With a record-high number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits, job seekers are being forced into heated competition for openings. Indeed, the number of people who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer has leapt to 3.2 million from 1.3 million at the start of the recession. The pressure is proving too much for some: Last month there were nearly 700,000 Americans that the Labor Department counted as discouraged workers--folks who have given up on looking for work because they don't believe they'll find it.
If you are unemployed and you think you've tried everything--sent hundreds of resumes and gone to numerous networking events, talked to every person you know and lots of people you didn't know. If you've worked on improving your resume, and cleaning up your cover letter -- and you still haven't been able to find work, then don't count yourself out. You still may have some options.
Here are some alternatives for the beleaguered job hunter:
Start your own business. Economic downturns and lousy job markets can prompt some workers toward entrepreneurship. Tight credit is a hallmark of this downturn, however, so capital-intensive businesses will be more difficult to launch. Good news for the jobless: Some states offer help for the unemployed to become entrepreneurs. Residents of states including Maine, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, may be able to enroll in their state's self-employment assistance program. To qualify, you'll need to be eligible for unemployment benefits, and you'll likely need to meet a couple of additional criteria, such as being likely to exhaust your benefits. You'll also need a viable business plan. These programs pay out the same amount of money as you would have received through traditional unemployment, but generally also provide help in developing a business plan and financial assistance for training courses. One note: A program may require that enrollees be collecting unemployment for a limited period of time. Pennsylvania limits it to those who have been receiving benefits for no more than 10 weeks.
Do an unpaid internship. Most adults shake their heads at this option because they can't afford to work for free. But if you're already unemployed and your days are taken up with job searching, an internship can take up some of those hours without derailing your job applications. Katy Piotrowski, author of The Career Coward’s Guide to Career Advancement, recommends doing an internship at a smaller business that may be glad for your help. Approach the company with an offer to work a specific number of hours each week and arrange to split your time doing work that uses skills you already have--to their benefit--and work that trains you in new skills--to yours. It's a low-risk offer for the company and a good way to improve your resume and skills while you look for paid work. Plus, Piotrowski says, a number of her clients who have done this have been offered full-time jobs at the companies. The trick is to treat the internship as seriously as you would a paid job.
Change direction. It may be time to totally rehab your work talents and build skills that are more in-demand and marketable. Research is crucial if you're going to try something new. Career Voyages, a website set up by both the Labor and Education Departments, has tools for finding information about various careers. Perhaps most useful is their map of the most in-demand occupations for each state. Click on links associated with the occupations and you'll find options on charting a path toward a new career, including possibilities for registered apprenticeships, information on community colleges, or details on obtaining necessary certifications.
Keep in mind that just because a career is "in demand" doesn't mean it's necessarily going to be the right fit for you. Michael Duggan, a counselor and professor at the College of Dupage in Glenn Ellyn, Ill., says job seekers need to consider not only the careers that are in demand but what work would be consistent with their skills and interests. Unemployed workers will often want the quickest training program the school can provide, Duggan says, but it's important to take the time to understand all the options so time isn't wasted in the wrong program.