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Tips for Long-Term Unemployed People Seeking Jobs,
Older Job Seekers and For Those Just Starting Out

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Introduction

I’ve been frustrated by the advice I’ve read online and in newspapers for people that have been unemployed long-term, for people that are over 50 and are seeking a new job for the first time in many years (because they’ve been laid off, because their business closed, whatever), or for people just starting out in a career. I know that there isn’t going to be a perfect list anywhere, but the advice I’ve read seems to be written by people who have never been in any of those circumstances. They seem to speak in platitudes (“stay positive!”) or don’t offer detailed, practical advice.

I do career consulting for people seeking to work in humanitarian-related fields, and I base my advice both on my own career pursuits, on hiring and managing a staff, and on being a part of various interview and candidate review committees. Using that experience, I’ve put together this list of realistic tips for people who are seeking jobs and have been long-term unemployed, for older job seekers (those over 50) seeking a new job for the first time in many years, or for those just starting out in their career.

Some of this advice is to help you get passed applicant-tracking software that will exclude any applicant that uses certain phrases, or that has a six-month or more gap on a résumé. All of this advice is about showing you would be a great person to hire. None of this advice encourages you to lie to a potential employer - ever. And some of this advice may require that you get busy with volunteering or taking classes. 

Of course, different jobs have different requirements, so not all of this advice will apply to every job. For instance, some advice that would apply to a person that wants to be a public relations assistant won’t apply to someone that wants a job related to civil engineering.  

Advice:


Hide your age
Age discrimination is illegal in the USA - but still practiced. I’ve heard educated, intelligent people say, both in the workplace and in social interactions, that they would never hire someone of a certain age, or that people of a certain age can’t learn anymore, or that people of a certain age don't take work seriously, etc. When I push back against those perceptions, they give me a list of ridiculous reasons as to why their prejudice is justified, whether it’s thinking certain age groups are “too young” or “too old.” Hiding your age on your résumé and any online profile a potential employer might have access to is especially important for people over 50 - and I say this as someone that will be 50 soon. Don’t put your high school graduation date nor your birth date on your résumé, and if your university degree is more than 20 years old, don’t put the date of that either. When the time comes to share your age on official documents, fine - but never share that information on an application (it’s illegal for an employer in the USA to ask a job candidate his or her age, FYI). You want potential employers to focus on your abilities and potential, not your age.

Look positive to family and friends, online and in-person
I’m not going to tell you to “stay positive”, to never lament your unemployment situation or the frustrations of job seeking. Don’t deny reality! Being unemployed is frustrating and even hurtful, no question. But don’t let your unemployment and frustration define you to others. You don’t want anyone to hear your name and think, ugh, that unemployed negative loser. You want them to think, oh, that so-and-so, she/he would be great to work with! So be careful with whom you share your frustrations regarding job-seeking, and how often you share those frustrations. By all means, tell people you are looking for work, and even remind them every now and again, but exude activity and thoughtfulness in your conversations and online messages - be the person people want to work with. Talk about what you are doing - volunteering, books you're reading, hiking, enjoying ANYTHING - rather than what you aren’t doing, as much as possible.

Let people know you are looking for work
There’s no shame whatsoever in letting people know you are looking for work. Post to your Facebook account and link to your LinkedIn profile about what it is you are looking for, employment-wise. Don't come from a place of desperation for a job ("I really need a job! I'm desperate!") but, rather, about what you are looking for ("A reminder: I'm looking for an entry-level marketing position. My profile is on LinkedIn. Let me know if you hear of any opportunities!"). Have business cards with your name, phone number and email address, and be ready to hand those out to anyone you want to let know that you are seeking employment.

Show that you are a project manager/leader
Even if all you want to be is a receptionist or a cashier, showing that you can manage and finish a project successfully will set you apart from most other candidates, and show you are capable and responsible - and it’s far better to show you are capable than to just say it. What jobs are there these days where one NOT have to be capable of immediate on-the-spot creative problem-solving, and responsible? On your résumé, name projects you have managed, even if you were never called a “manager.” Did you coordinate the move of your department from one building to another? Did you oversee the closing of a department or office? Did you manage your company’s or class’s involvement in a Habitat for Humanity build? Did you organize a holiday party for 100 employees and their families? Have you lead a Girl Scout troop?

Emphasize your tech savviness
You MUST know how to use various computer and online technology, and to learn new tools as they emerge, to be considered for MOST jobs, even those that seem to have nothing to do with technology. You don’t have to be a computer programmer, you don't have to be a web designer, but you do have to show that you can use word processing programs for more than just typing in words (can you format a document, with headers and titles having different fonts, can you insert automatic page numbering, you can use the “track changes” feature, etc.? Prove it by doing it on your résumé), that you can use basic calculation functions on a spreadsheet (having a sum at the bottom of a column of numbers), that you can create at least a simple presentation using slide software (like Powerpoint), that you can input data into different fields of a database, etc. List that you can do these things on your résumé. There may be free classes at your local public library to learn these activities, if you don't know them already. List your favorite apps on your SmartPhone as well if you think such demonstrates your tech-savviness - or just some kind of statement that you HAVE a SmartPhone, especially if you are over 50. You also need a fully-detailed LinkedIn profile, to show you know how to navigate an online form and the Internet, in general. You do NOT have to have a public Facebook profile or a Twitter account, unless the job you are applying for relates somehow to marketing or social media.

Put high-responsibility volunteer experience in spots on your résumé 
This is true especially if the volunteer experience happened when you were unemployed. Don’t segregate high-responsibility volunteer experience at the end of your résumé. If you were the marketing manager for an event that raised $25,000 for a local nonprofit, that’s a BIG DEAL. List it on your résumé just as you would for a paid job: note your responsibilities, that you managed volunteers, your successes in that role (like staying in budget, or coming in under budget), etc. 

Put adult education/non-formal education classes on your résumé 
Have you been involved in Toastmasters? Taken an acting class recently? Taken a class in child development recently? Taken a class in how to use a particular computer program or how to use a video camera? Gotten your CPR certification or re-certification recently? Gotten your mental health first aid certification or re-certification recently? Note these experiences on your résumé. These are not only valuable skills for the workplace, they also show that you like to keep busy.

Note your experience working with multi-cultural teams or audiences
Have you worked with people for whom English was a second language? Immigrants? People of a different ethnicity than yourself? People of many different ages? Note that experience on your résumé - show that you are comfortable working with a variety of people. What job DOESN'T require this nowadays?!

Don’t offer any information related to your health
Employers want to hear about your abilities, not your disabilities. Don’t put anything on your résumé or any application that would indicate you have health issues that would interfere with your job. Yes, the Americans With Disabilities Act legally prohibits discrimination for persons with disabilities in employment, and legally requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation in a job that allows a qualified individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform job functions, etc. And that's as it should be. But put yourself in the chair of an employer: they want someone that is capable to do the job. If you are capable, emphasize those capabilities, be defined by those - that makes employers much more comfortable when it comes time to accommodate employees because of health issues (and there will ALWAYS be health issues!). 

Don’t offer any information that might suggest you will need large amounts of time off
Don’t mention kids or a spouse or any family on your résumé if at all possible; many employers will take such mention as a red flag that your family will interfere with your job to the point that it interferes with their bottom line. Don't note on your résumé that you have taken time off to be a caregiver unless you can make it clear that such full-time caregiving is absolutely over now - your young children are now in grade school, you have now made other arrangements for a family member you were providing full-time care for, etc. Employers will exclude candidates that give the impression, via their résumés, that they have many priorities that will compete with their work. Having taken classes recently or undertaken volunteering recently that somehow relates to the job you want will demonstrate to employers that you are ready for employment (see other advice here regarding listing such). 

Spelling counts
For some jobs, a misspelling on your résumé will get you automatically excluded as a candidate. For others, the employer may not care. Why take a chance on anything that might make you look like anything less than competent, capable employee - or that the applicant-tracking software used to screen candidates may kick you out for a misspelling? Spell check your résumé! 

Be well-spoken
You need to be able to speak clearly, with correct grammar, to be taken seriously by most potential employers. You may have a regional accent - that's fine. Don't be ashamed of it. But you need to have a "customer service" voice, one that is easy to understand, including on the phone. You need to say "yes", not "yeah," to say "This", not "dis." Never say "ain't." I say all of this as someone who grew up with a very strong Kentucky accent and learned quickly that how I spoke with friends (with lots of slang, with a heavy dialect, etc.) was NOT how I was to speak around adults. Watch how people are treated on Judge Judy - have you ever noticed how she is immediately frustrated by people that use poor grammar and that she cannot hear? Again, accents are fine - bad grammar is not. Join Toastmasters if you want to become a better speaker (and note on your résumé that you are a participant or a graduate).

Consider yourself an expert? Prove it
If you imply that you are an expert in whatever field, a potential employer will want to see proof. That comes not only from a certification from an accredited body, it also comes from seeing things you have written or created that prove your expertise. A blog could be a great avenue for you to regularly share your expertise about whatever it is you believe you are an expert at (human resources, accounting, public health, whatever). A web site could also be helpful - if you tell me you have kept up-to-date regarding the latest in human resources practices, but you’ve been unemployed for six months, I’ll probably still take you seriously if you have an up-to-date web site that is nothing but links to your favorite resources related to human resources, or if you have a Twitter account where you never tweet but where you follow employment-related Twitter feeds.

Have a great online profile
If an employer types your name into Google or Bing, what comes up? What comes up under the "images" section of either if an employer types your name in? Can anyone see what you post to Facebook, as opposed to just friends? Pretend you are a potential employer and look at what comes up online about you. If you have potentially-embarrassing photos online that anyone can see, change the privacy settings on those photos so that they can be seen only by approved friends, and take your full name off of any identification for those photos, in case someone shares them. Or take them down altogether. Also, be sure to upload photos you DO want potential employers to see, to Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, or whatever social media you use - make those photos public, and use your full name to identify yourself in those photos, so that these photos come up first in any search. Do political rants, religious commentary or gossip you've shared come up when someone searches for you online? How might an employer feel about finding that? If you don't want employers to find it, either take your name off of it or take it down altogether.

Don’t just say you have social media or online communications experience: show it.
This advice doesn't apply to everyone - only for those applying for jobs that indicate the employer wants someone to have social media or online communications experience. If that's the case, don't just say you have that experience - show it:

  • Your LinkedIn profile should be as detailed, if not more, than your résumé.
  • You must have a public Twitter account that shows your social media chops. If you don’t, you are NOT social media savvy - don’t say you are. It’s not so much how many followers you have on Twitter; it’s that you post regularly with quality and appropriate content, that you have public lists, that you have your favorite tags to following your social media profile, etc.
  • Name in your résumé the social media profiles, including blogs, for which you have been responsible. If an employer types your name into Google or Bing, or the name of the organization for which you claim to have managed social media, what comes up?

Fill gaps in your résumé
If you have been unemployed for more than three months/90 days, according to your résumé, you need to show in your résumé what you have been doing in that time. So... what are you doing? Temping? Taking classes? Volunteering in high-responsibility roles? Did you take a sabbatical and travel? Yes, some employers will exclude you because you have been unemployed for more than three months, or have been temping in a service job while looking for a job in your profession, but many WON'T if you show productivity and initiative in that time of unemployment. See the earlier advice on this page if you took a lot of time off to be a care giver for children or adults.   

Careful of acronyms
Acronyms can confuse employers, or even date you. Unless the acronym is WIDELY known among people who are NOT in your field, don’t use them, or have a short explanation of such somewhere.   

Careful regarding religious information
It's fine to put on your résumé that you have been employed by a religious organization, or that, as a volunteer, you coordinated all of the volunteers for a church's food bank, ran a mosque's annual meal for homeless people in a community, designed and managed a temple's web site, coordinated all of the arts activities for 100 kids at a church camp, etc. Any of that would indicate your religion, but more importantly to employers, it reflects on your leadership, team-working and management abilities. But leave overt declarations of your religion off your résumé - declarations like, "I'm a proud Christian/whatever." If you put such an overt declaration on your résumé, many employers will fear that you will make such declarations on the job, to co-workers and customers, to the point of making others uncomfortable. 

Careful regarding political information
It's fine to put on your résumé that you have been employed by a political organization, or that, as a volunteer, you coordinated all of the volunteers for a campaign, that you were part of a get-out-the-vote campaign by a particular candidate, making phone calls and visiting homes, etc., designed and managed a party's web site, etc. Any of that would indicate your political slant, but more importantly to employers, it reflects on your leadership, team-working and management abilities. But leave overt declarations of your politics off your résumé.  

Fix your credit
Some employers run credit reports on job candidates they are seriously considering for a job, and will exclude someone who has a very poor credit report. If you have a bad credit score, fix it! Clark Howard explains credit scores.

Network network network
Go to job fairs - such are advertised on TV, the radio and local newspapers (can't afford a newspaper subscription? Go to the library). Join professional societies related to your career choice and go to their meetings and events (if you think you can't afford to join, say, the local human resources professionals society, cut back on your TV subscription services, or cut out going to the movies, so you can), join a local civic group (Rotary, Lions, whatever), volunteer (particularly in high-responsibility roles), take adult education classes where you will interact with other students, etc. The more people you meet, that have a great impression of you, the more likely you will encounter someone that has a job lead for you.

Support groups?
Support groups for the unemployed can help - and can make you feel worse. When they are helpful, they give you an emotional outlet regarding your frustrations at not being employed. When they aren't, they make you feel worse. If you go to one and find that it is NOT making you feel better, STOP GOING.

Stay busy
All of the aforementioned should keep you plenty busy, and help you in your job pursuits. But if you aren't kept busy by the aforementioned, then do keep busy in your every day life. Limit your TV watching and the time you spend on the Internet, texting with friends, etc. Be able to have something useful to show at the end of every day, whether that's mowing the lawn or cleaning the bathroom or preparing a terrific supper for your family. It will greatly affect your outlook on your job search - trust me.

Also: What To Do After You Have Been Fired

How to transition from a teenage social media presence to a deliberately grownup, professional, public one

Credits & Copyright
© 2010-2016 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.

Please contact me for permission to reprint, present or distribute these materials.

 

 
 
 
 
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Disclaimer
Any activity incurs risk. The author assumes no responsibility for the use of information contained within this document.