21 Ways to Cope With Long-Term Unemployment

Worried Mom on phone


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Worried Mom on phone

Pounding the Pavement

Whenever you lose a job, you hope it won’t be long before you find a new one. Periods of long-term unemployment — more than a few months — can be financially and emotionally distressing, causing worry, anxiety, and more. More people are facing long-term unemployment due to the coronavirus, with many companies unsure when their businesses will be able to sustain hiring again. Cheapism spoke to experts in the employment field about how to cope with long-term unemployment. Here are 21 tips for cultivating new jobs and taking care of yourself until you find one. 

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Stay Positive

It’s easier said than done, but try not to let unemployment get you down. "Try to have a positive outlook," says Evolution Coaching, LLC president Kristen Gilbert. "Change isn't always a bad thing. It could actually be a blessing in disguise. Although unemployment creates stress and worry, you may realize there are more doors to open than what you've noticed before when you were comfortably employed."

Working from Home

Focus on What You Can Control

One of the hardest parts of unemployment is the waiting, and the time you have to obsess over whether someone else will hire you. "We want to try to get employers to respond to our job applications faster," says Branden Grimmett, associate provost of Loyola Marymount University. "We wish that there were more openings. We wish that the skills that we had were a better match with companies that are hiring. None of that you can control. What you can control is what you do with your time while you’re unemployed."

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Make a Schedule

You’ll have plenty of time to work 9-to-5 when you get your next job. Right now, it is important to devote a reasonable amount of time to each part of your job search so that you don’t get overwhelmed. "I’d never want anybody to spend eight hours doing a job search," says career and executive coach Daisy Swan. Grimmett adds, "Decide how much time is perfect for you to deal with that one thing. That might be a couple hours in the morning, a couple hours in the afternoon, and some hours in the evening."

Related: 18 Critical Steps to Take When You’ve Been Laid Off

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Daily Goals

Just because you don’t have to clock in doesn’t mean you can’t have daily or weekly tasks. These can also contribute to structure while you don’t have a boss giving you deadlines. "Set a goal of updating your resume by a certain date," Gilbert says. "Then set a daily goal of applying to X number of jobs."

Indoor Workout

Do Things You Enjoy, Too

If you have a list of things you always wished you’d had more time to do, use this time to do them. If you don’t, think of things you’ll enjoy doing that will be limited once you go back to work. "I think even more important than that is to do things that you love," Grimmett says. "If you’re a reader, make sure you get a good book near you. If you are into exercise, go for that run or do weight training or home workouts. Really just pay attention to what it is that gives you energy."

… And Personalize It

Analyze What You’ve Done So Far

If you’ve been (virtually) pounding the pavement with no results for a while now, it’s time to re-evaluate your methods. "You need to look at what your strategies have been and what’s happening?" Swan says. "Why aren’t they working? [It could be] you’re not presenting yourself well on your resume."

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Update Your Skills

Think About Your Assets

One of your lists should be about your past successes. Think about how you’ve had success and contributed to companies before. Those skills are likely to be useful again. Swan recommends job-seekers spend some time "taking stock of their skills, really spending time thinking about how they have been healthy and successful doing what they’ve been doing. It can be tricky to assess yourself, so think about yourself in terms of your skills."

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Think About Your Next Job, Not Your Previous One

Your past skills and jobs are just that, the past. Your next job can be something else and now is the time you can use to transition. "Don’t think about your next job after unemployment being the job that you’re currently qualified [for]," Grimmett says. "Think about building the skills while you’re unemployed in whatever way you can. From that reflection will often come insights about new industries or types of companies or types of work that we might be interested in."

Online Class

Learn Something New

As long as you have the downtime, you could be spending it acquiring new skills to apply to your next job. "A lot of people are taking online classes during this time to develop new skill sets, like data skills and analytic skills, social media skills," Swan notes. "Every business needs to have an online presence and a lot of them don’t. A lot of companies need help doing that, small and large."

Related: Short-Term Jobs You Can Still Get During the Coronavirus Pandemic 

Online Class

Use LinkedIn Learning From Home

Especially if you live in an area that is not yet reopening amidst the coronavirus pandemic, you can find remote courses on LinkedIn. "LinkedIn Learning" is an online module that has hundreds and thousands of skill-based videos that allow you to learn anything from Adobe Photoshop to conflict management strategies," Grimmett says. "All that can be done just from the comfort of your own home."

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Ask for Advice

Find people in your life that you trust and get their feedback. "Have conversations with friends, family, and previous coworkers," Gilbert says. "Ask them what your strengths are. This will not only give you support and positive reinforcement, but it will help when it comes time to update your resume. Spend time reflecting on your skills and accomplishments and envision how you will help a new company."

Make Multiple Resumes and Cover Letters

Tailor Your Resume for Every Application

Every application should include a resume and cover letter tailored to the position for which you’re applying. "If you’re not tailoring the resume and the cover letter so that they’re really appealing to the reader, they’re just going to be tossed," Swan stresses, adding that there are some definite "don'ts" for job seekers. "If they’re not using keywords, if they’re showing that they haven’t spent time to research the organization or to understand why they’re the fit for the position, nobody’s going to take the time" to read their cover letter and resume.

Related: 45 Job Search Tips From Experts 

Job Description

Read Job Descriptions for Hints

The job description contains clues for what skills you need to get that job, in the way of keywords. So keep reading those job descriptions. Even if you don’t get the job, they can be good research. "It means really thinking about how you do what you do or have done, and then crafting a resume based on job descriptions that you’re finding," Swan says. "See what skills are needed and then see how what you have to offer fits the job description. Job descriptions are a great way to know what skills you might need to develop."

Your Family Can Be Your Network

Friends, Family: Be Supportive

If you know someone who is going through a long period of unemployment, it is important that you follow some of these tips, too. "Positivity is key," Gilbert notes. "Focusing on all of the negative will only leave the unemployed spiraling with worry and the feelings of helplessness and defeat. Provide assurance that everything will work out. Celebrate what that person has accomplished and speak to how lucky his/her next employer will be to have them."

Related: 22 Ways to Show Support for Someone Who Has Lost a Job 

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Meditation practice can improve mental health during periods of unemployment, and you have no excuse to keep putting it off. You have the time for it now. "I do really strongly recommend developing a meditation practice to help people calm their nervous system," Swan says. "[Meditation] also allows people to have new insights into who they are and how they really want to work. Out of that can come a lot of fresh, creative thinking — more ideas about even starting new businesses. It’s times of real transition like this that there’ve been some remarkable new businesses that have taken root."

Related: I Started Meditating, and This Is What Happened

Cooking Dinner

Learn to Live More Frugally

When you are unemployed, you may learn you can do without certain luxuries when you have to make your savings last. If you’re out of work due to the coronavirus, you may be learning to live without many things anyway as stores and activities are closed. If you can continue living this way, you may not need a job at the same pay level you had before. "You’re starting to see how much your spending was before the virus," Grimmett says. "I suspect that they’ll be a little more conservative in their spending after this is over because people may anticipate that if this happens in the future, how can we have a larger nest egg ready to go in case you’ve got to support families?"

Related: 15 Things You Really Don't Need to Buy During a Recession

Career Coach

Look for Affordable Help

Career coaches understand that unemployed people may not be able to afford their one-on-one services. However, there are still career courses available to groups at discount rates. Those could be helpful. "For example," Swan notes, "I’m offering lower-cost job search classes and resume classes because I know that people can’t make the kind of investment for one-on-one coaching."

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Down Town Port Washington by Brett VA (CC BY)

Focus Locally

You don’t need to look very far to turn your situation around. Paying attention to your immediate community may uncover more immediate opportunities than you realized. "Reflect on the needs of your local community," Gilbert says. "Don't overlook small businesses who are eager to re-open or start-ups who have come too far to stop and are chomping at the bit to open once restrictions are lifted. In some cases, smaller or start-up businesses are the best to work for because your advancement could move quickly as these companies grow."


Use the Down Time

Remember, once you get a job, you’ll be working full time again. Take advantage of the opportunity you have now to reflect, whatever that means to you. "What I want people to do is use this time to take stock of who they are and what they really want in their life," Swan says. "Think about what they need to have in terms of skill set to have what they want. This is a time to rest. Depending on where people are, if they can be outside, the weather’s getting nicer in a lot of places."

Working from Home

Everyone Is Transitioning Right Now, So Join Them

Unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic is a unique situation. Grimmett says the workplace is seeing many people transition out of careers they lost into something new. Now is the time to consider that. "After this is over, we may find that a number of us have actually transitioned into different fields or different industries or different career interests," he notes. "Right now, all industries are affected for the most part so there will be a lot of understanding of employers in the future for people who made a career pivot after this."

Related: The Top Job Search Sites — and Who Should Use Them