Techniques for Escaping Long-Term Unemployment

Photo: Greencolander

No one has to tell you that the job market is a little tight these days. The mass layoffs that followed our recent recession put millions of people out of work and our recovery has been slow-going to say the least.

The problem with these extended periods of unemployment (besides the obvious crimp it puts on your finances) is that the longer you stay unemployed, the harder it is to get a job. That’s because some employers hesitate when they see long gaps in your resume, assuming that if you were worthy of being hired, someone would have already snatched you up. (See also: 7 Tips for the Newly Unemployed)

That’s not always true, of course — especially in a recession — but it is what it is. Your job then, is to do what you can to limit those gaps so that your resume has that nice “steady” feel to it. Here’s how you do it.

Consider Starting a Business

My last corporate job was at a small insurance agency. They said they were family friendly, and I had two kids. Match made in heaven, right?

Turns out, we had different ideas of what “family friendly” actually meant, and when it became apparent that the relationship wasn’t going to last, I began contemplating what I might do if things didn’t improve. The problem was, I knew that I would be hard-pressed to find anything better, because let’s face it — “family friendly” and corporate just don’t mix.

So instead of reverting to my usual go-to move of scouring want ads and mass-mailing my resume, I took a different approach — I thought about what I’d like to do instead of just what would pay my bills.

And that’s when I realized that I didn’t actually want to do insurance anymore; I wanted to write and design and code, all of which I could do independently from home. That was about 10 years ago, and I couldn’t be happier about the decision to become self-employed.

Now I realize that I had the benefit of making that choice myself versus having it forced upon me by a layoff but rest assured, that layoff was coming. I just beat them to the punch.

My point, though, is that you look at your situation from a different perspective. You now have an opportunity to start a new chapter in your life and set your career on a brand new — and potentially more profitable — path.

Being self-employed means that you’re in control of how much you make. You get to decide what services you’ll offer, what products you’ll make, and how much money you’ll charge for your efforts. You also get to decide how far and how fast you want your business to grow. Yes, it’s challenging and yes, it can be scary venturing out on your own, but that’s a small trade-off for the personal freedom and professional satisfaction you can gain. Plus, should you decide to go back to work for someone else in the future, you won’t have to explain a large gap between jobs and you might even discover a more enjoyable way to earn your living in the process.

The point is that just because you’re no longer working for someone else doesn’t mean you can’t work at all. It just means you now have more options about the work you do.

Change Professions

If starting a business doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then maybe changing the type of job you’re looking for is enough to shake things up.

Yes, breaking into a new industry can be difficult, but there are ways to sort of “sneak in” the back door. Start with your resume for example, and see what skills are transferable.

Before I worked in the insurance industry, I spent several years as a paralegal and two years as a legal administrator. What’s interesting about that is that I don’t have a college degree, nor do I have a paralegal certificate. In fact, I got my first position in the legal industry by parlaying my strong secretarial skills into the job I wanted.

I also did my research and submitted a few timely case briefs I had written with my resume. No one asked me to write those briefs — I just picked out some seemingly notable cases, wrote them up, and attached them to my resume as a “reference.”

And using that same research, I called some of the law firms that I had my eye on to see if any of their attorneys would be willing to “share some insight” on recent cases for a paper I was writing. A couple said yes, many said no, but that didn’t really matter…my name was now “popping up” in the legal industry, no matter how subtle it might have been. And incidentally, that first paralegal job was for one of those attorneys who said yes.

If I were going to use this tactic today, I’d employ the Internet and put all those case briefs online, or I'd create a blog that covers legal issues and court cases. Doing something similar with your dream profession allows you to establish your knowledge and expertise about the industry well before you ask them to employ you. You can then point to that expertise when you apply for the job.

The point is to get your foot in the door. Once you’re there, it’s much easier to close the sale.


Volunteering offers a few unique benefits.

The first is that you’ll feel good about yourself, which can be a nice change from the daily frustration of not finding a job.

The second is that it offers you the ability to network without really being obvious about doing it. People see the job you do, and they get to check out your skills and abilities first hand. This makes them great references, and many will even network on your behalf, wanting to help you in the same way you’ve helped them by volunteering.

The third benefit is, of course, that volunteering fills the gap in your resume by showing that you were productive with your time off.

And if that isn’t enough to persuade you, consider this — many volunteer opportunities are the equivalent of on-the-job-training. That means that you could potentially learn some new skills along the way, making the experience even more worthwhile.

Go Back to School

Everyone knows we’ve endured a recession. Saying you took advantage of the slow economy by going back to school and building on your skills and knowledge is just another way of saying that you know how to turn a negative into a positive.

I’ve yet to meet an employer that didn’t appreciate a desire to further one’s education, especially if that education helps you become a more valuable employee in your field of choice.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter if you head off to a four-year school or if you just attend classes locally at your community college. Schooling is schooling in this instance, and it will fill the gap in your resume nicely.

The last tip I want to offer is this — regardless of whether you choose to stay within your own industry or branch out into something new, you’re going to have to get a little creative if you want to stand out from the multitudes of applicants that are vying for the same jobs you’re applying for.

Don’t be afraid to try different things to see what gets you the best response and most importantly, find ways to stay active and be “out there.” Sitting in front of your computer all day emailing resumes is certainly a valiant effort, but it doesn’t do anything for your self-esteem and it certainly doesn’t get you in front of the movers and shakers that can help you turn things around.

Maybe you take a lesser position to break into (or get back into) your chosen industry, or maybe you just need to revamp your resume and highlight different skills or experience. Try joining a professional organization to help you broaden your contact base or get involved in your community by chairing a committee and showing off your leadership skills.

The point is, get busy and be seen. The more you do — the more you reach — the more opportunities you'll have to choose from.

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Guest's picture

I would like to add one, and that would be to ask to do an unpaid internship with a business or industry you are interested in getting into. My daughter was considering career choices and having a hard time making a decision, so she called businesses in 2 fields she wanted to get into, explained her situation and asked if they would take her on as an unpaid intern and they both said yes. She was able to get experience for her resume, insight into what each job really entailed and was able to make her decision about which career to pursue. She also made a list of other possible jobs in each industry that she could use her degree for, and seeing exactly how much flexibility she had helped a lot.

Guest's picture

These are all good ideas, and so is the one left in the comment below. Any way to continue using any sort of skills whether they be pertaining to your work, or simply working in a team, as a leader, sharpening writing and speaking skills, are all better than doing nothing. Having working experience in any area during unemployment (even if it means not getting paid for your work) is a way to not fall out of the groove.