Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When You’ve Been Looking For a Long Time

In this job market, long-term searches are becoming increasingly common. As the monthly jobless statistics indicate, the number of job seekers who have been looking for six months, a year or even more is higher than at any other time in decades. And because the government typically stops tracking those who have been searching for a job after their unemployment benefits run out, it’s unclear how many searches go on past a year or 18 months, and also how many “discouraged” job seekers there are out there who have stopped actively looking for work.
I’ve heard lately from a number of journalists and other professionals stuck in this situation, and they tend to be not only frustrated and anxious about their searches but sometimes peeved at others who though well-meaning  just can’t seem to understand their angst. And it’s difficult to know how to help those mired in a long-term search. Though you want to be upbeat and supportive, often your standard advice seems shallow and pointing to those with similar skills who have landed well can seem counter-productive (and a little mean-spirited, even if your intentions are good).
Hiring experts, though, have some suggestions for ways to try to reinvigorate a long-term search, as well as tips for friends seeking to support a job hunter who has been at this for a long time. These include:
*Set new deadlines. Nearly all job seekers give themselves deadlines for finding a job — within three months to six months of a layoff, by the end of the summer, before the unemployment insurance ends, for instance. But if you’ve blown past these deadlines, you need new ones, and ones that are realistic and help you move forward. For instance, it may be smart to say that you’ll take a part-time or temporary job for now and spend the rest of your time taking some online courses to polish your skills so that you can have a job in your field by the start of the new year. Giving yourself new deadlines can help you give your search a fresh start. And then reevaluate those deadlines as they come closer and extend them if necessary — especially if you’re on the right path.
*Hit the “pause” button in your job search. If you’ve had no luck finding a job in your field, it may be time to get off what has become a dead end and head down a new road. But before you start looking for a job in a new area, give yourself a break. If your unemployment insurance has run out and you’ve depleted your savings, take a job, any job — in retail or sales, for instance, where professionals can often get hourly work; or temporary work — to pay the bills while you reevaluate what you want to do and how you plan to search differently this time. If you have some financial cushion, take some time off from the search — a sort of vacation from the job hunt — while you do free-lance or other work you enjoy, and from a perch where you can rethink things. Ask yourself what hasn’t been working, what you really want to do, and whether you have the skills to do it. Think big-picture, and ask yourself and those close to you lots of questions about what you think might be the right fit for your expertise and talents. It’s tough out there, but often those who aren’t securing jobs may be shooting too high or for the wrong kind of positions for their skills and expertise.
*Get professional help. And, ala the advice columnists, I’m not necessarily talking therapy, though if you’re depressed (and who wouldn’t be after a long and frustrating job search?) it’s important to see a medical professional. There is also help for job hunters. Find a low-cost job search skills course offered by your local community college, a community association or the state (or D.C.) government. Or talk to others who are hunting about forming your own support group. If you’re a friend of someone who has been looking for a long time, don’t only offer them advice or support but help them help others in this situation — it will energize them and studies have found that job hunters do much better when they have the support of others in their situation.
*Do something good for yourself in your non-job-hunting life. Distracting yourself from your job search — even for a few hours — may help energize things and take some of the sting out of long-term unemployment. Volunteering, in particular, has emotional and intellectual benefits. Find an organization that needs your help, join (or start) a book club, go back to a physical activity that you enjoy. During this time, try (hard as it may be) not to think about your job search or your career, and focus instead on this activity or endeavor. And friends of the long-term unemployed should help in this cause and should show interest in these activities, instead of starting conversations with “How’s the job search going?”
*The following piece on — about how some employers won’t consider anyone who isn’t currently employed — is getting a fair amount of attention in the work-search world, including in online chats among recruiters. Some say it’s poppycock — that they’ll consider good candidates who have lost their jobs — while others say they tend to agree. The good news for journalists is because of the rampant dislocation in our industry (which often had nothing to do with performance) this tends to be less true. Though it does underscore two things about job hunting: the cliche about it being easier to get a job when you have a job still holds some currency, and there is often a layoff or buyout “discount” applied in hiring. Food for thought:

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