Practical Ideas For Job Seekers Who Think They've Tried Everything

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Ben has reason to be depressed. "Laid off" twice, not sure how strong a reference his ex-boss will give him, he's 50 years old and overweight, been job-hunting for eight months, having gotten a total of three interviews and batting 0 for 3. He blames it on his having mainly soft skills, a widely held skill-set.

His wife, too, is struggling despite great credentials. She's tried to land a full-time college teaching job but the best she's ever landed has been a part-time community college instructor position, no benefits. She said, "It's ironic that I teach a class in which I champion worker rights yet my own employer pays me what ends up being little more than minimum wage and hires me 49% time to avoid paying benefits."

At 50, they feel the need to pay for health insurance. They're behind on their rent and their landlord is making eviction noises. Ben has networked, answered countless ads, even cold-called employers that are not advertising a job, all to no avail. He feels he's run out of options. He's beyond depressed; he's thought of suicide.

Indeed, the suicide rate among middle-aged people is up 30% between 1999 and 2010, more than the number that die in car accidents, with men being more than three times as likely to kill themselves. While there are many causes, the researchers specifically cite the economic downturn and resulting financial stress.

Realistic hope

Long-term unemployed job seekers have more options than they may think:

Circle back. The odds of your network having a job lead for you at any given moment is tiny. If it's been more than a month, circle back to everyone. Here's sample wording:

Susie, I appreciate your having offered to keep your ears open for me. By any chance, is there someone you think I should talk with? If you'll recall, I'm looking for a people or project management job, especially in the health care or environmental space but I'm flexible. I'm even open to a launchpad job, one that's lower-level but when I prove myself, I could move up.

If your contact doesn't have a lead for you, ask, "Would you mind continuing to keep you ears open and if I'm still looking in a month, I circle back to you?"

Change job targets? Perhaps you've been overreaching. If so, should you drop down your search, say from management to individual contributor positions. Or have you been pursuing a job in a field with too few openings or with great competition. For example, sexy fields like the environment, entertainment, biotech, fashion, and journalism tend to be tougher than, for example, the transportation, food, or housing industries.

Consider enjoyable interim jobs.
Sitting at home may make you more depressed. So you might want to apply for jobs for which the employer would be lucky to have you. Even some low-level jobs can be quite enjoyable. Any of these appeal?
  • Sports fans might enjoy selling beer and hot dogs at the ball park
  • Book lovers might enjoy working at a bookstore or in a library, even if just shelving books.
  • Fashionistas might enjoy working at a favorite boutique or department store.
  • Plant lovers might want to do landscaping or garden maintenance.
  • Café lovers might seek a job as a waitperson or even busser.
  • The most fun job I ever had was as a New York City cab driver. I got to meet all sorts of people, I enjoy driving and that I could double-park when I wanted to grab a great slice of pizza.
  • Some people don't mind or even like working in a grungy job: janitorial, warehouse, even a water treatment plant.

Walk in. If someone phoned you asking if you wouldn't mind taking care of a newborn temporarily, you might well say no. But if the doorbell rang and there was a cradle with a newborn, wouldn't you be more likely to take it in?

Same is true of job seekers. It's easy to say no to a voice on the phone and especially to an email. It's harder to brush away a flesh-and-blood human being, especially one who politely asks for help. That probably won't work at a large organization where there's a phalanx of security to keep you out but, for example, in an office building in which many businesses have an office, it might be worth going door-to-door.

Imagine how you'd feel if you were the receptionist and someone walked in and said, for example:

I'm an accountant or I should say I was. Although I got good evaluations, I got laid off. So I'm looking for a job. I know the standard way is to answer ads but I live near here and so I thought I'd drop in and see if I could get some advice and maybe even an interview. I'm wondering if you might allow me to speak with someone?

Is it not possible you'd say yes? Certainly, if you're a job seeker, you have nothing to lose. You can survive "No." You can survive 20 "Nos." And all you need is one decent job offer.

Start an ultra-low-cost business
At least as an interim, start a service business that has near-zero startup costs. Examples:
  • Relationship ad consultant. Help people craft their ad: how they describe themselves, the sort of partner they're looking for, and take photos likely to attract their desired type of partner.
  • Grief coach. People who lose a loved one, even a pet, may want support in getting past their sadness. They may not need a psychotherapist. They may just need a good listener who's gently encouraging.
  • Sports tutor. Many high school athletes want to up their game, both for now and because they dream of a college sports scholarship and their parents will spend to boost their child's chances.

Find support
For some people, support is the only thing that keeps them from giving up. Options:
  • A friend to check in with daily.
  • A job-search support group. Here's a link to a directory of them.
  • Religion. As in 12-step programs, it helps some people to surrender some control to a higher power. They feel, "If I'm doing my part and still am not finding a job, maybe it's God's will. When God decides it's time, I'll land a job, perhaps a better one than I would have gotten earlier."

Persistence
It's clichéd but true that even the most successful people fail and usually have failed a lot. Key is how they respond to failure: curl up in bed or be resilient. Here are a few quotes that may drive that home:

"Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in."
Bill Bradley

"When you feel tired, it means you've tried. It doesn't mean you quit trying."
Constance Chuks Friday

"I tried and failed. I tried again and again and succeeded."
Epitaph on Gail Borden's gravestone.

"To make our way, we must have firm resolve, persistence, tenacity. We must gear ourselves to work hard all the way. We can never let up."
Ralph Bunche

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent." Calvin Coolidge

I can leave you with no better advice.
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