask you about your background, but if this truly is a "get to know you" visit, you would not share your background at any great length. In this type of visit, you merely want the person to be aware of you.

If you do, in fact, want to meet members who would be in a position to hire you or at least give you valuable information, be up front about it. Explain that you have become active in the association and that you would like 20 minutes of the person's time. Explain further that you want to get to know the person and at the same time share a little about your background. That will make it perfectly clear what your intention is.

You can generally expect to get in to see 90% of the people you request an appointment with. As with any appointment, be aware of time, and do not stay longer than the time you requested unless you specifically ask if the person may have just a few more minutes. Remember, you want to impress these people with your personality and abilities. You do not want their primary memory of you to be that you took up more time than you had requested.

As you volunteer with the association, also seek out projects that will give you the greatest exposure to the entire organization. This could be done by being the person who introduces a speaker or by writing an article in the association newsletter.

Associations are some of the best types of groups to become involved with because you gain exposure to people from many different organizations. It also makes sense, however, to volunteer with the very organization you hope to work for on a full-time basis. This would be the most appropriate with a  nonprofit organization, such as a hospital, a charitable organization, a political organization, or a government entity. All of the same advice given for volunteering with an association applies to volunteering for these others types of organizations.


Similar to volunteering, internships enable you to pick up valuable new skills and to meet key people. Internships can be paid or non-paid, highly structured or very loosely planned, with private companies or nonprofits.

Internships are most frequently filled with college students during summer break, but there are opportunities throughout the year, and they are by no means limited to college students. If an internship sounds attractive, talk to people in your field who might know where such opportunities exist. Most interns do not ultimately get hired by the organization they intern with, and most organizations will be frank about the odds of getting hired being fairly low. Still, interns do get hired, and it is usually because the intern has gotten to know as many people as possible and has produced high quality work.

An online query for internships will lead to several organization that post internships.

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