Esquire Recruiting What To Do When Unemployed

What To Do When Unemployed for a Long Time

Have you been unemployed for longer than six months and struggling to get noticed? Do you proofread, dress well, send thank-you notes, and still struggle to figure out why you haven’t been hired? According to research from Northeastern University, long-term unemployment works against you in the hiring process. A break of six months of more greatly decreases your ranking among job candidates. So what should you do when you find yourself unemployed for a long time?

1. Volunteer

Even if it’s not totally related to your field, volunteering could open up new opportunities in a related field that you may enjoy. For most members of the workforce, fitting volunteer positions range from pro-bono accounting to teaching job skills to underprivileged populations. Even if you think you’re in too obscure a specialty to find a good volunteer experience, try to find just one aspect of your desired job that can be improved or demonstrated through charity work. Keep in mind that anything can “look good” if you can sell it; think of this as a chance to find a good “example of a time when____” for interviews. You’ll also build your network with volunteer managers and your peers– and maybe find a gushing new reference.

2. Research your own industry from the outside perspective

Working in one place for too long can make you out-of-touch in a new environment. Take advantage of your free time during unemployment and make sure you’re an expert on other new developments in your field, other parts of the sector, up-and-coming individuals, and nearby conferences you can attend.

3. Get up-to-date on the job search market

Times change fast; what companies are looking for now may not be the same as a year ago. If you’re struggling to figure out why you’re not getting hired, take a look at what basic skills your industry generally requires. Forget ‘what to do when unemployed;’ what you really need to know is ‘what to do– or not to do– when interviewing.’ Take a few minutes to research good questions to ask, as well as follow-up etiquette and expectations. For competitive positions, even one newly-established faux-pas may be the difference between getting that job and remaining unemployed. Fashion also changes fast, so if you’re looking for a high-level job or just looking to make a stellar impression, catch up on high corporate fashion– or just fashion in general– for your interviews.

4. Take classes

This also counts if you teach yourself new skills (see our tips for finding self-help sites). If you’re a little bit shaky on basic computer skills, odds are you should start with that. If you get through all of your industry and market research and recognize a demand for other competencies you don’t have, they should become your priority.

5. Start your own business

If you have job skills that you can market on your own, why wait for someone else to hire you? Anything from an Etsy shop to freelance consulting or tutoring can be shaped into learning and leadership experiences. Even if you don’t want to work for yourself, a brief entrepreneurial experience can give you a step up in the job market and solve the problem of unemployment bias.

6. Take a temp position

Why sit around wondering what to do with your unemployment when you can be back at work instead? Even temporary placements are great learning and networking opportunities. Since each company is different, a few short temp gigs can be turned into examples of flexibility, versatility, and all the new programs and tasks you’re now proficient at. At the end of the day, a temporary job still fills the gaps in your resume and pushes back on the stigma of long-term unemployment.


While joblessness can be stressful for any number of reasons, the feeling of “what do I do now?” shouldn’t be one of them. With so many ways to improve your skills and resume, there’s no reason long-term unemployment bias should work against you.

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