Some interesting things are happening in the job market and the economy.  Although job growth has been slowly picking up across the economy, and although the short-term unemployment rate is approaching normal, the long-term unemployed are finding life increasingly difficult.  This is due to a heightened difficulty with finding a job if your unemployment has extended beyond six months.

Rand Ghayad (Ph.D. candidate) and his advisor, William Dickens, with Northeastern University did some research on this recently.  Peter Coy writes about it in Bloomberg Businessweek (“The Sting of Long-Term Unemployment” 2/11/13–2/17/13, pp. 9–11):

“Ghayad sent out fictitious resumes to employers in 50 metro areas to see how they reacted to long spells of unemployment.  He found that an ‘applicant’ out of work more than six months had little to no chance of being called back.  The resumes of those out of work for less than six months drew more interest when they showed the applicants had relevant industry experience.  At more than six months of no work, having industry experience didn’t help at all, Ghayad found.” (p. 11)

This phenomenon suggests a Catch-22 situation—the longer the applicant is unemployed, the less likely he or she is to be hired, and the unemployment lengthens, making it less likely he or she is to be hired . . .  Now here is where it gets quite interesting as Coy reports:

“Even if employers do pass over the long-term unemployed, that’s not prima facie evidence of illegal discrimination.  Employers could argue—rightly or wrongly—that being out of work signals something is wrong.  It’s not illegal in most states for companies to factor in an applicant’s job status when filling a position.” (p. 11)

I can understand companies considering an applicant’s job status, but I believe that should be just one element among many.  It does not tell the whole story; no single element ever does.  That said, here are some strategies I suggest for you if you are among the unemployed:

1—Get A Job—Any Job.  Granted, I realize how important you may believe it is to aim for the perfect fit that fully taps your skill sets.  Nevertheless, sometimes just being in the game is far better in the long run than being out of the game.  You can still search for a job while you have a job, and you never know when management may decide it’s about time to promote you into a position that more fully taps your talent.  Sometimes you will even make connections in that marginal job that link you into another company with a much better opportunity.  Getting a job—any job—keeps you connected.

2—Create Your Own Job.  Depending on your preexisting skill sets, your entrepreneurial spirit, and your professional network, you might be able to freelance.  Although the life of the freelance may not necessarily be your cup of tea, it would at least provide you with some income along with a legitimate position to have on your resume.  In some cases folks have even gone the freelance route and then decided they had found their calling.  You never know until you try.

3—Volunteer Your Passions.  You cannot spend every day, all day job hunting.  Take some of your available time and put it to fantastic use as a volunteer, especially for an organization for which you have a passion.  Nonprofits are rarely flush with extra hands and minds.  Even if that role does not perfectly translate to an “employed” status on your resume, perhaps the hiring company will temper its assessment of your prolonged unemployment in your favor.  Seeing your long-term dedication to a cause communicates something about your character and your attitude—qualities many employers seek.  Certainly, no guarantees exist, but I would be more impressed by a candidate who intentionally deployed his or her skill sets in more than one way during a period of unemployment or underemployment.

Long-term unemployment can be painful, but it does not have to be terminal.  Ultimately, it will become what you make it.

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About James Meadows

Currently I serve as a training team manager for Tyco Integrated Security at a customer-care center in Kansas City. Additionally, I am a business consultant, a freelance corporate writer, an Assembly of God ordained minister, a Civil Air Patrol chaplain, and a blogger. I believe we are living in the most fascinating times of human history. To maximize the opportunities these times present, I have a passionate interest in leadership development and organizational success, both of which I view as inextricably linked.

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