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Long-Term Unemployed: Why Can’t I Find a Job?

If you’ve been unemployed for six months or more, you’ve entered the territory of long-term unemployment, and it doesn’t feel good. Here are some ways to get unstuck and maybe think differently about your marketability and expectations.

About 20% of unemployed U.S. workers have been out of a job long-term. Many more are employed part-time but would like full-time jobs. It’s a frustrating experience, and usually not one with a simple solution. The longer you’re out of a job, the harder it may be to convince employers that you’re “employable,” and your ability to find a job can get even more difficult.

We recently asked our executive team how they feel job seekers who have been unemployed long-term might be able to free themselves from the stalemate. We turned their advice into questions you should ask yourself if you’re facing such a predicament:

Are you closing the gap? Long-term unemployed job seekers often have two gaps on their resumes: an employment gap and a skills gap. You may need to:

Are you self-screening too much? Don’t take yourself out of the running. Be brave enough to risk failure. Let’s use gender as an example: Years ago, Hewlett Packard released a study that found women tend to apply for a new job only when they meet 100% of the listed criteria, compared to men, who tend to apply as long as they meet 60%. Harvard Business Review dug deeper and found that women outrank men on holding back, not because they didn’t feel they could do the job, but because they 1) didn’t want to put themselves out there and fail and 2) didn’t want to bend the rules. More recent research from LinkedIn shows that the playing field is a bit more equal now, but women still tend to screen more and end up applying to 20% fewer jobs than men. Whatever your gender or unease, consider applying for jobs outside of your comfort zone.

Are you following the instructions? Many job applicants (this study says 50%) fail to follow instructions when applying for a job. The mistake can be critical. Particularly with so much automation and AI in place, a simple mistake in completing or submitting a job application could mean it never sees the light of day. You also may be surprised how often those instructions are a test to see if you pay attention. Did you ever have a teacher who did that for school assignments or tests? It’s the same concept. Wisebread offers other fascinating examples here. If you’re not detail-oriented, you may want to ask a friend to check through your applications before you submit them to be sure you didn’t miss any key steps.

Is your social media SFW (safe for work)? A survey conducted by CareerBuilder found that 54% of employers ruled out a candidate due to finding something on their social media profile that they didn’t like. On the other hand, a 2021 Harris poll found that 21% of hiring decision-makers are not likely to consider a candidate who does have a social media presence at all. Oversharing can be a problem on social media, but so can having no presence. Strike a balance by cleaning up your public-facing social media, ensuring you’re not sharing things that damage your reputation. But do have a searchable and helpful profile on LinkedIn (here’s how). About 90% of recruiters search for candidates on LinkedIn to fill company job openings.

Are you polite and professional? We all have bad days or can make a wrong impression from time to time. But if you notice a pattern of getting to the interview stage and then being turned down or ghosted, you may be coming off as rude or unprofessional. This can be a very sensitive area to tackle, but it’s worth exploring if you feel it contributes to being unemployed. Consider practicing mock interviews with a friend or recruiter and ask them for their honest feedback on where they sense the friction: Could it be your attitude? Body language? Sense of humor, or something else entirely?

Are you responsive? Are you missing or ignoring important emails or calls from potential employers? Job candidates do it often: About 84% admit to ghosting an employer. At these levels, employers and recruiters won’t wait long to find out why you’re not responding…they’ll just move on. Be sure to check your email (Including the spam folder!) and your voicemail regularly. If you cannot check or respond for a few days at a time, set those expectations with an email autoresponder, in your voicemail message, or when you communicate with the hiring manager or recruiter.

Do you know your interview strengths and weaknesses? Another reason mock interviews are invaluable! Something else during your face-to-face interviews could be turning off potential employers. Be sure to:

How’s your follow-up? Let’s say you seem to routinely make it through the interview process with flying colors, only to be cut short at the last stage. Maybe you’re always the runner-up. Or, perhaps there’s something in your background check that scares off potential employers. Consider these tips on how you might tackle issues that are preventing you from reaching the finish line.  

Are you balancing your expectations? Your perfect job does exist, but it may be something unexpected. Be open to new fields, industries, or job roles, particularly if your skills are outdated or your current industry is stressed by this strange economy. Be realistic when it comes to negotiating salary and perks as well. Do your research beforehand to know whether your expectations align with reality.

Being unemployed long-term can be painfully disheartening. Don’t be afraid to connect with a reputable recruiter who can help you troubleshoot your way to a new job that fits like a glove.