getting out of longterm unemployment

10 steps to get out of your long-term unemployment

Christina Omlor

Unemployment is tough on your finances, but it also takes a significant toll on your mood, self-esteem, and psychological well-being. Long-term unemployment, often defined as being unemployed for 6 months or longer, is particularly difficult. Over time, it can be harder and harder to seek work as you become demoralized about your job prospects.

Follow these 10 steps to get back on your feet

1. Take an inventory of your skills and experiences.

It’s easy to lose confidence when you’ve been out of work for months. Reset your job search by making an exhaustive inventory of your skills and experiences. These don’t need to be things that are obviously job-relevant. For example, perhaps you’re an avid yoga practitioner. Emotional steadiness and cognitive control may be valuable skills to list. Taking this broad approach can help you think about the many qualities you bring to the table.

2. Expand your idea of the job you want.

Often, people get trapped into the mindset that they need to search for jobs very similar to the last job they held (e.g., “all I know how to do is sales, so that’s what I’ll apply for”). Instead, think broadly about how your skills could apply to a new position.

3. Narrow your focus, don’t widen it.

Although you want to remain open-minded when searching for new jobs, don’t be so unfocused that you apply for everything that comes your way. This will simply waste your time and energy. If you have an MBA degree and 10 years of work experience, a McDonalds hiring manager may question whether you’ll stick around long. Be tailored in your approach, focusing on the jobs that best fit your background.

Getting out of long-term unemployment is hard work

4. Set goals for yourself.

Staying on track with your job search is all about setting goals and sticking to them. At first, it can be tempting to get very ambitious with your goals, which can lead to frustration when you don’t meet them. Remember to make goals that are specific, time-limited (i.e., have a built-in deadline), and measurable. For example, “update my LinkedIn profile by next Tuesday” is a more specific goal than “improve social media presence.” Remember to reward yourself after you meet certain milestones (e.g., get coffee with three new people from your industry, or apply to 10 new jobs).

5. Network, network, network.

No matter the industry, networking is the cornerstone of the job search. Remember that networking is a two-way street. Offer to do something for someone in your field, from simply buying them coffee or offering tangible assistance with a project. Don’t be shy about your long-term unemployment. Telling people you know at family functions, your child’s school, or your church could turn up leads.

6. Stay current in your industry.

The biggest hurdle to overcome in the eyes of hiring managers is the perception that your long-term unemployment has made your skill set obsolete. Tackle this head-on by taking a course to update your skills, attending an industry event, or writing an editorial assessing the state of your field. This keeps you engaged in your field and demonstrates that your skills remain relevant and evergreen.

7. Rethink your resume.

Many people treat a resume as a chronological list of jobs they’ve been paid for, but that may hide your greatest assets. Instead, think broadly about the skills you’ve acquired. Volunteer work, leadership in professional or community organizations, and recent coursework can all highlight your skill set, even if you were unpaid.

8. Explain the gap.

One of the biggest mistakes unemployed applicants make is to try to hide the work gap on their resumes. Rather than adding a vague title or glossing over the gap, highlight it in your cover letter. Explain what you have been doing to boost your experience and skills during that time. Reframing the gap as a strength, rather than a weakness, can project the confidence you need to get the job.

9. Prep for the interview.

Once you’ve landed an interview, prepare for the most common interview questions. Be ready to respond to “why should we hire you?” with a cogent, compelling answer that highlights your skill set and your fit with the current position.

10. Take time to relax and recharge.

Job seeking should be treated like a full-time job — and that means vacation time, too. Take breaks from your search to recharge and indulge in non-job related activities.


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