Long-term unemployment can wreak havoc on a person’s sense of self-worth and well-being. Worse, big resume gaps or current unemployment may also mark a job seeker as “damaged goods” and make a long job search even longer.
“I wouldn’t say the bias [against hiring the unemployed] is pervasive, but too many hiring managers don’t realize that the world has changed and that people have had a hard time finding jobs through no fault of their own,” says Cheryl Ferguson, president of Recruiter’s Studio and recruiter for Decision Toolbox.
Throw in the towel? Don’t even think about it, career experts say. They suggest these practical steps to help even the most discouraged unemployed job seeker get motivated and beat the odds.
Check Your Mental Attitudes
It’s a vicious circle: The longer you’re out of work, the more anxious, insecure or depressed you may be — and this can hurt your chances of landing a job. “Attitude is a crucial part of the job search, and unfortunately it’s easy to be caught up in negative mental self-talk, especially with the media telling us how terrible everything is,” says Helaine Z. Harris, a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist.
If anxiety or depression is significant, don’t be afraid to seek counseling. If that’s not an option, simple calming breaths and even meditation can be effective, Harris says. “It’s essential to relax and clear the mind, so you’ll know the right actions to take and be able to magnetize the opportunities you want.” Connecting with nurturing friends and sharing your feelings about being unemployed can also help if you’re feeling isolated.
Move Your Body
There’s documented evidence that physical exercise improves mental health and reduces anxiety. And a gym regimen or even daily walks around the neighborhood can help your job search by adding structure to your day. “Regular exercise creates more self-discipline and shows that you can do hard things, which makes it easier to handle tasks like making difficult phone calls,” says Penelope Trunk, creator of the social network site Brazen Careerist.
Step Away from the Computer
Job boards and social networking sites such as Twitter can be helpful, but they are not the only ways to connect. And relying on them can perpetuate the unemployment “hermit” trap. “If you’ve been out of circulation for a while, you have to remind people you’re still around,” Ferguson says. “You’re also likely to be a little rusty in networking, so it’s important to get out once or twice a week at least for a face-to-face meeting, lunch or networking event.”
Re-Examine Employment Strategies and Tactics
With a clearer mind, an energized body and a fuller social calendar, you can better gauge the effectiveness of your search. Career coach and author Dr. Marty Nemko urges unemployed job hunters not to assume they’ve been doing everything right.
“Are you really spending 30 hours a week job searching? Do you have a job search buddy, so you can be accountable to each other? Are you active in your professional association, in-person and online? After an interview, have you sent a proposal that explains what you’d do for the employer? Have you followed up relentlessly with warm leads? If you’ve done all of those things and still aren’t getting a job, you probably need to change your job target to a more in-demand job title or a lower-level job,” Nemko says.
Fill the Resume Gap
A resume should be a history of things you’ve accomplished, not necessarily a chronology of things you’ve been paid for, according to Trunk. With that philosophy, there’s no reason to have a gap in your resume. “There are very few professions where you have to be on the payroll in order to do the work,” Trunk says. “If you’re a programmer, write a patch on your own time. If you’re a shoe designer, design your own shoes. Just do it. You’ll have something to show on the resume, and you’ll be taking back your power.”
Don’t Be Defensive About Unemployment
You’ve been out of work for a while. So what? So have many of the other candidates. “Don’t hide the fact you’ve been unemployed,” says John M. McKee, job coach and founder of BussinessSuccessCoach.net. “People won’t hire others who are prickly.”
McKee adds that you might need to stop saying the word “unemployed” if the word is getting in your way. Trunk agrees. “When someone asks what you’re doing now, don’t say you’re out of work, because you’re not,” she says. “You’re just not getting paid.Talk about the projects you’ve done and what you’re learning, and then mention, ‘I’m looking for a paid position like this.'”