By Charles Purdy
The word "fun" isn't usually associated with looking for a job. Even in the best of circumstances, being unemployed or underemployed can be scary and stressful. But in any job search, keeping a positive attitude is important. So in addition to refining your resume and assiduously applying for jobs, consider these pursuits that can not only be lots of fun but also make just about any candidate more attractive to hiring managers. Most can be done for free or on the cheap.
What's more, most of these activities involve meeting new people -- and therefore put you in the path of new networking opportunities. Meeting people outside of your normal social and professional spheres is an excellent way to broaden the reach of your job search.
Study a Language
Even knowing only the basics of a second language can be a boon in many jobs -- for instance, greeting foreign clients in their own tongue makes a great first impression. And most language classes involve fun socializing activities and learning about foreign cultures.
Fluency takes time, but just telling an employer that you're studying a language can demonstrate self-discipline and a desire to learn new things, according to career expert Jason Seiden, the author of Super Staying Power: What You Need to Become Valuable & Resilient at Work.
Enroll in an Acting or Improvisation Workshop
"I definitely advocate taking an improv class," says Seiden. "I've done this myself...and I learned to work across an incredibly diverse group of people, I learned to become more adaptive to my environment, and I got some great stories to use to break the ice with new people."
These types of workshops can also be very beneficial for people who fear public speaking. Joining a Toastmasters club is another fun way to become a more effective speaker.
Learn Something New
"Take classes at your local college, online or through job-training programs," suggests Debra Davenport, business coach and founder of Identity IQ. "Employers want knowledge workers with top skills in the areas of technology, social media, communication, leadership, coaching, budgeting, marketing and global commerce." In addition, "fun" classes -- like photography -- may come in handy in surprising ways. After you get your finance job, say, the company may urgently need someone to take photos at an investor event -- and you'll be able to save the day.
Turn a Hobby Into a Business
Enjoy cooking? Gardening? Crafting? Davenport suggests looking into services provided by the Small Business Administration for ideas and guidance on turning your pastime into profits. And even if your side business doesn't become lucrative, your entrepreneurial initiative may impress the hiring managers in your future.
Jay Block, the author of 101 Best Ways to Land a Job in Troubled Times, recommends volunteering as a way to gain confidence and strengthen your resume: You could volunteer to teach what you know -- for instance, if you're good at sales, an organization like Junior Achievement might be a good fit. You could turn a hobby into a volunteer opportunity -- for instance, if you enjoy playing the piano, you could schedule song nights at a local retirement center. Or you could even travel to an area that could use your help or skills -- for instance, to work with Habitat for Humanity.
Many career experts suggest developing a blog that focuses on a hobby or your industry. Or, suggests Block, you could offer to write a column for a free local newspaper. These are not only enjoyable ways to express yourself but also great ways to promote yourself as an expert and establish a well-rounded online presence.
"Sign up for yoga or Pilates -- or work on becoming an instructor or a certified fitness trainer," suggests Block. "At a time where too many people are unhealthy and depressed, this can be fun and healthy and look great on a resume."
"Become a social networking junkie -- not to just pass time socially, but to collect a huge amount of contacts and to build solid relationships that would be valuable to a prospective employer," says Block. "Networking and relationship building are critical skills today."
Explore a New Career
Block suggests job shadowing as one interesting way to learn about a new field. "Job shadowing is when you follow someone around to learn how they do their job," he says. "It's an excellent opportunity to learn new skills and get advice from professionals in industries or venues you hope to break into."
If you're in the midst of a period of unemployment, you can expect hiring managers to ask how you've spent your time away from the 9-to-5 routine. With some creative thinking, you can turn just about any hobby or learning experience into a resume or interview asset. "The most important thing about resume boosters is not what they are, but how you present them," Sieden says. "When you're interested, focused and self-motivated, nearly anything can be an asset."