If you’re a freelancer who’s suddenly found yourself with a long gap between assignments, it can be tempting to pack a bag and hit the road. You can, but why not take your computer and engage in a few pursuits that will increase your merits in the eyes of potential employers? None of these extracurriculars requires huge time commitments, but what you get in return will make your efforts worth it.
Find volunteer opportunities
At a time when so many companies and executives are trying to distinguish themselves as good corporate citizens, this matters more than you think.
Nonprofits are hungry for skilled professionals who’ll volunteer their time and expertise in publicity, social media, grant writing, web design, photography, and corporate communications (i.e., the stuff you already do for a living). And unlike working at a professional advertising or marketing firm where you’re expected to already have certain skills, nonprofits are happy to give you some coaching so you can develop new skills.
When picking an organization to volunteer for, don’t just think about your career, think about what matters to you. Even if it has absolutely, positively nothing to do with advertising and marketing, it still matters to potential employers. According to one recent survey, company decision-makers were 82% more likely to choose a candidate with volunteer experience.
If you’re not sure of how or where to get started, check into Volunteer Match.
Offer your work pro bono
Donate your services to a company that needs them. If you were to approach your favorite mom-and-pop shop or local cause that has either no advertising and marketing or horrible advertising and marketing, chances are they’d love to have a pro help out. Even though you could be working with a small or nonexistent budget, you might end up creating some award-show-caliber work, like this amazing poop-joke-inspired campaign that probably never would have been green-lighted by a large, traditional agency.
You could also join up with Taproot, an organization that recruits and mobilizes entire advertising and marketing teams and hooks them up with worthy nonprofits. Sometimes the ask can be simple, such as recreating a flier or a direct mailer. But Taproot also works on huge, global issues with multifaceted campaigns that allow you to really sink your teeth in and make a difference. Generally, the organization appreciates that its members are working professionals, so the time commitment can be as few as five hours per week, and they even assemble virtual teams.
Build new skills
There’s always something new to learn in advertising and marketing, so take advantage of your downtime to acquire some knowledge or brush up on your skills. (And better still, get some shiny new bullets for your resume.)
If you work in art and design (or you want to), try skills-focused platforms like Lynda or Adobe. I’ve already raved about Coursera, the platform that offers real courses from top international colleges and universities. Udemy is a similar idea, but gives users the freedom to mix and match lessons to assemble their own custom course.
Learning another language may not immediately lead to increased job opportunities, but it’s one of those resume bullets that demonstrates your versatility and motivation.
Take your passion project to the next level
Having a meaningful pursuit outside of your job doesn’t just relieve stress, it makes you more creative and may protect your brain against the effects of aging. If you have a creative hobby you really love, figure out how to take it to the next level. If you enjoy baking, try making some instructional videos for YouTube, or put your creations on Instagram. If you like writing (preferably something besides ads!), set up a blog on WordPress. Use your phone to make a short film. Really put those right-brain skills to use!
Showcasing these side projects in a special section on your professional portfolio demonstrates how well-rounded you are. Even if you’re exploring an avenue that isn’t directly related to your professional skill set, it shows your ambition, creativity, and tenacity.
But you don’t have to do anything at all
Burnout is real, especially for recent grads and those in more junior roles. And often, freelancers are only called in at the last minute or when the workload balloons to the point where the normal staff can’t handle it anymore. It’s great if you have the initiative to put your extra free time to use, but if you need a breather, take one before jumping back on the merry-go-round.
Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.