This is the harsh reality of the long-term unemployed: as each month ticks by, your chances of getting employed again shrink. It’s not fair: the very fact of unemployment can quickly become itself a reason for…continued unemployment.
Northeastern University research found that how long you had been unemployed was the deciding factor between job openings and unemployment. It didn’t matter how old you were, what gender or race you were, what industry you worked in—if you had been unemployed for longer than six months, your chances of getting a job decreased significantly.
What this research proves is that, unfairly or not, employers penalize applicants who have been out of the job market for more than six months. You should be able to get the job you want based on your skills and value, but this is not the world we live in. The long-term solution for this unemployment discrimination is structural change at the top, so that it’s illegal for employers to discriminate against applicants based on their employment duration.
In the meantime, here are individual tips on how to market yourself as employable.
Keep up with your industry
You need to prove to your employers that even though you’re not employed, you’re still working. Keeping up with new technologies in your field helps you look just as qualified as someone who is currently working. Updating your skills may mean taking an online course or going back to school and volunteering. It could also mean attending networking events, emailing people in your field to talk shop, or attending conferences. Luckily, in our digital world, we have more opportunities than ever to gain the skills we need—even when we’re not on someone’s payroll.
When your future interviewer asks you what you’ve been doing, you want to explain your absence from the labor market with skills you acquired.
Be flexible to change
If you’re holding out for the perfect position and it’s been more than six months, it’s time to switch tactics and consider things you would not have before.
Be willing to look outside of your city and outside of your network for jobs, even if this means switching career fields or taking a lower-level position. While you may not want to move for a job, it’s important to think of necessity: go where the jobs are, and once you’re in a secure position, you can strategize your next step from there.
At the same time, you should stay active in your professional networks and put in face time with meeting people. Also make sure people know you’re looking for a new gig. Tell everyone you know and people you don’t about your situation and what you’re looking for. You never know who will have a lead on a new job, and you should be open to what they may have to offer.
Find an accountability buddy
When you’re unemployed, it’s all too easy to let your days fly by unstructured. Weeks can turn into months without forward movement. Find someone in your network who will call you each week to ask about your progress. This person will keep you accountable, so you’re not sitting around all day. This person doesn’t necessarily need to be a family member or a close friend: sometimes the people closest to us may not fully understand what stress we’re under during unemployment.
During a period of long-term unemployment, my saving grace was having a friend who had also been laid off. We would go to coffee shops, apply for jobs, look over each other’s resumes, and keep each other updated on interviews. Knowing that I needed to give a progress report to him each week gave me structure to my days. Having someone in my corner who knew exactly what I was going through made an isolating time in my career a little less lonely.
Tailor your resume and practice interview skills
If you keep getting close to being hired, but just miss it, then it’s likely that you’re not showing employers your true value. That’s when it’s time to craft your resume and brush up on your interview skills to make sure people know how capable you are.
You want to focus your resume on what results you produced, not just what tasks you can do. The former reminds employers of your value. Recruiters don’t care if you were paid for a project: they want to see what you can do and how you’ve changed things.
If you have a gap on your resume, you can close the gaps in your employment with personal projects. Instead of leaving a blank after your last position, consider “self-employed,” as a job title, with a description of what you’ve been planning and working on. Doing this means giving each resume you send out a personal touch. You should be customizing your resume for each job application. That may mean reordering your resume and highlighting different skills each time you apply.
Similarly, interview skills are an important discipline. Sometimes even the most capable people just don’t interview well. This list of crucial interview skills is helpful: project positive energy, focus on firm goals, be approachable, and above all, remember that interviews are about what you can do for your employer.
When you’re going through long-term unemployment, it’s easy to feel discouraged. But you must remain hopeful, not only for your peace of mind, but also so that you can present yourself as a strong, capable candidate to employers.
How do you stay positive? There are a few concrete steps you can take. First, practice mindfulness or meditation, which are just the art of breathing and being present; both practices calm your nervous system and allow you to think clearly. Second, don’t believe your own negative thoughts about your worth or value based on what your job is. You have value as a human being no matter what’s on your business cards. Third, practice gratitude: find at least one or two things each day that you’re grateful for, which will create perspective on the good things in your life. Fourth, seek counseling from friends and professionals, especially close professional contacts, if it starts to get to be too much. Fifth, make sure you are not spending your days with nothing to do; any productive activity, from building your own website to exploring your career to traveling, will make sure that you stay active and don’t fall victim to negative thoughts.
Above all, you don’t want to be defensive when your employer asks about your unemployment. If you were laid off, tell employers about this upfront. Most employers understand and will never hold it against you. The important part, however, is that you don’t hold unemployment against yourself.