Have you, or someone you know, been out of work for more than six months? That's the demarcation line between short and long-term unemployment, and once you cross that mark, things change.
People describe themselves as having entered a black hole, according to Ofer Sharone, assistant professor with MIT Sloan School of Management. He recently organized and led a conference, "The Crisis of Long-Term Unemployment," for approximately 250 leaders in academia, government, nonprofit support organizations and other employment-related professionals.
"For the long-term unemployed, they feel there is something wrong and [think], 'I don't know how to fix it,'" says Matt Casey, a conference attendee and career coach based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Statistics point to the fact that about one-third of today's 9.8 million unemployed Americans find themselves in the category of long-term unemployed.
Speaker after speaker dealt with systemic economic issues and the need to create more and better jobs. Eric M. Seleznow, acting assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, put it this way in his keynote speech: "We need a sense of urgency for this particular problem."
Beyond the academic study of employment issues and trends and governmental policy advocacy, a number of key things were identified as helping individuals caught up in this national crisis:
1. Counseling and/or therapy. Being out of work for months depletes anyone's emotional reserves and self-esteem. Spousal/partner and other family relationships can suffer. Depression is commonplace, and can itself become a barrier to putting in the effort toward an effective job search. Moreover, situation-based depression can obliterate an individual's ability to project the necessary and positive can-do persona to networking partners or potential employers.
Tip: Recognize signs of depression, anxiety or other mental health issues in yourself and those you love and care for. Counseling or therapy from a trained professional, often accompanied by medications, can be of tremendous support and benefit in breaking self-defeating mental thought patterns.
2. Peer groups. There is a range of networking and support groups run by and for job hunters. You can find them in public libraries, houses of worship and other venues. Their benefit can be multifold: the value in just having a place to go each week coupled with the accountability one takes on to demonstrate to others what you are doing week by week to advance your cause.
Needs and leads are shared, along with the perspective that you are not going through this difficult period alone. These groups provide support from others who are experiencing the same difficulties, and afford a venue to hone one's ability to speak about his or her strengths, accomplishments and capacity to add value to his or her next employer.
3. CareerOneStop. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, this website is an excellent venue for exploring career options, learning about educational and training opportunities, résumé building, accessing state job banks and much more.
4. Coaching. Studies show substantive practical returns for one-to-one focused coaching in the areas of résumé and LinkedIn profile development, networking, interview preparation, etc. Job coaches can convey knowledge of the latest trends, and provide support and perspective throughout a job hunt.
5. Networking. Far more jobs are obtained because the job seeker knows someone on the inside who goes to bat for him or her than any other method. The insider doesn't have to be a relative or a long-term friend. It might be that person you meet at an alumni event, a professional meeting, an informational interview or standing on the sidelines of your child's soccer match.
Networking is about building relationships, not asking for favors. It takes effort, whether in-person or online through LinkedIn and other social media sites. Regardless, it is of critical importance for an unemployed individual not to remain hidden at home, burdened by a sense of isolation, fear or shame.
6. Skill building. Research has demonstrated that one of the biggest fears employers have of hiring someone who has been out of work for more than six months is that they have not kept up with developments in their field, and built or nurtured the skills associated with the latest and greatest. By taking courses, gaining certifications or doing individual projects that can be shared online, one can demonstrate both initiative and that he or she continues to be up-to-date.
7. Midternships. Operation A.B.L.E. of Greater Boston is a nonprofit that focuses on helping workers age 45 and older get back to work through a variety of means, but among their strategies is to encourage people to engage in midternships, or an internship for people midcareer. One of the nonprofit's brochures suggests that this "gives you an opportunity to prove to an organization that you have the skills to do the job and lets the company try you out with no long term commitment. They are generally unpaid and, therefore, limited to one month."
8. Volunteering. Donating your time and skills while unemployed is an excellent way to maintain ties to your community and support a cause that resonates with you. Often people can gain added skills and experience that are transferrable to new employment opportunities. And, of course, it is also commonplace for people to actually be hired by the nonprofit at which they've demonstrated their talent and enthusiasm.
Above all, it is important to maintain one's hope coupled with daily and weekly efforts to break the cycle of search and rejection.
Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.
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