Long-term unemployed people do have a disadvantage when it comes to landing a “right fit” job.

This infographic shows that 36% of recruiters think people are disadvantaged in job search when they are unemployed more than 6 months (26 weeks). Meghan Biro reminds us that officially there are 4.8 million people out of work at least that long  – 40% of all unemployed people.


What can someone do when they are unemployed more than 6 months?

Address the problem head-on. Get your skills employed. Find a good volunteer position that will allow you to use your skills & abilities.

I know what some of you are saying. “I can’t afford to give my time away.” “Volunteering is a waste of time because it’s not a paid job.” “I’m better off sending out more resumes and networking.” 

Your job search strategy hasn’t worked, though. So in the spirit of “if you keep doing what you’ve done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve gotten,” invest a bit of your time in a new strategy.  And think of it not as volunteering, but as putting your skills to work.

Many of my clients have used volunteer spots to leverage their way into full-time employment – because they can list the volunteer work as EXPERIENCE in their resume.

Think broadly about what volunteering means – working for no monetary compensation. There are many ways – and places – you can volunteer.

The KEY to successful volunteering to aid a job search is to know the skills you want to use and then offer them to those who need them.

For my clients, volunteer work has included the traditional volunteer or pro bono work (pro bono means “for the public good”) for a non-profit or religious group.  It must be in a substantive capacity, e.g. handling finances, chairing a standing or ad hoc committee, doing fundraising, running a job search group or teaching something. Use your imagination to figure out how to put your skills to work. Don’t settle for one-off or one-time group volunteering, although that may help you connect with people who can help your job search.

You can also volunteer for a for-profit entity.  Do pro bono consulting for a colleague, friend, neighbor, former employer, new business, entrepreneur, college student, school – anybody who will benefit from what you have to offer, and can’t afford to pay you…yet.  Advantages to working for a business are that you are able to list the name of a company on your resume.

Wherever you volunteer, focus on doing something where you can produce some kind of measurable impact, result, outcome. A project with a beginning, middle and end is always a great way to showcase your impact. It can be a project with a team or on your own.

Doing a substantive piece of volunteer or pro bono  work counts as experience even if it’s not paid and allows you to put this on your resume as EXPERIENCE.

The right volunteer work  can help  you with recruiters and hiring managers.  Most recruiters are pleased to learn that you have created something useful for yourself and others during your “unemployment” – that you have figured out how to EMPLOY your skills and abilities, even if it’s without monetary compensation. Here’s why:

  1. you show initiative (a very good thing)
  2. you are keeping your skills up-to-date (another very good thing)
  3. you’ve persuaded someone that you will offer more to them in value than the potential “burden” of them managing you. Because every volunteer has to be managed to some extent, and the fact that someone will accept your offer and bring you into a team says that you are worth it.

Other advantages to doing pro bono work:

  • You’re in the workplace again, making contacts with others.  You can naturally network with people, telling them what you are looking for in a full-time job.  You become visible to people who might want to employ you.
  • The people you’re helping will hopefully be grateful to you and want to help you find something permanent.  At very least, they can give you a recommendation on LinkedIn which adds to your credibility with recruiters and hiring managers (who do soft reference checks on LinkedIn, more and more).
  • Your confidence level will rise as you use and improve your skills. Confidence plays well in interviews.
  • You have recent examples of impact to cite in cover letters and in job interviews.
  • You can blog or Tweet or update on LinkedIn about your experience, building an on-line presence.
  • You’re out of the house, doing something constructive and not succumbing to the depression that so often accompanies a long-term period of unemployment! This strategy can keep significant others and family/friends from continually urging you to “do something”.

Think about how you can use a volunteer position to gain work experience and fill in that employment gap on your resume, as well as so much more.