If you find yourself among the long-term unemployed, you’re probably wondering how to breathe new life into what’s become a frustrating and stale job search.
You’re not alone. An estimated 3.8 million people in the U.S. have been out of work for at least six months, according to the US Department of Labor’s March statistics. While that might be comforting from a misery-loves-company standpoint, it also means there’s some stiff competition out there.
If you feel like you’re doing everything you can to get back to work, and still aren’t having much success, well, your luck is about to turn. I sat down with two professional career coaches and got their best tips for re-energizing your employment pursuits.
1. Invest in Yourself
New York Times bestselling author of the Knock ’Em Dead series and professional career counselor Martin Yate says the first place you should look is at your resume. “When it comes down to it, your resume is the single most financially important document you’ll ever own,” Yate says. “When it works, you work, when it doesn’t, you don’t.”
If you’ve been out of work for a while, Yate suggests seeking the services of a professional resume writer or career coach. These types of pros can help you not only target specific jobs, but also showcase your skills in a way that could lead to securing an interview. Though it might be hard to justify spending money on professional help without a steady paycheck coming in, look at it as an investment in yourself (and see where else you can cut back). Ultimately, as Yate notes, it’s your resume “that puts food on the table and a roof over your head.”
Be careful, though, of seeking too much help. While cyberspace is filled with great sources of information, Yate says you can’t follow the suggestions of 50 different people. He recommends finding an authority on the subject whose philosophy makes sense to you and embracing it. From there, commit to re-educating yourself, reconstructing your resume, and getting back on track.
2. Enlist Your Network
Even though it may have been several months since you lost your job and the initial shock has worn off, telling people you’re unemployed can make you feel as vulnerable and exposed as having someone walk in on you in the stall of a public restroom. But while it’s painful, spreading the word far and wide that you’re actively looking is key when it comes to securing a new position.
Career and life coach Deborah Brown-Volkman says the unemployed who rely solely on job boards end up looking for work the longest. “Get away from your computer,” she advises. “People help people get jobs.”
Michael Lawler, senior manager of professional services at Thomson Reuters, agrees. “I have found that outside of recent graduates, companies hire someone based on their connection to someone who can vouch for them,” he says. When Lawler was looking to make a change, he connected with former colleagues to help him not only network but also narrow down his search, and one of those meetings eventually led to his current career.
“A few years back, it was told to me that the average turnover costs a company about $20,000 per person. So, the hiring process is about risk management—why take a chance on someone who is great on paper instead of hiring a sure bet?” he reasons.
Start by using our template to let everyone in your network know you’re looking (and, importantly, exactly what you’re looking for—be that a job with a specific company or informational interviews in a field you’re interested in). You’ll likely find that people are more helpful than you’d even imagine.
3. Consider Part-Time or Volunteer Work
While pursuing employment might seem like a full-time job in itself, accepting contracting, consulting, and part-time work, or even a volunteer position, is a great way to keep current, career coaches concur.
“Employers want experience,” says Brown-Volkman, and “volunteering or a part-time job is a good way to get that experience.”
“It also shows you haven’t been sitting on your thumbs,” agrees Yate, who adds that as long as it doesn’t interfere with the time needed to land your next full-time job, part-time work can present an opportunity to stay in the game.
Additionally, a temporary assignment offers a chance to show a potential employer what you can do. Videographer and editor Eve Brue believes a contract position isn’t so much a finite gig as it is a stepping stone to a full-time career.
“Maybe it’s particular to my industry (television), but my last three long-term jobs started out as short-term,” Brue says. “In each case I was hired on for just a few weeks or months to start and then became a staff employee. I feel like they wanted to get to know me and find out what I could bring to the table before taking on the commitment of another staff person with benefits.”
If you’re considering a career change (or even branching out on your own), volunteering in your desired field can also help you gain insight into whether it’s really the right move. Personal stylist Elaine Wang Yu, for instance, found that volunteering inspired to pursue her passion for fashion and embark on a new venture.
“Volunteering at Dress For Success gave me the idea to start my business, Simply Chic Styling,” Wang Yu explains. “I saw firsthand the transformative powers that the right outfit could have on a person. Women came in a little nervous, not knowing what to expect. I gave them my full attention, styled them, helped pick out the right outfit, and saw how their body language changed. They stood taller, they smiled more, and they appeared more confident.
“Seeing these women with such poise in turn gave me the confidence to become an entrepreneur. In my gut, I knew I had the skills required to style women effectively. It takes the right personality, the right amount of patience and good listening skills, and I learned all of it volunteering at Dress For Success.”
If you find that your job search is lasting far longer than anticipated, take a good look at your resume, your contacts, and the possible interim opportunities that surround you—and see where you might be able to recharge your search. Hitting the restart button may not be easy, but it will be worth it if it leads to the next stop on your career path.