For most people losing a job is a devastating experience. Not finding one right away is even more discouraging, but the sooner you get started looking and the more dedicated you are, the more likely your search will be a positive experience.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the largest HR association in the world, with more than 275,000 members. Our members, HR professionals in organizations representing all sizes and industries, recognize that as a result of the years-long economic downturn, an unprecedented number of Americans have been unemployed for six months or more.
We are educating our members on how to review their organization’s hiring procedures to ensure they do not intentionally or inadvertently give less consideration to certain job candidates based solely on their unemployment status. Nevertheless, having a resume with gaps in work history can pose a challenge for the job seeker. This challenge is not insurmountable, and SHRM members offer the following advice to help you, as a job seeker, put your best foot forward.
Step 1: Approach your job search as though it WERE your job
- Devote time— up to eight hours a day—to finding a job. Set a schedule with daily tasks in order to establish a structured routine. Having a schedule makes people more efficient. Giving yourself a deadline by, say, blocking off 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to work on an application or make your calls is better than saying you’ll get around to it as soon as you can.
- Try to maintain a flexible attitude, and project a willingness to learn. Your old job/career may not exist anymore, so you may need to develop new skills or apply the old ones in a different way.
- If you are feeling stuck, seek out groups of people who are in the same situation. Many community centers, religious entities and other organizations host meetings for job seekers. It may help you to discuss your efforts with others.
Step 2: Stay active by engaging in productive activities
Find activities to show that you are still engaged in your community and focused on gaining skills and qualifications. Activities also fill time on your resume, showing employers that you haven’t been stagnant since you left your previous position.
Personal Development or Professional Development
- Classes at a community college, university or training program can keep you up-to-date with technology and other trends in your field so that you’ll be informed when you do go on interviews or even chat informally with employers.
- Many educational institutions have career centers with well-connected advisors who know what employers are looking for and who is hiring.
- Consider a training program or temporary position, offered by many employers. Short-term positions give you a chance to test-drive a specific job or company.
Development Through Volunteer Engagement
Volunteering can involve much more than planting trees and painting buildings; it’s also a great way to learn new skills. You can design a website, organize an event, write letters on behalf of the organization or have any variety of other responsibilities.
- Volunteering can give you exposure to a new field or allow you to try out a new career.
- Volunteering at a specific organization you want to work for is an excellent way to get your foot in the door and make a notable first impression. If you can show you are a valuable and effective volunteer, employers will think you may make a valuable and effective employee.
- Volunteering enables you to expand your network. By working on a cause you are passionate about, you will meet like-minded people, some of whom may be able to help with your job search.
- Volunteering is a fun and valuable way to break up the monotony and provide you with an anchor while you look for a job. It can also provide a sense of accomplishment.
Step 3: Update and revise your resume
- Understand the online application process before submitting your resume. Applying for a job today requires that you tailor your resume to the specific position. Before submitting your resume, make sure it contains some of the key words that are outlined in the job description.
- Use terms that apply to the specific job and/or industry. Sprinkling in newer terms can show that you’re current with the technology and other trends of the field.
- Include accomplishments—both at work and outside of it—so employers can see how you’ve done, not just what you’ve done.
- Quantify your experiences. Use numbers to communicate changes or improvements you have made over a specific period. Examples include quantitative gains in production or performance, notable customer satisfaction, greater organizational performance, cost reductions or cost avoidance.
- Include legitimate volunteer or nontraditional work experience, to eliminate or decrease any gaps in employment.
- If your formal education occurred more than 10 years ago, consider taking dates off and adding other training or education you have obtained since then.
Step 4: Network, network, network
Networking is still the most effective way to find out about jobs. Prepare your “elevator speech,” in which you describe your skills and career goals in two minutes. Preparing ahead helps you take advantage of opportunities to talk, at a moment’s notice, with someone who may be in a position to help you.
Reach out to family, friends, neighbors and associates.
- Use your connections to your advantage. The more people you know, the better your chances of finding and landing a job. Talk with your previous employers and co-workers. People who have seen you at work before and are in your field of experience can be the best people to know.
- Seek out community groups for assistance, including those for unemployed people, who help one another with leads, references and other support. Programs, both formal and informal, have started in communities nationwide.
- If you can’t find a group in your community, start one. With nearly a quarter of Americans laid off at some point because of the recession, you do not have to be alone in your search. Be willing to help others in your groups. Paying it forward can be of great benefit when your colleagues get settled in a new role. Not only will it help you, but it looks great to businesses if you let them know you started a group or are active in one that helps people in the community.
Use online sites, including LinkedIn.
- If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, create one. Employers use this site to look for new talent so make sure your profile contains keywords that are relevant to jobs that interest you.
- Use the search function on LinkedIn to find profiles of people seeking positions similar to what you are interested in pursuing. Then use these profiles as templates to modify your profile.
- See what companies your connections and their connections have worked for. Those who worked at a company a few years ago likely still know people who work there.
- Join groups that apply to you. Many industries, regions and even companies have their own pages. These are a great source of information and a way to keep current with what’s happening in a particular field.
Reach out to employers that interest you.
- Many companies host open houses or exhibitions to showcase their work. If it looks interesting to you, check it out. Ask questions and make some contacts, too.
- If you want to talk with someone at an organization, go for it. Reach out to a firm you have great interest in and ask to come in and learn more about it. Don’t mention employment in the first conversation. A good first impression can lead to that important referral or helpful information.
Look for local nonprofit or government organizations that can help you with your job search.
Never pay an organization to find you a job—most likely it is not a legitimate business.
- Take advantage of the services that government-funded Career One Stop centers offer. These centers provide free assistance to job seekers. More information is available at http://www.careeronestop.org/
- Learn about local nonprofit organizations serving the long-term unemployed. The programs are as varied as the communities they serve and can be researched online. Examples of these organizations are:
- Platform to Employment (P2E), a five-week boot camp that focuses on both skills development and emotional support. Based in Bridgeport, Conn., it has expanded to many other locations, including Chicago, Cincinnati and San Diego.
- Neighbors-helping-Neighbors, a volunteer-led organization through which workers help one another network and reinvigorate their careers. It has meetings throughout New Jersey and is expanding to other states.
- LA Fellow Program, which places qualified middle managers in struggling local nonprofits in the Los Angeles area.
- Local chambers of commerce, which may list networking events and job fairs.
Step 5: Become More Technologically Proficient
- It’s no secret that many employers look up their applicants online. While most people know to keep offensive pictures and posts off Facebook, you can take this a step further by creating a brand for yourself. Use LinkedIn as your primary tool, but learn more about how to effectively use Twitter and Facebook as a means of “branding yourself.”
- Social networks are an excellent way to interact with potential employers. Sharing information via a status update on LinkedIn or re-tweeting or tweeting at an employer or sending messages on Facebook with relevant information can get you noticed.
- Scanning blogs on relevant topics allows you to stay up-to-date with the industry and hear different perspectives. Commenting on blogs and engaging with their authors are other valuable methods of gaining contacts in the field.
- Joining listserves is a great way to crowdsource your information gathering. People often mention opportunities they heard of or topics they think are worth sharing.
- Although it’s efficient to comb through the larger online job boards, it’s worth noting that many listings receive hundreds of applicants. One way to find less visible opportunities is to research what companies you might like to work for and search their sites for vacancies. It takes longer to do this, but you may just find that perfect under-the-radar opportunity. Following up your application with a message to the company contact person further enhances your potential of being noticed.
- If you need help in navigating the world of computers or even getting access to a computer consider a local library. Most libraries have computers available to the public, and some offer free resources like classes or coaching. Career One-Stops also offer classes and computers for public use.
Step 6: Prepare for your future interview
- Get fit by exercising and eating right. When you feel good you will come across well in an interview.
- Consider how you look. A good haircut and neat, clean business attire are a way to say “I respect myself.” You don’t have to buy expensive suits if you don’t have the budget; just scour the resale shops, and make sure the clothes fit and are clean and ironed.
- Address gaps in your resume’s work history upfront. Offering an explanation prevents a potential employer from making assumptions that may be incorrect. Similarly, take the opportunity to address any possible concerns about your being overqualified for the position. When a candidate raises the issue, this can help put an employer’s mind at ease.
- Never underestimate the value of a handwritten note. Send one to each person who takes time to meet with you in an interview or with whom you have a key networking conversation. In a high-tech world, the high-touch approach always gets noticed.
Online Resources for the Job Seeker
www.shrm.org/workforcereadiness –SHRM developed this webpage to house information about workforce readiness and long-term unemployment. Information on this site can give you a better understanding of how HR professionals view these issues.
AARP resources –AARP’s job seeker page is a good place to start for anyone looking for a job, although their language is tailored for an older crowd. Resources include cover letter tips, using LinkedIn, career planning for older workers, and advice on how to start your own business.
Career One Stop – This federal government site hosts a variety of services including searches for short-term training opportunities, resume guides, and other resources with coordinating agencies. The site also has a section dedicated to people who lost their jobs, providing information on unemployment benefits, family support, and job centers in various locations.
Idealist.org – Home to over 12,000 volunteer opportunities, Idealist.org can be used to search for community-based volunteer jobs. The site allows you to search through thousands of job openings, internships, events, organizations, and over 500,000 personal member profiles.
LinkedIn Groups – The LinkedIn Groups Directory lists over 13,000 groups available to LinkedIn users. After creating a LinkedIn profile, joining groups that fit your interests is one way to stay current with relevant news and connect with like-minded professionals.
Monster.com Advice – With hundreds of articles on topics ranging from industry hiring trends, to interview tips for unemployed workers, Monster provides information on every step of the search-to-hire process.
SimplyHired.com/advice – Like Monster.com, SimplyHired provides hundreds of articles on various aspects of the job search, job trends, career advice and resume tips.