Career transitions are difficult even under the best of circumstances. Whether the move is voluntary or involuntary, planned or spontaneous, dramatic or relatively unexciting, the process of finding new employment can be long and drawn out.
Even well-qualified candidates can find themselves trapped in extended periods of unemployment.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines long-term unemployment as a period of more than 27 weeks (or about 6 months). Half a year without a job is enough to give anyone cause for concern. To make matters worse, once you’ve gone that long without a job, prospective employers now have concerns of their own.
If you’ve been unemployed for a few months or more, here are some things you can do to help proactively alleviate these worries.
Participate in Professional Development Activities
When employers see long periods of unemployment, they immediately worry that the candidate’s skills have gotten rusty. After all, if you don’t use it, you lose it, right?
Consider taking some continuing education courses to keep your skills fresh and up-to-date, and to potentially expand your marketable skillset. That way, if and when this concern is raised, you can quickly counter it by citing your professional development activities. Plus, this is a great way to stay connected to people in your field and expand your network for job search purposes.
Also read: How to Plan Your Budget While Between Jobs
Consider Contract and/or Volunteer Work
Short-term engagements and volunteer work can be great ways of keeping busy while also filling gaps on your resume. Sure, the work might not be ideal and the pay may be minimal (or nonexistent), but that’s okay. It’s not permanent. You just want to demonstrate to prospective employers that you’ve been an engaged, contributing member of the workforce even during your unemployment. This also helps them see that you have useful skills that others want to leverage.
Expand Your Search
Everyone wants to find “the perfect” job—that’s a given. But, if you’re facing a prolonged period of unemployment, it’s worthwhile considering a few concessions. Instead of focusing on a very narrow search, expand it and see what other opportunities are out there.
It might be worthwhile to explore lower-level positions as a way of getting your foot in the door with a great organization. Or maybe it’s not such a big deal to commute a little longer for a solid role in another town.
Remember that, the longer your unemployment goes, the harder it becomes to get back on track. If you hold out too long for “perfect,” you could miss a lot of “perfectly good” options. It’s always better to look for a job when you have one. So, even if you make some sacrifices now, you can try again later when you’re not saddled with the baggage of unemployment.
Manage the Mental/Emotional Aspects
Long-term unemployment can really do a number on your self-esteem. You start to worry that you’re not valuable or that there’s some kind of inadvertent signal you’re giving off that tells employers to stay away. These negative thought patterns can create a potentially dangerous cycle. After all, when you’re not feeling confident, it shows. You may give off a bad impression during your networking activities and job interviews, which will only prolong your job search even more.
Don’t discount the importance of keeping a positive outlook throughout the process. Don’t allow yourself to fall into downward spirals of thought and behavior. You will get through this; it will be much faster and less painful if you rigorously manage your mindset along the way.
Get Professional Help
Finally, consider working with a professional in the field of job search and/or career counseling. There may be some simple improvements you can make to your resume, your interview skills, or your job search strategies that will speed up the process.
All too often, people who are unemployed for long stretches of time believe they are doing everything “right” and that circumstances are just stacked against them. That’s not always the case. In many situations, these people are making basic mistakes that could be resolved easily if only they were aware. But, you don’t know what you don’t know. Most job seekers are not experts in job search. So why not leverage the people who are?
Long-term unemployment isn’t easy, but it’s also no time to get lazy. Put these strategies to work and soon you’ll be back on track.