Escaping The Trap of Long Term Unemployment

Today’s April jobs report brings the same type of schizophrenic news that we’ve come to expect during this recovery. The headlines were nothing short of spectacularly good news – 288K jobs added, and a decline in the unemployment rate from 6.8% to 6.3%. Looking beneath the headlines, though, reveals that things may not be that much better for the long term unemployed. 806,000 people stopped looking for work – accounting for the significant drop in the unemployment rate, and the long term unemployed make up more than 35% of the unemployed. From my vantage point, if you’ve been out of work for more than six months, it doesn’t look like the job market has gotten significantly better. Which means that it falls to you to break through the very real wall (and employer prejudice) that’s holding you back. Here’s some advice we give our clients:

1. Assess why your job search is failing
There’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that your job search is failing. Coming to grips with that fact is the first step in making yourself a more marketable employee. Are your skills out of touch with the market? Has the work you’re well qualified for moved overseas? Is your resume a hot mess? Do you interview poorly? Are your references subtly sabotaging you? Unless and until you figure out what’s holding you back, it’s highly likely that you’ll continue to be overlooked.

2. Leverage your social network and professional/educational organizations
Hands down, your best bet for landing a new job is through someone you know personally. Second best bet is through a member organization like an alumni association, veteran’s group, etc. Both are far more likely to yield an interview, let alone an offer, than blindly submitting your resume to a job ad that will get 300 replies from other jobseekers. Never forget that looking for a job is a competitive, zero sum proposition.

3. Make sure you’re resume and cover letter are up to the proper standard
Admittedly, we’re biased, but we hear from customers all the time who report that our resume was the difference in landing a new job. Check out our 50 Resume Writing Tips for valuable insight on how to do this yourself. If you need a little more help, we offer both minor resume enhancement (for little tweaks that make a big difference) and complete resume re-writing (when you want or need a completely new resume).

4. Eliminate the gap through volunteerism
Worthy causes are always looking for qualified assistance. Make a list of volunteer organizations you’d like to help, and donate your time (preferably in a capacity related to your professional abilities). If you’re an administrative assistant, you might volunteer your time updating data. A contractor could help the local animal shelter maintain their facilities. A video editor could offer her abilities to a community health organization that needs community outreach videos. No matter your skills, there’s a group of people that need your help.

5. Pretend you’re already employed
Not on your resume, of course. Physical stagnation leads to mental stagnation so it’s important to remain active. When you’re unemployed, looking for a job IS your fill time job. Researching opportunities, working on your resume, scheduling meetings with target companies, and interviewing should be a part of your routine until you find a job.

6. Avoid the computer trap
Many clients we work with do ALL of their job searching via computer. This bunker mentality is damaging because it overlooks over, more successful ways to locate jobs (networking) and can turn you into a virtual hermit. CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, and Twitter have a place in your job search, but must be complemented by other face-to-face activities.

Editor’s Note: If you’re unemployed and have been for a while, I don’t want to trivialize your situation as fodder for a post. We want to help and I urge you to get in touch with us – if for no other reason than to get some more advice that’s based on your specific situation. There’s absolutely no cost or obligation in doing so.

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