Three Ways to Keep Your Skills Up to Date

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This week on Facebook we are discussing career breaks - how to come back from them, but also how to stay up to date while you are away from your job. This is an important topic for military and foreign service spouses, so we're diving in deeper on the blog this week.

The best thing you can do during your break is to remain engaged professionally. This is important for a number of reasons, including your mental health. Faced with a long bout of unemployment after working for some time can easily lead to an unhealthy rut. You must take care of yourself and simultaneously ensure that you are not falling behind while away from the workplace. This will help you tremendously when the time comes to return to work both because you will be and feel connected. If you emerge from the break with a negative or desperate perspective, employers will sense that, and you'll have a more difficult time finding a job.

Here are some ways to avoid this and stay engaged professionally.

1. Strengthen your online presence. Use any time that you have, even if it's only in small bursts, to create or overhaul your LinkedIn profile. In general, you need to keep your profile current, so the first thing to do is update it if it's outdated. And it is a good idea to put a current entry that reflects what you are up to now. If you've thought of becoming more active on social media or building a website, this may be a good time for it. These activities keep you current and you'll have products that show other facets of your professional and personal life for your next professional move.

2. Flex your expertise. A great way to keep your mind active and knowledge fresh is to blog. You can create a blog on sites, such as Tumblr or on your own website. Other platforms include LinkedIn Pulse, which you can find under the "Interests" drop-down tab at the top of the main page once you log in. While it's not guaranteed that many people will view it, you will create a stock of your expertise there that can be viewed by former colleagues and future employers. Another way to engage on LinkedIn effectively is to join groups in your field and comment on discussions that you find interesting. Again, this is a way to offer and showcase your expertise. And it's also a way recruiters sometimes find their next employees.

3. Volunteer your time. You may not have much time depending on the reason for your being out of work. But if you've been let go and are figuring out what you want to be when you "grow up" or job searching day in and day out, think about volunteering some of your time to an organization that you believe in. It could as simple as reading to children for an hour once a week at the local library or walking dogs at your local shelter. It will make you feel good to help others and bring joy to those you are working with. And the bonus is that it gives you something for your resume and to talk about if an employer asks, "What do you do in your free time?" or "How have you spent your time out of work?"

Being away from work can be mentally trying. And facing the prospect of going back to work, even if you've been lucky enough to keep the same job, can be tough, too. The best thing you can do is to stay in touch as much as possible with your former colleagues and with your field. Be proactive and decide if there are things you want to learn about and how to maintain your professional presence online during the time you're off. There may not be a lot of time you can allot to it, but whatever you can manage is vital for your future.