In the last year and a half, Ralph Ferdinand, who is looking for a job in technology sales in Los Angeles, has been laid off twice, the second time being just a month or so ago.
"After I was laid off the first time, I sent out approximately 400 resumes, and none yielded a job. Finally, I was hired by a person I had known for a long time. I took it, even though it really wasn't an industry I wanted to be in, and then I got laid off again."
Mr. Ferdinand is not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in January there were 6.3 million long-term (without work for more than 27 weeks) unemployed workers in the U.S, which is 5.0 million more than there were in December 2007, at the start of the recession. An unemployed worker is now out of work an average of over 30 weeks, a number that has also been steadily increasing.
"These numbers are at historic highs," says John Challenger, Chief Executive Officerof Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement and business coaching consultancy based in Chicago. "This is a really unusual job market. I have never seen a situation where so many quality people are out of work for so long. In past recessions, they would have found work long ago."
But even this difficult job market, career coaches say there are things that the long-term unemployed can do to increase their chances of being hired. First, make sure your job search objectives are in line with current market needs.
"There are certain markets that are stronger than others," says Wendy Enelow, a Virginia-based author, trainer and career consultant who has written over 30 books on the subject. "If you aren't in one of the growth industries, try to find the growth area of that industry."
Consulting work is another option for long-term unemployed workers, as some industries may be more willing to hire individuals for part-time or consulting jobs rather than hiring full-time employees. This would not only fill in the gaps on a resume, it would also keep a job seeker’s skills relevant. The best consulting jobs would be those in the individual’s direct field and that come with the potential for a full-time hire.
Continuing to network, both online and off-line is also important, even if it feels repetitive. Touch base with contacts every six months or so to get their feel for who is hiring in the industry. Join professional groups on LinkedIn, the professional networking site, which often send out emails with jobs listings. Also, if possible, when you do meet with contacts, try to make it a two-way street. In other words, find a way to help your networking contact as well.
Most importantly, be creative. This helped Tina Poole, an architect looking for work in Los Angeles and who has been out of work for nearly a year, and was receiving few responses from the firms to which she had sent her resume.
"Just a few weeks ago, I called a firm to check in with a guy with whom I had interviewed before, but they said he had left to start his own firm; however, they wouldn't give me his contact information. But since I was so linked into the local scene here, I almost immediately found his name in an article in a local magazine discussing a new building he had under construction. I found his number online, and recently met with him about his project," she said.
Daisy Swan, a career strategist with Daisy Swan & Associates in Los Angeles, says others may want to consider going back to school to learn new skills. "Industries have changed so dramatically. I find the clients who are having the hardest time are the ones who keep trying to make things go back to the way they were."
She says we will also begin to see more accidental entrepreneurs, like Brandi Coleman, a former secretary in Los Angeles who has been out of work for over a year. She says after filling out countless applications with no responses, she has decided go into business for herself.
"I noticed this woman standing outside selling umbrellas when it was raining. Within a few hours, she had sold them all. I thought to myself, why can't I do that? So I am going to get my food business license and start selling bottled water and things at these outdoor events."
Most importantly, job coaches say, try to keep your spirits up. Spend the extra time with family and friends. Join other job seeker groups. Take time to exercise to clear your head.
"I try to set goals for myself, usually several contacts or job applications per day," says Mr. Ferdinand. "When I hit that goal, it is enough to keep me going. I will find a job eventually. It is not about working hard, it is about working smart."