10 tips for 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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Beth
Beth
5 years ago

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.

Amanda @ My Life, I Guess
Amanda @ My Life, I Guess
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
5 years ago

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
Beth
5 years ago

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
Marie
5 years ago

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.

Brian @ Luke1428
Brian @ Luke1428
5 years ago

“…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
Honey Smith
5 years ago

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.

Finance Clever
Finance Clever
5 years ago

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

Carla
Carla
5 years ago

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… Read more »

Laura
Laura
5 years ago

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,… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago

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.

Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money
Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money
5 years ago

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.

Jsph Hosen
Jsph Hosen
5 years ago

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

Michelle
Michelle
5 years ago

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

Alisha
Alisha
5 years ago

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.

Daniel
Daniel
5 years ago

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.

Mrs J
Mrs J
5 years ago

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,… Read more »

brownin329
brownin329
4 years ago

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… Read more »

Vanessa
Vanessa
4 years ago

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.

W. A. Swan
W. A. Swan
3 years ago

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… Read more »

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