Jacob Roberts wasn't that surprised when he got the ax. The 28-year-old New Yorker worked in finance, after all. Shortly after things began to head south on Wall Street, he started saving money and revamping his résumé. Roberts was snared in the fourth round of layoffs at Information Management Network, a corporate finance conference company where he was an assistant producer. Still, he wasn't worried. "The way I looked at it at the time was, 'I'm 28, I have a college degree, and I live in New York City. There must be plenty of jobs,'" he says.
He was wrong. Roberts's search lasted more than eight months—from mid-June 2009 until late February 2010—before he accepted a job with the online medical portal WebMD as an associate editor. He says the job aligns perfectly with his aspirations to work in writing and editing. Here's how he got his new gig—and what he learned along the way.
[See the Best Careers for 2010.]
Remember that finding a job is a full-time job. After Roberts was laid off, he took a two-week break before starting his search. "I treated it as an extended holiday," he says. "Sometimes I wish I hadn't [taken time off] ... But in retrospect, it probably wouldn't have mattered. I didn't find a job for more than eight months." Roberts took several breaks in the midst of his job hunt. He says each hiatus helped him combat fatigue, but he regrets wasting time. "I should have used that week to think of new ways to look for jobs. I sort of got complacent."
Volunteer for a worthy cause. To avoid spending money, Roberts seldom left his house. After endless hours at a computer futilely applying for jobs, Roberts started volunteering 14 hours a week, which gave him a morale boost. New York Cares, a network that matches participants with a variety of projects throughout the city, led him to community service helping inner-city kids maintain a neighborhood garden. When the weather turned colder, Roberts taught English as a second language at an Arab-American center in his neighborhood. It gave him a chance to network with other unemployed volunteers, who assisted one another in their job searches.
"It's not totally altruistic," says Roberts, who included volunteer jobs in his résumé. "'What have you been doing since you lost your job?' was always the second question I was asked in an interview, and it was better to say, 'I've been volunteering,' than just 'searching for a job.' My line was, 'It gives me an opportunity to help people, which I never had while I was working.'" Even though he's now employed, Roberts still volunteers through New York Cares, spending two hours a week helping inner-city high school sophomores prep for the SAT.
Find ways to beat discouragement. The toughest thing about Roberts's job search wasn't rejections: It was silence. "If someone sent me a rejection, I'd be happy, because at least then I'd know that somebody had seen my résumé, looked at it, and said, 'You are not worthy,'" he says. But at other times, "there was complete silence from everyone and everywhere." Roberts wrote freelance articles and a short-lived blog to break the monotony. "You can't do the same thing for nine hours a day," he says.
Leave no stone unturned. Roberts's search utilized every major job-board website and his entire network of friends and former colleagues. While he originally sought only writing and finance jobs, he cast a wider and wider net until he found himself seeking hourly wage jobs at Barnes & Noble and GameStop, to no avail.
In the end, working with a recruiter helped him land his current job. Roberts was contacted by Iben Krogh of Park Hudson International in December 2009 for a job that he felt wasn't a good fit, but Krogh was able to get him the interview at WebMD a month later for a six-month, contract-to-hire position. "It's a numbers game," Roberts says. "If you call 100 people, it's always the 101st who will give you a job. There's always that hope."