How to Get a Job After a Year (or More) Out of Work

Strategies and wisdom for reaching the light at the end of the job-searching tunnel.


Slide Show: 8 Steps to Getting Hired After a Long Time Unemployed


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Find a project. You may not find paid work, but that doesn't mean this time is a complete wash. "Always be working on projects, even if you aren't paid for them," says Dan Schawbel, author of Me 2.0.: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success. "Don't walk into an interview with a period of no work activity." Put your energy into non-profit work or a favorite charity. Blog intelligently on a topic you're passionate about. Pitch an adult unpaid internship to an employer. While money pays the bills, it doesn't need to validate your work: Remember that employers don't have salary records from your previous jobs, Schawbel says.

See, hiring managers understand that the last couple of years have created a kind of traffic jam—lots of people looking for work and very few companies hiring has left many job seekers at a standstill. Nevertheless, "if you've been out of work for a year and can't show anything you've done with that time, that's going to concern me," says Alison Green, chief of staff at a Washington-area nonprofit and U.S. Newscontributing blogger. "The most important thing out-of-work job-seekers can do is to find something useful to do with the time—volunteer, take classes, get active in your professional society."

Practice interviewing. Most Americans tend to stop practicing for things after college, when speech class requirements and stage plays disappear into the ether of adulthood. But holding mock interviews—however silly it may feel—is an important step in job-search preparation, particularly if you've been out of work for a long while. Hiring managers often find that some job candidates appear beaten down by their unemployment. "Keep your interview skills sharp," Conti says. Practice describing what excites you about the position and the employer.

Sell, sell, sell yourself, you big discounted talent! Some employers may wonder why you've been out of work for a year or more, but others may be open to the possibility that this is an advantage. First of all, if you've taken a job at Starbucks just to tide you over, don't hide it. Some employers may see it as quite honorable. And some companies may see you as an opportunity to get skills and talents at a discount (if you're willing to cut your salary requirements). Also, companies may just believe you when you tell them that you will do everything you can to succeed at this job so that you never have to be unemployed again. "They might think that, 'this person is going to go flat-out to prove that hiring them is the best decision I ever made,'" Challenger says.

Act hopeful (whether or not you feel like it). A job seeker's hope that they'll find work (at some point in the next month) declines as their stint of unemployment grows longer, according to a recent Gallup poll. Among those out of work for four weeks or less, the hopeful make up 71 percent. After six months of unemployment, the percentage of hopeful job seekers falls to 36 percent. It's an obvious challenge for someone who has faced a litany of disappointments over the past year (or two) of job seeking to put on a happy face. But studies show that a positive attitude is closely correlated with success at finding a job. Negativity compounds the challenge of joblessness for the long-term unemployed. It's hard to get the kind of fresh-faced enthusiasm for the search that a new job seeker might have, but that very difference gives them an edge.