How to Use Your Time Off for Professional Development

by | Career Advice

When is the last time you thought about professional development?

The spread of COVID-19 has caused many people to be out of work or taking mandatory time off while stuck at home feeling uncertain about the future of their jobs.

With so many in self-quarantine and cut off from regular work and social life activities, there is a new and unfamiliar challenge: how to fill all of those extra hours in a productive way.

If you’re working from home, currently job searching, or simply want to stay on top of your professional development, now can be a perfect time to give some attention to career development practices you don’t usually have time for.

Of course, it can be hard to focus when you’re anxious about the future. First, we’ll talk about the psychological strain you may be feeling and ways to help alleviate your stress.

Next, we’ll get into some proactive ways to use your quarantine time to advance your career goals.

The Psychological Impact of Time Off

Working from home has become a way of life for many. For years, the gig economy has been booming and many workers have been building side hustles in addition to their office jobs.

But for many millions of others, a traditional job is all they’ve known.

If you fall into this category, having your structure, routines, comforts, and social circles suddenly cut off can be very stressful and disorienting.

It’s important that you give yourself room to have feelings about this.

Don’t get stuck in the mire, but acknowledge that it’s okay that you feel off-kilter and more importantly, that it’s within your power to take actions to help yourself feel balanced again.

We’re not trained therapists here at Big Interview, but our founder is an experienced career coach who has helped a lot of clients through career transitions. We are also a team of people with a lot of experience working remotely.

Based on that, here are some things we suggest for keeping your mental health a priority:

1. Keep Your Days Structured

While it’s certainly tempting to let it all go and zone out in front of a screen for 12 hours at a time, this is probably one of the worst things you can do for yourself.

Sure, enjoy the luxury of free time a bit, especially if you’re someone who has been overscheduled and overworked.

However, too much TV or other screen-centric entertainment will cause “brain fog,” make you feel lethargic and unmotivated, and will cause you to be inactive which won’t do your immune system any favors.

Instead, try to structure your days by planning a wake-up time, a bedtime, and structured activities throughout the day which can include work, hobbies, exercise, professional development, building relationships, cooking nutritious meals, research, or whatever else floats your boat.

Structure is also important for those of you who don’t have a lot of “free” time due to work and/or child care responsibilities at home. See if you can schedule blocks of time for different responsibilities so you don’t lose track of the day due to constant distractions and getting stuck in reactive mode.

This is easier said than done, of course. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not immediately perfectly productive in your new situation. Transitions take time.

However, some degree of structure can help you manage your anxiety and ensure you have time for the things that are important to you and help you feel good.

2. Get Plenty of Sleep, But Not Too Much

Sleep is an excellent booster for the immune system. According to the CDC, adults need seven or more hours of sleep a night for optimal health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, the percentage of American working adults who are sleep deprived has increased in recent years.

This means you currently have an excellent opportunity to catch up on some much-needed shut-eye.

However, just as it’s tempting to do nothing with your unstructured time, it’s all too easy to binge-watch TV all night and sleep the morning away.

Becoming nocturnal or sleeping too much can make you feel worse, not better, and make it harder for your body to stay healthy and alert.

You know your body best, so be sure to give it as much rest as it needs to be healthy, but not so much that you become lethargic.

3. Connect Safely

While you should be following the recommended CDC guidelines for safety and self-quarantine, isolation can wreak havoc on the human psyche.

If you live alone or are currently socially isolated during this time, reach out to friends and loved ones by phone, skype, or social media.

Make sure you are continuing to stay engaged with people and are able to talk about your concerns and anxieties during such an uncertain time.

If you need additional support, consider trying online counseling. Services like Talkspace and BetterHelp offer affordable options. You can also find traditional therapists who offer phone, video, or text sessions. This directory from Psychology Today may help you find a good match

We need each other now more than ever, so make an effort to safely reach out and connect to your fellow humans for your own mental health.

4. Put Your Phone Down

Or shut the laptop or turn the TV off. The human brain can only handle so much bad news and we have the dual blessing and curse of being plugged in constantly.

There is a never-ending stream of news and opinions on every device you own from millions of people all over the world.

Of course, you want to remain informed about what is happening, but don’t let it control you.

Structure your time with the news and social media. Once you’ve reached your quota for the day, put it down and walk away. Your mental health will thank you.

Using Time Off For

Professional Development

When we’re busy with the typical daily routine, it’s hard to prioritize all of those to-do items to support our long-term career goals. We put off things like continuing education, networking, exploring career change ideas, and updating our resume

Now’s the time to finally focus on your future career!

“Little things” can make a big difference in a job search, so here are a few things you can put your time and energy towards in the coming weeks to elevate your professional development and keep things on track.

1. Give Your Resume a Makeover

It’s important to have a current resume that presents your background in the best possible way.

If you’ve had your job a long time or have been in the same industry a while, you may not have looked closely at your resume in years.

Standard practices in resume writing have likely changed since the last time you were searching for a job.

For example, including a resume objective at the top of your document used to be standard practice.

Now, the recommendation is to replace the objective with a couple of succinct, specific, and well-crafted sentences that are called a resume summary.

Additionally, many employers now use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), which is an algorithm that scans resumes for required keywords that the bot has been programmed to see as “hirable”.

Researching the job description, using the correct format, and using proper keywords are more important than ever.

Even if you feel pretty good about your current resume, it’s worth taking a critical look to make sure you’re not missing opportunities to take your resume from good to great.

Check out our posts on resume best practices for some inspiration to make your resume stand out in a competitive job market.

You want your resume to be up-to-date and ready to go, so sprucing it up is a great place to start with getting your professional development ducks in a row.

2. Update (or Create) Your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn is a huge social network. As of January 1, 2020, it hosts half a billion professional profiles.

Numbers like that mean most professionals have some sort of presence on LinkedIn already.

But what state is your profile in?

Is it mostly empty, without a profile picture or any of your credentials?

Did you maybe fill in where you went to school and your current job and that’s it?

LinkedIn is used heavily by recruiters looking for new talent and hiring managers looking to verify potential candidates.

With a professional profile, endorsements from colleagues, links to publications and projects you’ve worked on, and a nice photo, you are taking your professional image up quite a few notches.

Having your profile ready to go can save a lot of time in the job search process since all of your information is hosted in one place. You can simply send a link to your LinkedIn profile instead of dealing with a bunch of hyperlinks and attachments in an email.

Additionally, LinkedIn has a job board and learning center where you can develop your skills and search for jobs directly on the site.

Social platforms change often so it’s likely that LinkedIn has more to offer now than it did when you first started your profile.

Login and poke around. Polish up your profile and make some connections. With so many people active on the platform, you are guaranteed more exposure and exposure can only help you in your career pursuits.

3. Network

LinkedIn is also a great place to start when it comes to networking.

The very idea of networking may make you cringe, and we completely understand.

The idea of trying to connect with strangers can feel extremely awkward–especially if you’re of a more introverted persuasion.

But online professional platforms are an excellent (and safe!) way to build your network.

Begin on LinkedIn by reaching out to colleagues and connections.

Next, research groups in your industry on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Take some time to really interact and get to know people’s stories.

Expanding your pool of professional contacts creates a wider safety net for you when it comes time to job hunt, and the right connection can really help you elevate your career.

Plus, if COVID-19 is hitting you hard right now it’s likely impacting others in your industry similarly. Connecting will give you a sense of camaraderie and ideas and inspiration for how others in your field are handling the setbacks.

4. Sharpen Your Interview Skills

CVS Health is one of the companies currently experiencing a boom in hiring due to the demands COVID-19 has placed on the market. CVS Health recently made a statement that they intend to hire 50,000 new workers via virtual job fairs and video interviewing.

Preparing for a job interview is stressful even when there isn’t a global pandemic– but if you’ve never had a video interview, it can add an additional layer of anxiety.

The best way we know to grow confidence in job interviewing is to practice and prepare.

The majority of interviews are focused on a variation of 10 Common Questions that are practicable and predictable.

In fact, we’ve designed our entire curriculum to prepare you for job interviews in hundreds of industries and multiple experience levels.

Practicing common interview questions in front of a camera–or at least in front of a mirror–will bring up your confidence and sharpen your presentation in no time.

We’ve seen time and time again what good practice and preparation can do for job seekers, so sharpening your interview skills is an excellent use of your time.

5. Take Classes and Earn Certifications

Words like “classes” and “certifications” can sound like big and expensive time commitments, but in the age of the internet, they certainly don’t have to be.

With platforms like HubSpot and Coursera, many online classes and certifications are free and available for you to learn.

Don’t be afraid to take the initiative in your own professional development.

Get certified in inbound marketing, Google Analytics, SEO, learn Photoshop or WordPress or any other platform you’ve been wanting to explore but never had the time.

You will be adding skills and certifications to your resume and better yet, have the knowledge to make yourself a more well-rounded professional.

In addition, mastering a new skill or engaging your brain in a new topic can really help to reduce anxiety and build confidence.

Remember, knowledge that you’ve acquired is something that can never be taken from you and can be retained from job to job, wherever your career may take you.

 

6. Build Your Side Hustle

Many people have projects on the side they would like to be able to devote more time to. Maybe it’s an Etsy shop selling hand-crafted designs, or building an email list to sell an e-course you’ve been working on. Perhaps you’ve been trying to break into freelancing or building your blog into an income stream.

All of these projects are ways to build your professional development, skills, and income outside of work. A side hustle can even turn into a full-time job.

Look at your free time as an opportunity to start brainstorming how to grow your side hustle and taking steps to make it happen.

7. Demonstrate Your Value

If you love your job, your employer, and your boss, now may be the time to step in and step up. Demonstrate your value by making yourself available and asking your managers what you can do to help them. Show that you’re adaptable and can take initiative.

In some cases, this may require volunteering your time without the promise of a payout.

However, if you work for a great manager, you can bet that your efforts will be appreciated and rewarded down the line. You may also find opportunities to gain valuable on-the-job experience and skills that will benefit your future career and professional development.

Don’t push this idea so far that you sacrifice your own well-being, but think about how you may be able to step up in a way that helps both you and your company.

Conclusion

We are currently in a strange and uncertain time. Depending on your industry, the working world you are used to may look very different when you return to it.

Stay ready and alert, keeping your skills, knowledge, and hiring materials polished and ready. Be mindful of your mental health and take steps to manage the psychological impact of the changes.

This is an opportunity to improve yourself and your prospects, and we’re here to help and offer resources every step of the way.