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?

More about...Career, Budgeting, Frugality

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