How to find a job while unemployed

How to Find a Job while Unemployed

The longer you’re unemployed, the harder it is to find a job. If you can’t find a job now, it’s only going to get more difficult. Getting laid off or even fired is traumatic enough–the thought that unemployment can stunt your career is devastating. But being unemployed could actually boost your career. Job switchers tend to outearn professionals who stay at one company–even with steady raises. With your newfound free time and these 11 steps, you can optimize your job search strategy and find an even better job while unemployed.

1. Send 20-30+ job applications weekly

You probably can’t find a job because you aren’t applying enough. The most important factor to find a job when unemployed is applying to enough jobs–we recommend you send at least 20-30+ weekly. Most job seekers don’t even send a third of that amount. The average corporate job opening gets 250 resumes — 4 to 6 candidates get an interview. Then most interviewers will be rejected. Only about 2% of applicants actually get an offer. These statistics can seem dire, and they are. But for the unemployed job seeker, these statistics offer a silver lining. It’s not that you can’t find a job because you’re hopelessly under qualified or undesirable to recruiters. You probably just haven’t applied enough.

The average corporate job opening funnel

Of course, sending dozens of applications can be exhausting. When you’re unemployed, it can feel like you have all the time in the world, especially if you were lucky enough to collect unemployment. But every day that you’re unemployed, the job search gets harder. Sending out more applications will help you land a job faster and prevent your search from getting even harder.

2. Track your applications

It may seem like you’re applying endlessly and still can’t find a job no matter how often you apply. But we’ve found that professionals greatly underestimate the amount of applications they’re really sending. Track your job applications in a Google spreadsheet or in the Pathirse Career Connect app so you actually keep count.

If you’re collecting unemployment benefits, you should have already been tracking your job applications. Unemployment offices often demand unemployed professionals show proof they can’t find a job despite actively searching for one. But tracking job applications does far more than save you legal trouble–Counting applications can actually help you find a job when unemployed. If you’re just guessing at the amount of applications you’re submitting, you’re likely to not send enough. They spend all day sending applications and when they don’t get a response, they start to think “I can’t find a job no matter how many jobs I apply to!”” They feel hopeless. But this feeling is just that: a feeling. It’s not based on real data. While you may have spent one entire day on job applications, the total number of applications sent for the week is still probably below 10. Using a spreadsheet or app to track your applications holds you accountable and motivates you to send enough. On LinkedIn, you can track applications under “My Jobs”. 

Track your applications on LinkedIn

3. Personalize every resume to bypass recruiter AI

Senior and mid-level professionals tend to send far too few applications, hoping the perfect role will come to them. However, some entry-level professionals send hundreds of applications and hope something sticks. It’s not that they can’t find a job because of the number of applications–it’s almost impossible to apply to too many jobs. They can’t find a job because of the lack of personalization and care put into each application. 

Since hiring technology relies on keywords, personalizing your resume is a must. Recruiters make keyword searches for specific terms in the job description to locate qualified applicants. Most employers also use Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software to sort candidates based on keywords. Resumes that match the qualifications for a role get passed on to a recruiter for a manual review. You can’t find a job or even an interview if ATS software puts your resume at the bottom of the pile.

At Pathrise, we recommend aiming for your resume to match 45% to 65% of the job description — high enough to meet the threshold for potential employers without requiring you to spend too much time customizing your resume for every job application. You can also use our app to detect keywords in the application. This can reduce the amount of time you spend personalizing your resume for each job application.

4. Send a personalized networking email with every application

Unemployed job seekers can struggle with balancing a targeted search with volume. They click one “submit” button to add their application to a slush pile with thousands of resumes just like theirs. It can feel like sending your resume into a black hole.

Luckily, you can be more targeted by reaching out to recruiters directly with a highly personalized message that can reference your layoff or help explain your unemployment. We’ve found that including a personalized message with your application triples your odds of getting an interview, on average.

Since you’re only applying to only a few jobs daily, you’ll have time to craft a personal email to recruiters with every job application. But you can use our cold email job application template to save even more time. To find recruiter’s emails, you can use a chrome extension like Pathrise Career Connect. Our extension doubles interview rates by automating the outreach process–the extension email of hiring managers then generates a highly personalized networking message based on your resume and the job description. By including a networking email with every single application, you’ll get more interviews and find a job faster. Outreach can also offset any negative assumptions recruiters might have based on your unemployed status

5. Make your LinkedIn title your desired role

It can be difficult to know what you’re “allowed” to put for your LinkedIn title when unemployed. Any title besides “UNEMPLOYED AND LOOKING FOR A JOB” can feel like lying. Won’t recruiters know you’re not currently employed based on your experience section?

Recruiters search for talent based on their current headline and title. If your title is blank, or even “looking for work”, you’re invisible to employers. You can’t find a job if recruiters can’t find you. Choosing the right title can help you find a job when unemployed by putting you back on recruiters’ radars.

It’s important to remember that “title” is not the same as “current job title”. A title is just that, a title. It doesn’t have to match your current or most recent job title exactly. Professionals often use their profession or industry as a title, like “software engineer” or “data mining expert”. Even if you can’t find a job right now, you’re still a professional in your field with valuable skills. 

We recommend you make your LinkedIn title your desired job title. If you’re targeting roles as a back-end developer, make your title “back-end developer”. Of course, you should have skills and relevant experience for this role to list it as a title. But you probably wouldn’t be applying to these roles if you didn’t. 

6. Make your LinkedIn headline your desired role

What should you make your LinkedIn headline when unemployed? Usually, the same as your title: your desired role. If you want to make it clear you’re in a hurry to find a job when unemployed, you can say “DESIRED ROLE seeking new opportunities” or “DESIRED ROLE seeking employment opportunities”. Just be sure you include your desired role.  

The exception is if you held an extremely senior role–in that case, you can mention your former title: “Former VP of software, seeking opportunities as DESIRED ROLE”. But for most unemployed job seekers, listing your desired role as your title and headline is most effective.

Think of this like a form of SEO optimization to make your LinkedIn profile stand out. Recruiters search for talent based on their headline. By making your title and headline match jobs you want, your profile will appear in the recruiter’s search for candidates. 

7. Format your LinkedIn profile and resume to apparel to recruiters

Before sending out applications (and hopefully you will be applying to plenty of jobs now), we recommend you take at least a few days to optimize your LinkedIn profile and revise your Resume with impact statements recruiters are looking for. Your resume and LinkedIn profile will determine if you get an interview. Not your work history and skills–recruiters can’t directly read those. All they can assess is your resume. If you can’t find a job or even an interview, your resume and Linkedin probably aren’t optimized. Talented professionals with impeccable qualifications get rejected solely based on little known resume errors. Optimizing your job search materials can give you the edge to find a job when unemployed–even if your competition has a flawless work history. Use this resume formatting checklist to make sure your resume is ready to send.

To further raise your LinkedIn profile, share and engage with posts relevant to your industry and profession. With your free time, you can also try to write a LinkedIn post that gets you a job. This helps establish your credibility and further raise your profile.

8. Write a resume with a gap in your employment

Just like on LinkedIn, you can make the title the job title that you’re applying for. If you’re trying to become a data scientist, make your title “Data Scientist”. Having this keyword in your resume can help you bypass the ATS and get your resume read by a real recruiter. 

To make up for a lack of experience, highlight your skills and education. While you can try to explain why you haven’t been working in your resume summary, this isn’t necessary. It often draws more attention to your unemployment than needed. However, if your unemployment is over many years such as a stay at home parent, you could mention it in your headline. You could also include a separate section that explains a difficult circumstance, for example: “September 2018-October 2020: Personal leave to care for a family member”. But for most unemployed professionals trying to find a job, we recommend not giving more information than needed. Fill the gap instead.

9. Fill your resume gap

Yes, it’s possible to write a great resume with a gap in your employment history. But the best way to write a resume with a gap is to fill the gap. Try to find freelance jobs or projects to work on while you search for a new job. Even an unpaid volunteer opportunity will help you fill the gap.

Pursuing education and upskilling can also help fill your resume gap when unemployed. You don’t have to go back to school. But taking an online course or obtaining a certificate proves that you’re motivated and keeping your skills sharp. A full work history will help you find a job when unemployed faster–even if some of your work history is informal or part-time.

10. Network intelligently

Intelligent networking can help you find a job when unemployed faster. Ineffective networking can eat up valuable time and hurt your reputation. Unfortunately, most young unemployed job seekers have not built a strong network in their field yet. This plus the stress of unemployment makes it easy to fall into the trap of ineffective networking tactics like sending executives messages begging for a job or harassing existing connections.

You should absolutely keep in touch with your former teammates and managers. Check in with them about their career status and share yours. While you can absolutely ask for advice and help, but avoid coming off as transactional. Genuinely listen to them and take an interest. 

Attending networking events like industry conferences and talks can also be a great way to build your network and stay in touch with your peers. 

Ultimately, most networking will probably start online via LinkedIn. You can use LinkedIn to find the perfect job, build your network, and check in with your existing connections. We’ve found LinkedIn cold email outreach to recruiters per step 7 to be one of the most effective tactics. But your network will absolutely play a critical role. Try to target recruiters you have something in common with, like a shared university, city, former company, or teammate. A wider network will help you reach more recruiters and end your unemployment faster.

11. Get feedback from an expert

The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing and expecting different results. If you’ve been unemployed for months and still can’t find a job, your current strategy and application materials aren’t working. While following these tips and other strategies online can help, but you don’t know what you don’t know.

How do you know if you’re targeting the right roles? Maybe you can’t find a job because you’re making a common resume mistake that pushes away recruiters in your industry? We recommend you get feedback from an expert in your field and an expert at hiring. Reach out to former co-workers and ask them to review your resume and job search strategy. If you don’t know any recruiters or HR professionals, you can ask a freelance resume writer to review your resume. Unfortunately, we’ve found that these freelance writers often lack experience in recruiting and hiring.

If you want 1-on-1 help with your job search from former recruiters, a Pathrise trial could be a good fit. Our fellows work with mentors and specialists from Google, Microsoft, and other top companies. Mentors help with every phase of the job search, from resume writing to negotiating a higher salary.  Fellows usually see 2-4x more application responses. It’s free until you land a great job.

Apply today.

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Patrick Bohan

Hi, I'm Patrick, I write about the job search. After graduating from Cornell, I became a content lead at UBS where I helped professionals at Fortune 500 companies understand their stock options, salary, and benefits. When I'm not writing about the hiring process, I write novels for teens.

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