5 Strategies For Coping With Long-Term Unemployment


How long is the ideal job search? Oh, probably several weeks shorter than it actually takes you to find a job. Sure, there are the rare cases when job-seekers find something and get hired right away, but for most of us, it takes a lot longer than we’d like.

There are several reasons for this—one is that there’s a strange law of relativity that makes a single “job search day” feel much more like a regular week. Then there’s the fact that it can just take a long time for companies to move forward with the hiring process. And finally, it might be that you’re relying on job search techniques that don’t tend to have the best results (like only applying to positions you find online and not trying to network at all).

No matter what the reason, it can be hard to stay motivated when your job search feels like it’s never-ending. Guest writer Deirdre Quirk has been there, and she has some tips on how to survive long-term unemployment.


In some ways, the first week or two of unemployment after graduation is almost fun. You finally get a break from school, you still have plenty of money from graduation gifts, and you’re excited to get out into the real world and start applying for jobs. But a month or more of unemployment can start to take a serious emotional and psychological toll. However, there are strategies that you can adopt early on to help prevent and mitigate this, and keep your spirits up as you settle in for the long haul of job searching.

1. Set a daily goal that seems too low.

When you first start applying for jobs, you’re fresh and full of energy and feel like you could spend nine hours a day writing cover letters and filling out online applications. Don’t. After a week or two of this, you will quickly become burnt out and the likelihood is high that you will drop from applying to ten or more jobs a day to applying to none.

Instead, set yourself a goal that you can keep up over the long term. Apply to one job a day, seven days a week, or apply to two jobs a day Monday through Friday. You know best what schedule will work for you, but try to choose a number that at first seems too low; over time, the number of jobs you apply for will still be large, and you won’t run the same risk of burning out. [Editor's note: This also gives you more time to dedicate to each application so you can research each company thoroughly and tailor your cover letter and résumé to each company and position. This strategy is highly recommended!]

2. Know when to switch up your strategy.

It’s been a month and there is still no response to any of the applications you’ve sent out… or worse, only rejections. What do you do? Now is the time to look at your job searching strategies and re-evaluate.

Are you getting interviews but not getting past that? Reach out to your network (alumni, friends, and family) and ask someone you trust to sit down and practice interview skills with you.

What does your online profile look like? Beef up your LinkedIn profile and spend time making sure no potential employer can see those Facebook photos of you at your 21st birthday party.

Have you only been applying to jobs where you meet 100% of the listed qualifications? Check out this blog post that covers why you can abandon that approach.

Look for new places to find jobs—ask your network for new websites, see what resources your school offers to alumni, start looking in your neighborhood, and so on.

Basically, now is the time to start switching up your tactics, whether that means reaching out to your network in a way you haven’t, or moving on to new sources when you’ve exhausted your network.

3. Have other things in your life.

This may seem self-evident, but it can be all too easy for job hunting to become the only thing you think about and to attach your entire self-worth to whether or not you find a job.

This is a very bad idea.

If job-hunting is the only important thing in your life, the longer it takes you to find a job, the more you are going to beat yourself up about it, and the worse your self-esteem will become.

Low self-esteem is majorly counterproductive; you need to be able to convince potential employers what makes you great, and it’s hard to do that when you think you’re worthless.

So start reading for pleasure again. Learn how to cook something new every week. Restart that high school hobby you never had time for in college. Build a bookshelf or plant a garden. Join an amateur sports team. Volunteer. Attend your city council meetings every week. Anything that sparks your interest and gives you something to focus on that isn’t finding work.

4. Consider other types of work.

There are plenty of types of work that bring in a little cash every week or so, but are not enough to support yourself on (or that you might not be interested in doing full-time or long-term).

Don’t dismiss these types of jobs.

Babysitting the neighbor’s kids for a few hours every weekend or tutoring students at the local university in biology will give you something to do, won’t take up so much time that it will interfere with your job search, and will bring in a little money so that you can save up, go out to eat occasionally, buy some new furniture, go out to the bar with your friends, or whatever little luxury will make your life more enjoyable.

Options to consider: freelance writing or editing, tutoring, babysitting, artistic commissions, selling crafts on Etsy, dog walking, pet- and home-sitting, or advertising yourself as a jack-of-all-trades who can organize basements, care for gardens, and move heavy boxes.

Some of these, like tutoring and dog-sitting, have already established websites you can sign up for (WyzAnt for tutoring, DogVacay for dog-sitting, and MindMyHouse for house-sitting) and there are also sites like TaskRabbit that allow you to find income from odd jobs and one-off gigs.

5. Remember you’re not alone.

Seriously. You are far from the only recent graduate who is struggling to find work. This is not a personal reflection on you.

Reach out to friends and acquaintances who are also job-searching. Suggest getting together to apply for jobs and offer to exchange cover letters and résumés for editing. Be supportive of each other.

If you’re not living in an area with anyone you know who is also looking for jobs, well, that’s what places like the AfterCollege Blog are for. There are plenty of other websites (like Tumblr, Quora, Reddit, etc.) where you can connect to—and commiserate with—others who are going through the same struggle.

Keep your spirits up, keep searching, keep applying, and best of luck!

Homework time! Try out one of the strategies Deirdre suggests. Leave us a note in the comments to let us know how it went!

Deirdre Quirk just graduated from Reed College with a degree in theatre and is a recent transplant to Oakland. She loves reading, doing crosswords, and going on hikes with her dog on the weekend. Eventually she wants to go back to school and become a librarian.


2 Responses to “5 Strategies For Coping With Long-Term Unemployment”

  1. Zach Shore

    Great topic Melissa!

    I agree, its very important to get involved in other activities during a phase of long-term unemployment.

    In addition to these options, consider learning new skills during this gap period. New In-demand skills can give you a competitive advantage in your job search and help to open new opportunities.

    Explore your options. Programs such as Job Launch Accelerator offer technology and business training and assist recent graduates in finding work.

    • Melissa Suzuno

      Hi Zach, thanks for your suggestion. It’s a great idea to use free time during unemployment to pick up a new skill. You can learn to code, start a blog, or do an outreach project in your community (to name a few).


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