What to do when you can’t find a job?

For the last few months, I’ve been talking about various aspects of job-hunting. But what do you do if you can’t find a job? OK, you can start with cutting your budget to the bone and applying for public assistance programs if you are eligible. But what next? Well, as with many things, the short answer is: It depends. On what, you may ask? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Are you currently unemployed, underemployed, or employed and just looking for a better opportunity?
  • Do you have any debt? How much? What kind (a mortgage, consumer debt, student loans)?
  • How big is your emergency fund? Do you have any other liquid reserves?
  • Do you have a significant other or other loved ones (including parents or adult children) who are currently earning and/or with whom you can share expenses?

To pick randomly from the list above, an unemployed person with no debt and a beefy online savings account who is married to a high-earner living in Small Town, USA may actually be in a better situation than someone with a full-time job, lots of debt, and no emergency fund who is single and stuck in a lease on a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.

Everyone’s situation is different, so take my suggestions on what to do if you can’t find a job with a grain of salt (and a side of no judgment). That said, here are some strategies for those who are wondering if the recession is over, where are the jobs?

1. If you are underemployed or employed but unhappy, keep the job you have

If you currently have a job, it may be a good idea to stay there until you find something else. Not only is it better to have some money coming in than none, having a gap on your résumé may make you less competitive in some employers’ eyes. Additionally, the more financially squeezed you are, the less likely you are to negotiate when you are offered something.

2. Get a part-time job or start a side gig

OK, it’s not technically a side gig if it is the only thing you’ve got going. But getting a part-time job (especially in a related industry) or starting your own LLC can give you a chance to earn money and avoid the résumé gap issue mentioned above. And who is to say that things won’t take off and make the whole working-for-someone-else thing unnecessary?

3. Participate in the sharing economy

The sharing economy — also called peer-to-peer, mesh, or collaborative consumption — is all the rage these days. Part side gig, part expense sharing, Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, Udemy, Taskrabbit, and Amazon Mechanical Turk are just some of the ways in which you can get paid for sharing your expertise or access with others who need or want it.

4. Go back to school

Be careful with this one. Not having the perfect job is not a reason to go get a PhD in English so you can hide from the world for eight years and accumulate mortgage-sized student loan debt (cough #NotThatIKnowAnyoneLikeThat cough). But weighing your options and springing for an in-demand professional certificate from your local community college may be just the ticket. Whether you take a single class or pursue another degree, calculate the ROI and go into things with your eyes open.

5. Network your heart out

Networking isn’t just something that you do when you’re looking for a new position. Whether you are “keeping it warm” or networking in a more traditional manner, overcome your fear and put your name out there. Depending on your situation, networking can also go beyond building your career connections. If you have trouble with things like transportation or affording food, you can tap your community networks. Just because your friends and family can’t land you a job doesn’t mean they can’t help.

6. Hire a career coach

If you have been in the same job or field for many years, it can be difficult to break out of a rut. That’s especially true when it comes to the kind of jobs you’re applying for — maybe you are qualified for something you never even considered! If it has been awhile since your last job hunt, it’s also possible that your résumé could use some refreshed language or a new format like LinkedIn. Career coaches are paid to know what employers are looking for. Beware of scammers, but don’t be afraid to pay for results either.

7. Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to fill your time with something that you find personally rewarding, while building your network at the same time. Since volunteers aren’t paid, it is also a great opportunity to take a chance and learn a new skill. You can try something you’ve never done before without worrying that you will be fired. Once you have mastered a new skill in your volunteer setting, you’ve got two things to add to your résumé. Not bad for working for nothing!

8. Lower your standards

OK, it’s going to start getting real up in here. If you’ve cast every line you can think of but just aren’t getting a nibble, perhaps you are trying to land too big of a fish. You don’t want to be paid less than you are worth, certainly. But ask yourself honestly — are you overestimating your abilities or trying to bluff your way into a position that your experience doesn’t merit? If so, maybe you should aim a level or two lower on the employment ladder and work your way up.

9. Relocate

Relocating is another possible game-changer that many people resist and won’t consider. However, there are many situations in which moving for work can be beneficial to your career. Maybe your skill set is in more demand in another area of the state, country, or world. Maybe what’s holding your career (and finances) back isn’t the type of work you do, but the fact that you live in an area with a higher cost of living. Some parts of the country will provide incentives for people with certain skill sets to move to their area, including student loan forgiveness.

10. Don’t give up

Depending on your situation, this can be the hardest advice of all to follow. However, it is one of the most important tips on this list. You may have heard the saying “you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” but it is true. Settling for a job you don’t enjoy or moving to a new city for the sake of your career can be a frustrating — even scary — experience. However, nothing is forever. Take what you’ve got and build toward what you want.

Have you ever had trouble finding a job? What advice would you give to someone in the career doldrums?

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There are 20 comments to "What to do when you can’t find a job?".

  1. Beth says 13 April 2015 at 04:49

    re: going back to school — you really have to consider the ROI on that one. It worked out well for me because of the work and volunteer experience I gained in my field, not to mention the networking opportunities outside of school. You’re giving up a lot to be there, so you want to make sure you’re getting what you need (not just a piece of paper).

    Depending on what kind of learner you are, MOOCs and Lynda.com are inexpensive ways to gain practical skills. I use both for ongoing professional development.

  2. Amanda @ My Life, I Guess says 13 April 2015 at 05:09

    I was laid off a year ago, and have only been able to find part time work since. (Only because I lowered my standards, like you mentioned!)

    I’m wondering about that “resume gap” that you mention. Since my PT job is NOT at all in or related to the field I’m interested in working in (and only slightly related to my past experience), do I need to list that on my resume? I’ve “filled the gap” by including freelance writing for that time frame (which is closer to what I want to do). I’m afraid that listing a PT Min Wage job as my most recent experience will actually hurt me more than help me.

    • Honey Smith says 13 April 2015 at 10:55

      Everyone’s situation is different, of course, but I’d be tempted to do what you are doing — fill in the income gap with PT work, and fill in the professional/resume gap through volunteer or similar.

    • Beth says 13 April 2015 at 14:53

      Try using a heading like “related experience” instead of the generic “work experience” and only list jobs related to the position you’re applying for.

      I moved to a functional resume rather than a chronological resume because my work experience is so varied and my resume was too long. Remember, the job of a resume is to get you a job interview not to chronicle your life. (Unless your field requires a more detailed CV)

    • Marie says 19 April 2015 at 17:16

      I no longer have a chronological resume due to this issue. I list my years of experience in each job, and also use my years of freelancing as generic filler.

  3. Brian @ Luke1428 says 13 April 2015 at 05:45

    “…employed but unhappy, keep the job you have.” This is so atypical of what most people do but I agree with it on many levels. Both my wife and I have been there and chose to endure several years of job unhappiness (but not ungratefulness) until we moved on. During those years though we didn’t sit idly by and wait for something to happen…we took action. My wife specifically by going back to school to earn a Master’s. That opened the door for us to move on. If we hadn’t acted we’d still be unhappy in a dead end job.

    • Honey Smith says 13 April 2015 at 10:57

      Yes, I’m not saying wait in your unhappy job and do nothing. I’m saying that just because the process is taking longer than you’d like it to, doesn’t give you a license to quit in a financially irresponsible way.

  4. Finance Clever says 13 April 2015 at 10:10

    Good tips. Also, keep your head up and have a positive attitude, that alone can go a long way!

  5. Carla says 13 April 2015 at 12:55

    My husband is in the underemployed category.

    1. Keeping the job he has is no longer an option since the company is going though major changes. We suspect layoffs are coming.

    2. He’s considering getting a 2nd part-time job. Its a little challenging because he works 10 hour days, 2nd shift with a 4 hour public transit commute on top of it. Meaning, he gets up, shower, go to work, come home and sleep. We don’t eat meals together or have any time together during his work days. He is starting to look for a 2nd job, but it will be miserable (and fatiguing) as long as he’s working his 1st job.

    3. Sounds like a great idea for his off days. He’s looking into tutoring.

    4. He has a Masters in SpEd. At 55, going back to school will not make sense.

    5. This is where he falls short. He’s a loaner and he’s never had to network before. I’m no expert at networking myself (awkward and shy around strangers). This is something we both need to work on.

    6. Definitely an option!

    7. No time, at least for now. I do the volunteering for the both of us!

    8. He can’t get any lower than where he is now.

    9. Relocating is something we talk about every now and then. I relocated 5.5 years ago for a lower cost of living and it pains me to think that I may have to move again. I can’t keep chasing lower cost of living forever. Also he’s a teacher, its not like moving will get him a much higher salary that’s worth moving for. Its a conundrum for sure, but the option is still on the table. The question is, where?

    10. Fortunately he’s not giving up!

  6. Laura says 13 April 2015 at 15:04

    Excellent article. #1 is absolutely crucial, IMHO. Of all the people I know who are out of work, I’d say 90% of them quit their jobs because they didn’t like it. Of those people, about half were stunned to find they couldn’t immediately find another (better) job once they started looking again. I realize there are truly abusive jobs out there, but I agree – if at all possible, don’t quit until you have something else lined up!

    The only thing I’d add to this advice is that if you’re still employed, even if it’s PT or crappy or whatever, give it the same effort you’d give your dream job. Instead of only giving your best if you’re getting praise and recognition, do your best regardless: show up on time, put in some effort, smile and be cheerful and don’t complain or gossip (this one goes much further than you’d think!), don’t take it personally if you’re unappreciated or snapped at (but be aware if the line is crossed into abusive behavior), and take on extra assignments if/when they’re offered or volunteer for them.

    My job was “eh” for the last 10 years or so – too comfortable and too far in debt to change – but in the last couple years I decided to “over-perform”, focusing on doing the most excellent (not perfect) job I could manage to do. And I went unrecognized for most of that time – or so I thought. Turns out Administration slowly noticed my efforts and I developed a reputation for a star employee. I was tapped for some extra assignments which I did my best at, maintaining a positive attitude throughout. The last assignment developed into my new job when the person I was assisting left – and it’s a perfect fit for me. Now I truly love my job and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It was because I stayed the course, stayed positive, and did my best. Oh, and I make more money too. 🙂

  7. Donna Freedman says 14 April 2015 at 17:58

    Lower your expenses, too. Films, meals out, shopping, sports events and other nice-to-haves should go on the back burner.
    That may sound obvious, but some people think that unemployment is only temporary — that the right job is just around the corner. But until you’ve LANDED the job, clamp down on unnecessary expenditures.

  8. Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money says 15 April 2015 at 04:48

    This is a great post. I can really relate. One of my friends was in a similar circumstance where he felt he could earn more on his own. While he did have a job he took up UBER taxis and started making more in his spare time. This spurred him on to find more side hustles and now he has income more than 4 times his expenses. Great post Honey, thanks for sharing.

  9. Jsph Hosen says 15 April 2015 at 11:53

    Read the book of Job in the Bible……….That’s ME

  10. Michelle says 21 April 2015 at 17:49

    I would suggest never leaving a job if you don’t have one already lined up.

  11. Alisha says 22 September 2015 at 16:21

    I’m not giving up. its a long, hard road but eventually I believe it will pay off. School and life long learning is always a good option. Networking is vital.

  12. Daniel says 09 October 2015 at 17:34

    I’m in IT. I will be 50 next year. I have lots of XP. I wish there was the option of just starting something of your own. Begging for a job that does not want you is not the way to go – at all – especially if there are people who have 1/3 of your tech ability gainfully employed.

  13. Mrs J says 17 October 2015 at 11:42

    In our European country, we have both a sophisticated welfare system and plenty of unschooled work options. Meaning that when you have a partner and a house and one of you or both gets laid off, it’s not that big a deal. You get unemployment cheques and welfare after that. In the meanwhile, you can sell your house and maybe downscale on your car, get an unschooled job , and work your way back up from there. In the meanwhile you keep searching and applying for a real job.
    You can get paid for lots of stuff; giving music lessons/tutoring, selling self-made items, sticking ads to your car, writing articles, playing online games, doing chores in the neighborhood like cleaning or gardening. I find volunteering to be a waste of time, as it costs a lot of time, and the opportunity to grow or add career-related skills is almost zero. It’s mostly stuff like helping in an old folks’ home or fixing playground fences. The time you need for that could be spent on applying for jobs, writing those articles, marketing your skills and expertise to online clients and finding even more ways to make money.
    And that’s why, Carla, I feel really sorry for your dear hubby. He makes crazy hours, is contemplating a second job, you think it’s a good plan to make him tutor on his off days, and you volunteer for the both of you (in your own words). And this all you say with a sense of pride in your volunteering. What do you actually do, earn, contribute – no emotions, but in facts? Any degrees on your side? You should stop this useless way of living, start working like crazy and indeed, look into moving. Maybe you have something of value, like jewelry or assets, you can sell.

    Otherwise good article btw. Thanks for posting it.

  14. brownin329 says 23 October 2015 at 13:03

    I don’t think it’s such a good article. It’s all right. Other than the flow of the writing itself, it rehashes the same crap you find on any post under the same subject. In a perfect world, it would be nice to stay put until something else comes along, but what if nothing else comes along? Sorry. Sometimes, you just need to get up and leave… Especially if your job is affecting your health or it doesn’t make any sense fiscally to continue. So what, you job history sucks. Guess what? Everyone’s job history sucks, nowadays. No one stays around in at-will jobs for too long.

    Not everyone can go back to school and even if you could, how many times do you need to go back to school just to get one lousy job? Especially when, by the time you finish school, what you learned may be obsolete.

    The rules of the game changed over the past 10 years due to technology. People are not getting hired or even interviewed now, not because your resume didn’t cut mustard, but because some bot “read” your resume and decided you didn’t fit the job description. Being creative now with resumes don’t work. And news for the people with functional resumes: many HR specialists will not consider people with functional resumes. How do I know? By reading the comments section for posts like this one where they have commented, “I would never hire anyone with a functional resume!”

    Networking is a joke. People don’t want to know you unless you have something to offer them to help THEM build their business. If you can do that, great. Career counselors zap your wallet with all kinds of unnecessary personality tests to tell you who you already know you are and what they think you should be doing, but do not take into consideration there may not be any jobs in those areas you tested high in or that you may not want to do those things.

    Never lower your standards. Not only do you get what you pay for, when you apply low, you get low. There’s a reason why THAT job is open. And don’t fall for the “It’s a newly created position,” line. Think about it.

    The best part of this article is suggesting to people to find a part time job. Volunteer if you can, but if it looks like it’s gong to be a waste of your time, you’re probably right. Just make sure to get a written recommendation before you leave.

    If you know what industry you want to be in, create something useful that will get a lot of followings on social media and use that to get a job in the industry you want to be in. That’s how people seem to be getting jobs now. Unless they’re hustling. If you’re like me and the issue is not finding a job in one industry, but finding a job with the right environment, the worst thing to do is passively apply for jobs and wait to hear back. You won’t find anything. This is the generation of “I have to make it happen.” I tried it that way and kept trying it that way, like beating my head into a wall. I think I am going to leave my stupid special ed teaching job by the end of the year, if not sooner, get a temp assignment (since I’m working part time now, it doesn’t matter that much), and spend the time I have creating a “passion” project, with a website I can sell or rent.

    Doing things the old fashion way is not working.

  15. Vanessa says 05 November 2015 at 03:47

    I have been for 6 interviews in 4 weeks. Taking with me a presentation at their request showing new ideas and strategies. Great response but no job at end of day. Sometimes I think it is just a way for companies to harvest new ideas. Especially when you find out they have hired someone with less experience. Job searching for aged 50 sucks.

  16. W. A. Swan says 03 May 2017 at 06:13

    Same rehash of everything I read. Well, what happens when you already cut back to near nothing – like no extras like night out or even cable TV. I’ve gone all the way to trying to land jobs in Walmart and McDs, and at 50 you get nadda.

    Any money I get now comes from a paper route, and is mainly used to keep going and keep a beater car on the road to keep money coming in.

    Relocating is out because I don’t have the thousand or so to just up and move. People forget how much it costs to actually do this.

    I want to see some advice for people who tried all this crap and still can’t get moving.

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