The financial meltdown that began in 2007/2008 hasn’t just eliminated jobs, its destroyed careers entirely. Millions of people have been unemployed for six months, a year, two years or even longer. Extended unemployment benefits that initially allowed up to 99 weeks have been cut back to 73 weeks, and unless the program is restored, benefits will be cut back again by the end of this year.
If you’re one of the people who lost their career during or since the meltdown, or if you’re facing the prospect of disappearing unemployment benefits and you need to get back into the job market after a long layoff, you’re facing an uphill fight. There’s fierce competition for jobs, little chance of on-the-job training and no small number of employers who are reluctant to hire the unemployed.
But here are some strategies that could help you get back into the job market, if only gradually.
Get A Part-Time Job
If you’ve been unemployed for a long period of time, getting back into the job market will be like starting over. It’s very much like when you were a teenager looking for your first job. You have to start somewhere, and a part-time job is a way to ease in gradually.
No, a part-time job isn’t like a full-time job—you probably won’t have benefits and you’ll get nothing close to a living wage. But here are a few things a part-time job can do for you:
- Working part-time will get you out, about and circulating, and meeting people who might help you find a full-time job
- It will provide you with a current work reference when you apply for jobs
- A part-time job could turn into a full-time job down the road
- A part-time job can be an opportunity to earn-and-learn your way into a new field
- Earning money in any kind of job improves self-esteem, and that’s something that probably needs to be rebuilt after a long period of unemployment
- When you apply for full-time jobs elsewhere, you’ll have something to put in that ever present little box that asks “Present Occupation?”
Working part-time won’t be the answer to your career problem, but view it as a necessary and temporary step on the road to something better.
Do Volunteer Work
One of the biggest problems with being unemployed for a very long time is that you can get out of the work routine entirely. It’s not just a time management issue either—there’s a psychology to working that can get lost when you haven’t done it for a while. A good way to get around that is by doing volunteer work. You can do this at churches, charities and even hospitals and schools.
Even though you won’t be paid for the work you do, it can get you back “into the groove”, giving you a place to go everyday and something other than your unemployment status to think about. And much like a part-time job, it gets you out meeting people and making new contacts, and might even turn into a paying job at some point.
Look Into Temporary & Contract Assignments
This is an area that’s gotten tougher in recent years—it’s been degraded by the same factors that have weakened the overall employment picture. Even so, it’s still worth looking into.
Even if the assignments are sporadic, they will place you on the inside of potential employers where you can get valuable contacts who might help you get a job. Also, many companies are now hiring primarily by temp-to-perm, giving them an opportunity to see potential employees in action.
If nothing else is happening, give it a try—when you’re unemployed, doing something is always better than doing nothing.
Work For Small Businesses
Everyone wants to work for large employers; they pay more and offer more comprehensive benefits. As good as that sounds, it also creates a traffic problem—too many applicants for too few jobs. As a result, large employers can be very selective when it comes to hiring and they don’t look too kindly on the unemployed.
If you’ve been out of work for a long time, look for small businesses instead. I’m talking small as in no more than five to ten employees. You won’t get anything close to top dollar, and benefits will probably be out of the question, but small businesses do have their advantages, and they aren’t minor.
Small businesses can’t draw in the top talent—sometimes they can’t get any talent at all! And being closer to the ground, small business owners are likely to be more sympathetic in regard to your long period of unemployment. If you have a skill set that matches their needs, and there’s a good personality fit, you can get hired much more quickly than you could at a large employer.
While you’re working at the small business, you’re getting new experience and training that could translate into a better position somewhere else later on.
When All Else Fails, Try Working For Free
This is similar to volunteering, only you’re doing it with for-profit businesses instead of charities. Most organizations have plenty of work that needs to be done—they just can’t afford to pay anyone to do it. That’s an opportunity for you!
Find out what jobs a business needs done that they can’t afford to pay for, and offer your services to do it for them. This will work better with small employers than with large ones, and there are several ways you can play this:
- You can use it as a chance to show your worth to the business—if they see how good and reliable you are working for free, they may decide they can’t live without you, and make you an offer for a paid position
- While working for free at a business you’re also building contacts and an important referral who may be able to help you land a paid job elsewhere
- After completing one unpaid assignment, they may call you back again—for pay!
- By troubleshooting at one business, you can start doing the same at others on a paid basis; as you build “clients” you’re beginning to develop your own business—self-employment could be the ultimate solution to your career problem.
Working for free won’t be easy, but is a chance to start making things happen, and that’s what you need to do when you’ve been out of work for a long time.
Have you gone through a very long unemployment? What did you do to get back into a job?
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