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Ask The Career Coach: Managing Unemployment

August 12, 2013

Denise.RiebmanToday’s blog post comes from our “Ask the Career Coach” Column by Denise Riebman (AmeriCorps ’94), Director of Career Development and Alumni Services for the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at George Washington University. Each month Denise takes questions from our LinkedIn Group and responds in our “Ask the Career Coach” column.  If you have a question for the AmeriCorps Alums “Ask the Career Coach” column, you can submit it here.

Question: If you aren’t employed by the time your service term ends, what are your options? I have heard you can’t go on unemployment and I am really concerned I won’t be able to support myself while I look for a job. It’s got me completely terrified, please help!

Anytime you are in an employment transition, uncertainty can rear its doubtful head as you question who you are, what you offer and why it seems like EVERYONE else is landing a job.  First, remember it just feels like you are the only one in this situation but that is not reality.   Second, this is not going to last forever.  Third, you still have options and choices.

These four questions can put you on a path of confidence, certainty and employment:  What is your unique situation?  What are your options?  What are you putting out there?  How are you showing up?

What is your unique situation?

2013.08.Needs vs wantsHow much do you REALLY need to make each month?  Be honest and realistic – cable is optional; food, not so much.  Can you get unemployment?  Are you able to relocate?  Can you get roommates or move back home?  Unfortunately, AmeriCorps members are not eligible for unemployment when their term ends but if you are post-service and now currently between jobs, check here for more information on eligibility.

Panic is a common reaction to unemployment but panic is a choice and it doesn’t need to be yours. Take the time to draft a budget, research relocation options and assess your resources.  If you know your timeframe, finances and flexibility, you can calmly figure out what options are available to you.

What are your options?

2013.08.reality-checkIf you need to find a job right away, narrow your search to jobs where your skills and experiences are an ideal match to what is being sought.   Steppingstone jobs can help you regain your footing (and bring home a paycheck) while you search for new options.  This is not the time for “reach jobs” that you know you could do but your experience can’t back up.  Easy reality check – If you’re having a tough time highlighting your accomplishments in your cover letter, there’s a good chance that you really aren’t qualified.

If you are not ready or don’t need to take a job immediately, look for interim solutions including temp agencies, freelance and contract/consultant positions; however, be strategic and focus on specialized opportunities.  (e.g.    Many temp agencies target areas like higher education, nonprofits, cultural institutions and associations so your temp position could lead to a job and contacts in that field.    Examples include Professionals in Nonprofits (East Coast focus); Scion Nonprofit Staffing (West Coast focus), Careers In Nonprofits (Chicago and DC focus) and Preferred Temps (Boston area, focused on nonprofits and universities) and Advocate Staffing (Colorado area, focused on education)

While lack of benefits and instability are drawbacks, contract/consulting and freelance can be financial stop gap measures while
building experience.  Networking is the best way to land these jobs but don’t overlook both large job boards and smaller niche sites that specialize in short term positions in your field. (

Paid internships and fellowships are other options to consider.  Despite all the negative press about “perma-interns,” people who are caught in a never ending internship cycle, I know many who transitioned their internship into a full time job at that same organization or leveraged it into a position with another connected employer.  LinkedIn and Idealist are two great sources of internships but any basic Google search for “paid internship” and the field you are interested in will turn up countless options.

Finally, there is nothing wrong with taking a job at your local coffee shop, bookstore or restaurant.  Bills need to be paid and you need to eat.  When I first moved to Boston, to make ends meet, I simultaneously temped at a university and worked at flower shop for 5 months before securing a position at a nonprofit that my temp job supervisor helped me land through her connections to the Executive Director!

What are you putting out there?

While 90% of people think their resume is strong; recruiters say that only 5% of resumes stand out according to a recent study.  While there’s no magic bullet – no ideal number of LinkedIn connections, no perfect attention grabbing resume, no transformative networking pitch – there are tons of resources to help you stand out.  Don’t reinvent the wheel and make it hard on yourself.   Check out relevant LinkedIn profiles as models, not to replicate, but to emulate.  Borrow books and search online to see examples of resumes and cover letters that would stand out in the 7-10 seconds that recruiters give to applications.  I know it can be challenging but take the time to get your documents in that 5% stand-out stack!

Historically only about 20% of all jobs are posted so if you are putting 100% of your effort into 20% of all opportunities…well, you can do the math and figure out your odds.  Rate your networking initiative from 1-10 and if you honestly can’t say that you are at least an 8, then it is time to turn it up.  I’ve seen too many people frustrated that they can’t land a job but then rate themselves a 5 and complain about how hard networking is.  Find a way to make it work for you and know that the reality is that most likely you are going to have push out of your comfort zone to get the real benefits of networking.

How are you showing up?

2013.08.Desk StandIn one of my favorite movies, The Dead Poet’s Society, there is a famous scene where the teacher challenges his students to stand on his desk in the middle of the room.  He proclaims to them, “we must constantly look at things in a different way…you see, the world looks very different from up here.”  All he did was move a few feet, yet everything shifted.  And as each student took their stand on his desk, you could see the shift in their body language and hear the growing confidence in their voice.

Think about what you can shift in how you view your current unemployment situation and how that change in perspective could affect your job search.  The research is overwhelming on the successful impact of a positive mindset, “emotional contagiousness” and confident body language.  By changing your perspective, you will show up differently at networking events, informational meetings, interviews and career fairs.  I know first-hand that being between jobs is not easy or fun, but now is not the time for panic, desperation or giving up.  Shift how you see yourself and your situation, and I can almost guarantee that you will open up new professional opportunities!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Joshua permalink
    August 14, 2013 5:51 pm

    Thank you so much Denise for this guest blog post. Having just finished out three years of service I found this to be not only helpful but also made me breathe a little easier. Again, thank you!

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