Being out of work for the first time in your career is a terrifying concept for anyone. Aside from the obvious financial concerns, other factors such as routine and overall mental wellbeing come into play which can manifest a counterproductive collapse in your job search.
The first (and most important) step to take when you are out of work is to stop yourself from slipping into this rut of self-doubt and anxiety. Below we’ll take a look at how to stay motivated in such circumstances, what actions to take and how to kickstart your career again…
As of November 2015, there were 1.68 million people (16-64) unemployed throughout the UK. We can see how this figure directly translates into the current level of job vacancies in our latest article covering how recruiters are coping with the Skills Shortage. You could take comfort from the fact that you are not alone in your frantic search for a job, or you could just see it as more competition to overcome. Either way, you should be both comforted and motivated to get yourself back to work as soon as possible.
The stigma of unemployment
Dealing with the stigma of unemployment is ranked as one of the most daunting aspects of losing your job. Answering (what were) typically standard questions from relatives, friends and potential partners becomes somewhat terrifying. ‘Oh, what do you do?’, ‘where are you working now?’, ‘how’s the job going?’ are just a few. But while family and friends are supportive and easily satisfied with your answers of ‘I’m seeking a new opportunity’ or ‘I’m changing careers’, employers aren’t so easily convinced.
In an experiment conducted by Rand Ghayad in 2013, 4,300 fictitious CVs were sent out to 600 job openings. Spread across multiple industries, all ‘applicants’ demonstrated fluctuating relevant working experience and educational backgrounds. The only other variable was the amount of time they had been out of work – with some being unemployed for around 6 months, and some for more than 2 years.
What Ghayad found was that managers preferred to hire people with no relevant experience (but with 6 months or less unemployment) rather than somebody with applicable experience who have been out of a job for a year or more. This is the unfortunate and scary reality faced by people engrossed in a long-term job search.
The fear of adaptability, lack of routine and dated knowledge of technology in the workplace all prove to be the predominant concerns an employer has when considering an application from someone who has been unemployed for a lengthy spell. Such effects can be seen more tangibly in the graph below, which validates Ghayad’s study:
As you can see, the interview callback rate severely drops off in correlation with the length of time a person has been unemployed for. Whilst this isn’t exactly a revelation, what might be is the fact that candidates with no relevant experience for the role applied for are preferred over candidates who have relevant industry experience, but have been out of a job for longer. This is demonstrated by the red arrow.
What we can also see from this graph is that once a candidate has been out of work for one year or more, the preference gap between experience and no experience drops significantly. The black arrow shows that there is only a 2.12% callback rate difference between the two. In all, this means that no matter what prior qualifications or applicable experience you might bring to a role, you will only be marginally favoured over somebody with little or no experience.
So the lesson to learn here is to get back into work as soon as possible. Even if you fail to find a role that perfectly matches your skill-set / long-term career ambition, getting any job will emphasise your proactive approach and work ethic. It is a well-known fact that people already in employment find a new job much easier than people out of work.
Now that we’ve established that the stigma attached to unemployment is very real and exists even more so within employers, let’s take a look at what you can do to avoid falling into this catch-22 situation.
First steps to getting back on the ladder
People lose their jobs for all kinds of reasons. From company redundancies and final warnings, to GBH and murder (seriously though if you were dismissed for murder, this article won’t help much), life can throw an unexpected turn into our working lives when we least expect it. This feeling of job loss and redundancy is something all too recent and familiar with the workers of the Teesside Steel Plant in Redcar, with 1,700 job losses caused overnight.
The first thing to do when you’re out of work is totally re-assess your CV. Optimising this document will ensure that any jobs you start applying for will receive the very best representation of you and your skills. If you need help, you can have your CV professionally written for a relatively small fee.
Making the opening statement of your CV as well written as possible is crucial. Think of this as a film trailer. Your aim here is to make yourself relevant and interesting, imploring the employer to read on. Some techniques in doing this include showing and not telling (provide examples of relative work that you’ve done instead of just stating how good you are), listing some hobbies that may coincide with the job role and ensuring your grammar is flawless.
Tailoring your CV to every role you apply for is rather time consuming but will ultimately increase your chances of landing an interview. The same goes for your cover letter – there are a surprisingly large amount of people out there who send a ‘default’ cover letter to every job they apply for, with some even forgetting to change the company’s name. This isn’t the way to make an enthusiastic first impression and will see your CV tossed straight into the trash before an eye even scanned over it.
Once your CV is optimised and you’re simply irresistible to any employer with a brain, it’s time to look at how to actually find the job you want.
Finding your ideal job
It is easy to enjoy more lie-ins, take more tea breaks and make more time for DVD boxsets when you don’t have a job to go to, but you need to set a regimented routine if you want to make your career bounce back swiftly and successfully. Get yourself up at the same time every morning, have breakfast and make yourself a brew, then fire up your computer.
Set aside an hour or two in the morning looking for jobs, bookmarking any that catch your eye. Once you’ve found a selection, spend the next hour applying for each – ensuring your CV and cover letter is tailored (as per the advice above). Depending on your industry and job role, some applications can take longer than others, with teaching, university and healthcare posts usually demanding a lengthy application form to supplement your CV.
If you’re wondering how people find a job, you can’t go far wrong by creating yourself a LinkedIn profile (if you don’t already have one). With over 300 million users, LinkedIn is a professional network that allows you to showcase your work experience, education and portfolio. Think of it as an online CV. In a world dominated by social media recruitment, having a LinkedIn profile is a great reference point for any employer to have a nosy over your oeuvre of skills.
The more people you connect with, the more exposure your profile will have. You could even consider posting a weekly blog that covers your industry specialism. This will certainly draw the right kind of attention to your work, garnering endorsements and recommendations from like-minded professionals. 91% of employers now use social media to review prospective candidates, so make your profile as professional as possible.
Another step you can take to finding a job is registering yourself with a recruitment agency. Recruitment agencies alleviate all of the stress and hassle out of your job search by leveraging their existing web of contacts to find your ideal role. Send them your optimised CV, outline your preferences (location, position, salary), and away you go.
Another method of getting back into work is by taking up a volunteering position. Whether this is relevant experience to what you want to do long-term doesn’t matter too much (although it helps), as volunteering is more a display of motivation and work ethic.
We have gathered some opinions below from professionals who have had positive experiences of volunteering work and how it was beneficial to their working lives. Laura Burns, Resourcer at Inchcape UK, discusses how leaving a lasting impression with employers ensures you always keep your options open:
“Voluntary work isn’t favoured by many, but it’s a powerful way of building connections. It also shows you’re willing to do things which others wouldn’t put their hands up for, which cements you as a potential employee with a strong, loyal work ethic. My advice would be to leave the employer with something to remember you by, no matter how small. I left a copy of my dissertation (a 180 page glossy magazine) with a company I worked for after University, and we’re still in touch 5 years later; I may have followed a different career path, but the connection is still there, and I had articles published by them which I have kept as part of my working portfolio.”
Carl Connor, who is a Copywriter at KBS Corporate, shows that social networking in any way (no matter how unlikely) can present doors of opportunity to everyone:
“I got into copywriting after having done some voluntary articles for a social media page. Essentially, I posted something cynical on one of their updates, they called me out on it, we got to talking and I offered to write some stuff for them. Hey presto! It was the first writing experience on my CV.”
Finally, Evelyn Lingard, Senior HR Business Partner for Merseyside Fire & Rescue, reiterates the plethora of courses and volunteering programmes available to people that will help them get onto the career ladder:
“Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue a Service actively recruit volunteers who then become eligible to apply for other roles in the organisation. This pathway programme has proved highly successful and provided opportunities for people who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get onto the recruitment ladder and also provides them with valuable training and life skills as part of the volunteer role. Would definitely recommend this approach!”
Should you complete a volunteering position, not only are you enhancing your CV, but the business you volunteered for is more likely to consider giving you a full-time paid position. The government page on volunteering placements is a good place to start in understanding how it works.
Rejoice in the face of rejection
After sending out your CV more times than you care to remember, with nothing but radio silence in return, you may be left feeling dejected and hopeless. But the key here is not to lose heart. Keep applying. be persistent. When you’re losing faith, send out one more. Dealing with job rejection can be tough, but just remember, the more you apply for the more likely you are to finally be successful. You’ve got to be in it to win it.
Knowing how to follow up after submitting your applications is useful, as many employers are inundated with applications and it is quite possible that the process is reduced to a snail’s pace because of this. You are well within your rights to send a ‘nudge’ email across after a couple of weeks (unless it is otherwise stated that the process will take longer). This doesn’t make you look pushy, but reaffirms how enthusiastic and eager you are to impress them.
Should you get a rejection response, try to garner some feedback. Getting critical feedback from employers is helpful when it comes to knowing what you need to do to improve. There can be many different reasons why you aren’t getting hired, but nailing a few down can only serve to develop a better you.
Avoid being idle
As mentioned above, it is easy to become disheartened when you receive a couple of rejections. You lose enthusiasm and procrastination soon creeps into your job search. While some procrastination is fine, and it is good practice to take time out from your search, stay focused and treat it like a job in itself. Give yourself the same break for lunch, but structure your day similar to that of a 9-5 position. This will give you ample time to tailor each application and ensure that you put 100% into every job vacancy you find.
Even when you feel you’ve applied for every conceivable job within the local vicinity, there is still plenty you can be doing. Making new and relevant connections on LinkedIn can open a whole host of avenues you may not have considered. This will allow employers to find you, even if you are down the pub having a pint.
If there are any hobbies that relate to your career, why don’t you dedicate that bit more time to them? Furthermore, you can take up online courses to add to your CV and make you that bit more appealing and employable.
You could start a blog. The blog could be related to your field of specialism or about whatever you like. Ultimately it will act as a great supplement to your CV and display a sense of commitment, consistency and drive – all attributes employers like.
The worst thing you can do is fall idle. Stagnating every day in your spiderman pyjamas, shuffling around the house like a zombie and worrying about how you’re going to unlock the Nightingale armour in Skyrim is not productive. It won’t pay the bills and certainly won’t develop you as a person.
There are of course different stages in your life you can become unemployed. Whatever the reason might be, you can find yourself left jobless and demotivated to find work. Your ambition will vary significantly depending on your age. Somebody in their late 20s with a family to support will be a lot more motivated than someone fast approaching retirement age who already have a good nest egg to live from.
So the advice you take from this article will vary appropriately to accommodate this. What does remain the same across the board is the process of application. For everybody, striving to make your CV as appealing as possible should be number one. You might know that you’re perfect for the job, but the employer doesn’t – so that document needs to sell you on your strengths.
Hone in on the power words in the job description and put them in your CV – this will create a subconscious connection between the two and emphasise your relevant abilities (or at least show the employer you read the job description and made the effort to tailor your CV to it).
Lastly, sometimes finding work can come down to elements of luck. The people you know, friends of friends, or just pure coincidence. But to bring on such luck, the motivation to keep working hard and applying for jobs needs to be maintained or, as Samuel Goldwyn once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”