What to Do if You Can't Find a Job

US News

You've been sending out applications, building your network, cultivating an impressive online presence and everything else you've heard you should do in a job search, but what if you still can't find a job? That can be a terrifying spot to be in -- but don't panic. Here are five steps you can take if your job search isn't producing results.

1. Temp. Temp agencies aren't the reliable solution to being out of work that they used to be when the economy was better, but they're still an option worth exploring. Your chances of getting temp work go up if you have open availability and are willing to do a wide range of work, so try to be as flexible with temp agencies as possible. If you get those first few jobs, you can demonstrate that you'll show up reliably and cheerfully, which will make you more likely to start getting regular calls.

Temping will, at a minimum, give you a paycheck and something to put on your résumé, but it can also build connections that can help you find job leads down the road. Some temp roles are even temp-to-perm, which can give you an inside track on a more permanent position.

2. Volunteer. Volunteering can keep your skills up-to-date, give you recent work to put on your résumé where you might otherwise have a period of no activity, expose you to new fields and expand your contacts. It can also give you early leads on upcoming openings and build your network of people who are able to vouch for your work.

Volunteering can also be a great way to build a track record in a new area. For instance, if you want to do Web design but don't have any work experience in that area, you might find a small nonprofit that would welcome your skills -- allowing you to build your portfolio and point to real-life projects in interviews. (In general, if you're interested in substantive work, you'll have more luck if you reach out to smaller organizations. These organizations usually have greater needs for volunteers and are more willing to take a chance on someone who might be untested.)

Of course, it's important to remember that volunteering isn't a guarantee of anything more, and you shouldn't volunteer if you'll be upset that it doesn't lead to paid work. But if you're willing to put in the time because you support the organization where you're working, it can be rewarding in multiple ways.

3. Revamp your résumé . If you're not getting interviews, there's a good chance that your application materials are part of the problem -- and if you're like most job-seekers, revamping your résumé could make an enormous difference. Most job candidates' résumés simply list their job duties at each job they've held (like "maintained website" or "managed accounts receivable"). That only tells the hiring manager what your job description was; it doesn't reveal what hiring managers care most about, which is how you performed at those jobs. Try revising your résumé to focus on what you achieved at each job (such as "increased Web traffic by 30 percent over 12 months" or "built reputation for working successfully with previously unhappy clients").

4. Revamp your cover letter. If your cover letter mainly summarizes the information in your résumé, it's not doing its job. Your cover letter should add something new to your application about why you'd be great at the job, not just summarize your employment history. Here's a trick: Write your cover letter as if you were writing to a friend about why you'd be great for the position. By adding some personality (and staying away from summarizing your work history), you're likely to grab an employer's attention and get more interviews.

5. Apply for fewer openings, but spend more time customizing your application. When you're feeling desperate, it's a natural impulse to apply for everything you can find. But while this sounds counterintuitive, you might actually be lowering your chances by doing that. Your chances of getting called for an interview go up significantly if you take the time to customize your cover letter for each opening you apply for. But you can't write 15 truly customized cover letters a day -- which means that if you're applying for hundreds of jobs a month, you're sending applications that are overly generic. Try applying for fewer jobs and putting more time into your application for each, and see if you don't see a difference.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.

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