6 Things to Try If You Can’t Find a Job

People at a career fair
People at a career fair hope to find a job. | John Moore/Getty Images

Unemployment can do a number your self-esteem, not to mention your bank account. If you’ve been papering the town with resumes and still aren’t getting any nibbles, it’s easy to sink into frustration and despair.
You can take some small comfort in the knowledge that you’re not alone in your struggle to find a job. Although the number of unemployed Americans has fallen over the past two years, there are still about 7 million people out of work and looking for employment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A quarter of them have been unemployed for six months or more. Once you add in people who have given up looking for work or who have part-time jobs but would like to work full-time, the number of unemployed and underemployed people in the U.S. doubles.
What do you need to move yourself from the unemployment line to the ranks of the gainfully employed? Hard work, ingenuity, and a willingness to ask for help are key if you want to find a job. The unfortunate truth: It’s more difficult to get a job when you don’t have one. Fair or not, employers often prefer to hire candidates that are currently employed. And as you’ve probably discovered, simply replying to online job ads won’t get you a job offer either. When your job search is coming up dry, it’s time to think about exploring new industries, learning new skills, and swallowing your pride and settling for a less-than-ideal position if it means putting food on the table.
When you can’t find work, try these six tactics to jump-start your job search.

1. Try a temp position

staffing agency sign
More than a third of people who found work through a temp agency, such as this one, say it has led to a full-time job offer.  | Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images

The longer you’ve been out of work, the harder it is to find a job. In a 2012 study, researchers responded to thousands of job postings with fake resumes. Each fictitious candidate was unemployed, though the length of unemployment varied. The longer a person had been without work, the less likely he or she was to receive a callback, which suggests companies really do discriminate against the long-term jobless.
Temp work can help fight the bias against unemployment. Not only do you get a job to put on your resume and money in your pocket, but temporary positions can sometimes lead to full-time jobs. When the American Staffing Association, a trade group for the staffing industry, surveyed temp workers, nearly half said it was a good way to land a permanent job. And 35% had actually been offered a full-time position by their temp employer. Temping can also expose you to new industries and help you expand your network.

2. Review your resume

A man hold a copy of his resume.
A man hold a copy of his resume. | John Moore/Getty Images

Ask anyone who’s ever tried to hire someone for an open position, and they’re sure to tell you a few stories about the resume blunders they’ve seen. Three-quarters of HR managers have spotted lies on a candidate’s resume, CareerBuilder found. A quarter of executives to whom staffing firm Robert Half talked to said applicants’ resumes and cover letters often contained typos or grammatical mistakes.
Resisting the urge to embellish and proofreading your CV are essential if you hope to land a job. But an error-free (and lie-free) resume won’t be enough to get you an interview. Your resume also needs to effectively sell you and your skills to a prospective employer. Clutter (such as jobs you had in high school) or unprofessional details (such as information about your marital status or children) are among the things you should remove from your resume. Useless buzzwords, such as “passionate” and “strategic,” need to go, too. Instead, customize your resume to the position for which you’re applying, make it computer-friendly if you’re applying online, and trade boring job descriptions for highlights of what you achieved in your past positions.

3. Talk to people

two men meeting at a coffee shop
Two men network in a coffee shop. | iStock.com

By now, you’ve probably heard about the hidden job market. Although the idea that 80% of all job openings are never advertised is probably a myth, according to Alison Green of Ask a Manager, it is true having your ear to the ground can help you find out about open positions before others do. Networking can help you do that.
Although the word “networking” conjures up images of cheesy after-work mixers, glib elevator speeches, and awkward exchanges of business cards, the reality is much simpler. Networking is about building and maintaining relationships. It can mean attending formal networking events. But networking can also involve reconnecting with former co-workers or classmates, letting your friends and family know you’re looking for work, and simply chatting with random people you meet. However you network, remember it’s a two-way street. Don’t just think about how people you talk to can help you find a job. Be ready and willing to assist when they need a favor.

4. Volunteer

Volunteers sterilize medical supplies at a remote clinic.
Volunteers sterilize medical supplies at a remote clinic. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Work for free? “No way,” you’re probably thinking. But spending some time helping others might actually improve your odds of getting work. Volunteering increased an unemployed person’s odds of finding a job by 27%, a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service found. The benefits of volunteering were even more pronounced for people who didn’t have a high school degree or lived in a rural area.
Volunteering can help people build their social networks, the report theorized, making it easier to find a job. It can also help them develop job skills that make them appealing to employers. Eighty-two percent of people involved in hiring decisions said that seeing volunteer work on a candidate’s resume would make them more likely to hire that person, a 2016 survey by Deloitte found. The vast majority of respondents agreed volunteering improved a person’s leadership and professional skills. Even more encouraging for frustrated job seekers was the news that having done volunteer work might be enough for a hiring manager to overlook certain resume flaws.

5. Expand your horizons

U-Haul truck
Consider relocating to where there are more job prospects. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Four out of 10 companies worldwide say they’re experiencing a talent shortage. So why can’t you find a job? You might be in the wrong place. The job market is expected to be relatively weak in the first quarter of 2017 in cities, including Cleveland, Chicago, and New Orleans, according to the ManpowerGroup Employment Outlook Survey. But prospects for job seekers are stronger in Fresno, California; Des Moines, Iowa; and San Antonio.
Unfortunately, moving halfway across the country in the hope you’ll find a job can be a risky move, especially if you’re already unemployed and money is tight. You can apply for jobs in other cities and make it clear you’re willing to relocate. But if there are lots of local candidates, your location might be a strike against you. To increase your chances, use a friend or family member’s local address (if you have one) on your resume, and scour your LinkedIn, alumni groups, and Facebook contacts for people you know in your target area, so you can start working your network. If you can afford it, consider relocating, even temporarily, to a city where your research indicates there might be better prospects.

6. Broaden your options

Online job searching on tablet
Consider new roles where your job skills might apply. | iStock.com

To restart a stalled job search, you might need to change your vision. Your most recent job might have been in a particular industry or narrowly defined role. If you can’t find a similar position, your only option is to widen the net (or endure a long spell of unemployment).
Say you last worked as a public relations specialist for a Fortune 500 company. If you focus solely on jobs doing public relations for big companies, you might be missing out. Depending on your skills, you might broaden your search to include jobs in marketing or apply for work at companies with less-recognizable names.
Or you can breathe new life into your job search by learning new skills, which can open up more opportunities. Sometime, retraining for a completely new career is the best move, so you can get out of a dying industry and into one with more available jobs.
Megan Elliott also contributed to this post.