When the paychecks stop, that doesn't mean you should, too.
If a potential employer asks what you’ve been doing while you’ve been unemployed, you’d better have a good answer—and no, watching reality-television reruns doesn’t qualify. Add these extracurricular activities to your résumé, and it may go to the top of the pile.
Taking a few courses at a community college to bone up on your skills makes you more valuable to employers, notes Mitch Daniels, an economist with the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Harold Washington College (30 E Lake St, 312-553-5600; $98–$149 per class) offers six-week computer-training courses such as Web-page design ($98) that can help you learn new techniques without breaking the piggy bank. Or check out Ed2Go.com, a continuing-education website designed to help you find courses on everything from project-management fundamentals to event planning, which you can take online or through one of ten Chicago colleges.
Want to keep the lights on at home while meeting folks in your field? Work as a temp. But don’t waste your time answering phones (unless that’s your chosen vocation). Find an industry-specific agency, such as IT staffers Robert Half Technology (312-616-7974), which offers positions in technical support, programming and networking. Designers and photographers can find project work through Creative Circle (312-329-9990), and finance folks can cash in at 10K Financial Recruiters (312-588-0800), which places people in consultant and analyst positions.
Give yourself a hand
Instead of spending hours perfecting your Guitar Hero skills, use your extra time to give back to your community. Do something even vaguely related to your field and you’ll sound like a dynamo with a heart of gold during your next interview. Websites such as Volunteer Match and Chicago Volunteer can match work experience to volunteer opportunities. Type in anything from financial to biology, and you’ll find an organization that could benefit from your skills while adding some shine to your job profile.
Found in translation
If your line of work includes international dealings, consider learning a new tongue. “Learning a foreign language has become a need, just like knowing chemistry or math,” says National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) representative José Hernandez-Lagunes. UNAM (350 W Erie St, 312-573-1347) offers evening Spanish courses ($370) taught by accredited teachers native to Mexico. For business markets farther east, check out the University of Chicago’s Graham School’s (450 N Cityfront Plaza Dr, 312-464-8655; 1427 E 60th St, 773-702-1722) weekend courses such as Mandarin Chinese ($340).