NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Anyone who has ever read an article or book on job hunting tips has likely heard the same few pieces of common wisdom repeated over and over again: research job opportunities every day, network online and offline to market yourself and customize your resume and cover letter for each position.
Each of these tips is truly essential to succeed in a job search, but for the millions of Americans who are unemployed and have been looking for work for months if not years, these guidelines are long overdue for an update. Sending out resumes on a regular basis and engaging on social networking sites is great in the beginning of a job search, but after six months or more of relying on these tactics alone with no job offers, it’s time to make a change.
“It can be so easy to spend a few hours a day on your job search and feel you’ve done your best, when what you’ve really been doing is the same old thing,” says Charles Purdy, a career expert with Monster.com. “It becomes more important as your job search stretches on to break out of the rut. You have to allow that at least part of the problem is your approach.”
Needless to say, every person’s job hunt is different, but MainStreet spoke with several job hunting gurus to come up with a revised set of tips to help the long-term unemployed make their job search less painful and more productive.
Don’t Let the Job Hunt Become Your Job
The common wisdom when job hunting is that the search for a new job should become your real job for as long you are unemployed, but perhaps counterintuitively, this maxim becomes less true the longer the job hunt goes on.
“This notion that you work on your job search for eight hours a day, five days a week like it’s a job really stops making sense after a while,” says Carolyn Hughes, vice president of people at SimplyHired.com, who highlights two problems with this idea. First, on a very practical level, she says job hunters generally become more efficient in their search as time goes on, so what might have taken them eight hours to accomplish in the beginning of their search might only take them an hour or two later on. More importantly, though, she and others we spoke with argue that spending too much time searching for jobs takes away time you could be using to get out and meet people and pursue activities that enrich your life and keep your spirits up.
“Your life is still going by while you’re unemployed, so you do need to think about things like spending more time with family,” she says. “Try consolidating the job search to two days a week and continue living life in a way that makes you happy because you will be far more prepared for that interview when it comes if you are not overcome with depression.”
Cast a Wider Net When Networking
Networking is just as important for those who have been out of work for months if not more so, but in many ways it can also be more difficult for the long-term unemployed since their professional network can easily fray over time. For this reason, you need to be more aggressive in reaching out to friends and colleagues and meet as many new people as possible to force your network of contacts to keep growing.
“People tend to network in a pretty small orbit and prefer not to stretch their comfort zone too much, but [the long-term unemployed] really need to start thinking about how to network beyond the circle they are already in, and to find ways to do it away from the computer,” Purdy says.
He recommends attending nearby job conferences and seminars, inviting contacts from your past for a 15-minute catch-up session over coffee and perhaps most important of all, to be open about your employment situation with anyone who will listen, whether it be at a conference or the supermarket.
“Make sure you bring in the fact that you are looking for work into as many conversations as possible – not the fact that you are unemployed, but that you are looking for work in a specific area,” Purdy says. For many, just talking about this may feel embarrassing, but the more people who know you’re looking, the better chance someone might pass along your name when an opportunity presents itself.
“It’s not always the planned networking that leads to results,” Hughes says, seconding this point. “The things that ultimately land you a job often come out of left field.” Come Up With a Story You Can Tell
Sending in resumes and networking, important as these activities may be, aren’t the only two parts of a prolonged job search. Those who have been out of work for months will at some point need to answer one key question: What have you been doing all that time?
“When you’ve been unemployed for a long-time, employers are always going to ask what you’ve been doing for that time and you can’t just say, ‘Oh nothing’, or ‘Looking for work, you idiot’,” says Ford R. Myers, a career expert and author of Get the Job You Want Even When No One’s Hiring. “You have to build a story.”
For some, this might mean taking time out each week to go back to school, volunteering for a company related to their field or simply starting a blog. For others, this might mean opening up a bit about their personal life. Myers mentions one person he counseled who spent much of his time while unemployed caring for a sick parent and disclosed this during the application process. Weaving this story into the cover letter and the interview may not always be enough to land you a job, but it will at least answer the pressing question that the hiring manager is thinking.
What candidates should not do, according to Purdy, is apologize in any way for having been unemployed.
“Don’t say things like ‘Although I was laid off four months ago,’ or ‘Even though I’ve been out of work for four months’,” he says. “Just focus on explaining how you can benefit the employer and what you’ve been working on that’s awesome.”
Broaden Your Search
When you first start looking for work, it may make sense to home in on the precise kind of job you want and only apply for those – particularly if you are job hunting while employed – but after you’ve been out of work and searching for months, there eventually comes a time where you need to broaden your search.
“After several months or a year goes by, it’s time to think outside the box and that might mean thinking beyond the career you have chosen,” Purdy says. Going back to school is one way to expand your career opportunities, but Purdy argues even those who can’t afford to do that should at least “figure out what skills you have and where else they can be applied.”
Fortunately, there are plenty of job sites that make it easy to search by keyword rather than the position title, meaning an unemployed graphic designer could search for “web design” or “computers” to find other positions that may be tangential to what they’ve been searching for to date.
Along the same lines, it’s also crucial to be open-minded about where the job is located as certain cities may have far more job openings than your own. If you are not tied down by a mortgage or other commitments, it pays to move to where the jobs are rather than wait for the jobs to come to you.
Learn to Settle
As a personal finance website, it pains us to say this, but most of the experts we spoke with agreed: Eventually you just have to be willing to settle for any job you can get.
“If you’ve been out of work for a year or longer, I do think it’s better to settle for a job and get back to work,” says John Challenger, CEO of the career research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “It’s better to be working than sitting at home all day in front of a computer.”
While this may sound disagreeable to some readers, there are plenty of perks to following this strategy. Working any job offers the chance to earn a steady income again (even if it’s less than what you made before). It also gives you the opportunity to get back in the habit of working a 9-to-5, expand your professional network and impress a new group of co-workers who could potentially promote you at a later date.
What’s more, there’s nothing to stop you from continuing to apply for other jobs before and after work, and according to Hughes from SimplyHired, your odds of finding another one will likely improve too.
“It’s much easier to find a job when you have a job, that’s just a natural bias in our society,” she says, a point that is supported by the fact that many companies have flat out refused to hire any unemployed candidates. “At some point, candidates just have to take a job to get on board.”
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