Tips to Keep your Social Change Career Alive while in Between Jobs or Working as a Waitress

By Dr. Catalina Rojas, Director of Innovation, PCDNetwork

“I am not really a waitress, I am waiting to hear from my next acting job”. This is something you will frequently hear if you order a coffee or lunch in an L.A. Restaurant. The reality is that many of us will find at some point in our lives periods of career lull. For millenials in particular, and especially after the economic crisis of 2008 and for professionals in emerging markets, post-conflict settings or the Global South in general, finding a career job and one that fits your passion for good and that pays the bills is HARD to obtain.

More and more jobs are short term; a lot of jobs don’t include health insurance, retirement or any types of benefits. At PCDN we are aware of that and while we dedicate a LOT of time at PCDN to give you as many tools, information, resources to get you your dream job we are aware that the environment is not easy.

We have put together a series of tips to empower you while you are in “transition mode”. Whether you cannot land a job, you just got back from working overseas, you quit your job after an impulsive burst and find yourself unemployed, you had a baby and haven’t worked in a while…. Whatever your particular context, let’s see how we can use that time to revamp your career, plan your next move and succeed in the process.

1. Is my “in-between” job a death sentence to my career?

You are panicking because you have to work as a waitress, or as a barista in a cafe serving coffee and you think NO ONE will ever hire you or take you seriously in your social change career. You are wrong! Of course coffee-making skills may not be directly link to project management (except if you can make the best espresso for your stressed-to-be new boss). However, what skills can you acquire while doing the “in –between” job?

Say you are in charge of kitchen personnel or you were given a chance to manage the daily financials. You can always explore ways of framing the skills you are using in this “job” that you can use for your advantage.

What you do is NOT who you are. Serving meals or coffee (unless it is your life calling) is NOT going to define you. Separate those two and while you are doing a job that pays the bills, find time to volunteer in an areas you love so that you put your social change skills to work even if you are NOT getting remuneration via this volunteering you are still working in social change.

2. What can do to help/boost my career while serving coffee?

Volunteer in an area you are passionate about or the sector you want a job into. I doubt anyone will reject you for donating your time. In return, you keep close to your field, keep networking and sharpening your skills for when you land that next gig.

Blog . You keep yourself busy, learning and doing research about your topic, sharing knowledge and establishing yourself as a thought leader in the sector. Its free in PCDN, we have over 13k blogs. It’s an excellent way for potential employers to see your ideas in action.

Connect. Virtually with networks like PCDN, or attend in-person events in topics or areas you need to learn, you are passionate about or areas where you need to learn more.

Self-care. Don’t obsess, don’t let your lack of job or job search consume every minute. Take perspective. Take a hike. Breathe.

3.How long is too long before (staying without a job) hurts your career?

No one really says it, but everyone whispers it LOUDLY: as little as possible. Hopefully you will land job after job and never have a gap. Women are terrified after having babies for fear of not being employable again. In many countries being past 30 is considered too old for the hiring market. JUST SO WE ARE CLEAR, THIS IS ALL BS. I don’t subscribe to that theory.

Ok. Relax and breathe. It’s story time. I had an amazing job and then I had my son. I quit my job 2 months into maternity leave. I COULDN’T GO BACK. I mean, I know that many women go back because they absolutely need to, others can’t wait. I couldn’t bear the thought of separating myself from my two-month bundle of joy.

See the cuteness?

Maybe it was the fact that I was so sleep deprived, but being out of the job gave me a lot of breathing space to re-think what I wanted to do next, and more importantly, what I didn’t want to do next. Moreover, when it came to dealing with the fear of who will hire me again I realize how many corrupt politicians (mostly men) get caught, go to jail, spend 2–5 years incarcerated. They get out of jail, write a book and guess what, they get elected again! If society can forgive and even rewards corrupt leaders, what can this professional mother be guilty off? NOTHING.

I realize that it’s all about attitude and letting those fears dominate your life projects.

I am now happy being part the leadership team of PCDN, doing what I love and also enjoying the freedom of spending time with my now 6 year old.

Yes, this is him NOW

So, even if you are out of a job for 1 even 2–3 years, but you keep networks, volunteering opportunities, continue to apply, continue learning, attend events, you can still land your dream job and carry the lessons of the “gap year” with pride and feel stronger because of it. Of course it isn’t easy and I don’t want to give the false impression it is.

4. Why am I not landing the job?

Have you checked ALL the blogposts and webinars from PCDN’s Career Series, follow every step suggested, sent over 30–60 applications per month (yes, that’s how many) and still not get past the interview stage?

Check what skills you are probably missing and even ask organizations (and peers) that you love to give you feedback. Identify the missing skills and take advantage of your transition time to get that class, do an online MOOC, and sharpen your skills. Keep trying.

5. What if this is a symptom of something else?

Lastly. See your “transition time” as an advantage not a liability, as a space for deep reflection and maybe you NOT getting a job is a sign that you are ready to leap into a different field. That you are burn-out. It’s ok. I spent over two decades solely focused on social change (from political science, development, gender and conflict resolution). I know have other interests that I am going to pursue and get training to launch my third career. I’m interested in healthy eating, holistic nutrition and fitness. Yes. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION to project what you love to do and there is no better time that when you are “not doing your job”.

What are your suggestions/strategies and challenges for dealing with the in-between period while searching for the next “right” position?

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