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How to Break Free From the Unemployment Trap

This article was written by in Career and Work. 14 comments.


As we may be currently living in a buyer’s market in real estate, it’s also a buyer’s market in employment. With employers cutting back due to the economy over the past few years, companies are surviving with fewer employees. For any open positions, employers have the luxury of being very picky about who they hire. Any employer is within its right to select the best candidate for the job, and as a result, people who have been out of work for some time are finding it hard to get a job. Because employers see a candidate’s unemployment as a sign of risk, many employers aren’t even considering candidates who have a period of unemployment on their résumé for interviews.

Overall, this puts the unemployed class in a tough position, because their period of unemployment will just grow, making it even less likely they’ll qualify for a job in their field. Even going back to school or switching careers, two typical suggestions for dealing with extended unemployment in the past, may not be able to help workers today as companies have a wide array of potential employees who haven’t had any type of break or switch.

In New Jersey, the state passed a law forbidding employers from posting job wanted ads that turn away unemployed workers, moving towards considering this group a protected class, like a minority. The law as it stands likely won’t help. Even if companies do not include the message in their ads, hiring managers and recruiters can still easily turn away the unemployed at a later stage in the process.

The best solution I can suggest for someone who is stuck without the ability to get hired for an extended period of time is no longer to take the extra time to increase skills or education level, but to find away to become an employer rather than rely on an employer. Start a consulting business in your field. There is always the danger of failure, but at least you’ll be continuing to work in your field, networking with people in your industry, and staying abreast of the latest trends. In most cases, you won’t need to lay out a major investment in order to become a consultant, but you will likely need to work hard to compete for clients.

It may not be immediately clear how to turn your job into your own company. You may not be doing exactly the same type of work you were doing before you were laid off, but with some thought, there will always be an answer. I understand that being your own boss requires a certain type of personality and a strong sense of self-motivation, qualities that not everyone possesses. Some people consider “entrepreneur” to be a word with negative connotations. These are obstacles that can be overcome, though.

Your own company, in place of unemployment, will look much better on your résumé, and if your business is successful, you may never need a résumé again. Turn the tables on unemployment. In this market, the employer has all the power. Rather than waiting for the market to change, become an employer — or at least a one-person company including yourself.

Published or updated July 26, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Daniel

I’ve been self-employed for a little over a month now. I’m glad I had something to fall back on, and I’m sure having this on my resume looks a lot better than hanging out by the pool all day!

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avatar Jon -- Free Money Wisdom

Definitely having something to fall back on is priceless. The job market is tough and it is even harder on those who are up in years. Being self-employed shows tenacity and ingenuity to future potential employers.

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avatar Jake

This isn’t a bad idea, but it’s pretty tough in a lot of fields. How is a blue-collar worker supposed to become his own employer? Or a file clerk?

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,485 (Platinum)

Blue-collar workers may have an easier time transitioning to self-employment… contracting/sub-contracting is always an option. the trouble will always be in getting the word out and attracting clients. File clerks might have it more difficult… perhaps going to a temp agency might be the way to go there rather than starting their own business. You’re right though — it will be tough… and there’s a good likelihood of failure… but at least you’ll have your own business to put on the resume, even if it fails.

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avatar Jake

I was actually thinking more like auto worker than construction guy for blue collar, but decent point.

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avatar Ceecee ♦53 (Newbie)

I love this idea…..hard as it may be to start. People with good jobs are still hiring in the service sectors. My friends have spent the summer gardening for people with no free time, and it’s a win-win. They love gardening and being outdoors, people love having this taken care of for them. Another friend has been taking care of people’s pets while they go on vacation. She’s always busy!

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avatar krantcents

In the beginning, they can keep the fees low to get the work and create a reputation. For the really aggressive, they do a short assignment pro bono to get your foot in the door.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

I have a neighbor who has 5 boys and lost his high paid position. I paid him 34.00 an hour to build a deck. His wife isn’t speaking to me anymore because she thinks he didn’t get enough. (He does) I wanted to provide what I could for them so I hired his son to do some light work. The son came up with a price and when he was done, he said he worked 7 hours and I should pay him per hour. I explained I wouldn’t hire anyone per hour (the deck came out to that amount per hour) But gave his mother a check for more than he tried to squeeze out of me. Needless to say all of my work will go to someone else and they will not get any referals from me. So when my son in law builds his 3 bay mechanics garage at his work site this summer, they will not be invited to build. I was going to suggest him as the lead contractor..

Moral of the story? Be careful about your attitude when contracting work. Humility goes a long way. No one is special these days.

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avatar ib ♦174 (Cent)

i just got laid off.
i do have an offer of some freelance writing (i have done much of it in the past), but unfortunately for this particular project it’s very low pay for a lot of time-consuming work (nothing i could possibly live on) and also in a subject i have trouble with.
however, if i don’t find much for the next month or so, i was considering it just to be able to put it on my resume. still not sure though. (it won’t add to my experience flow)
wondering if i should rethink my preference of trying to do mostly temp assignments till i find something ‘full time’ in case that doesn’t look good either (temp on resume).

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avatar tigernicole86 ♦55 (Newbie)

I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had trouble finding work(you’d be surprised where you can find call centers!) but my boyfriend and my younger brother are engineers who are having trouble finding jobs like everybody else. My brother was actually surprised when he didn’t have a “real” job when he graduated. And then some of the jobs he was looking at weren’t good enough because they only made $20/hr. But he’s since now gotten a job as a contractor but even that’s coming to an end soon.And my boyfriend is looking since his contract is up in a few months as well and just trying not to get back onto those unemployment rolls.

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avatar Sally

If you’re totally out of work and need to get a little to make ends meet, check out this message board for online jobs: http://www.reddit.com/r/beermoney Some of them are survey sites and the like, but some are freelance tutoring and writing jobs that you could put on a resume.

I found one doing math problems (my best subject in school), and have made $50 from it in about 4 days. Not much, but it helps. Look at the referral link post as well. I used it to sign up for Swag Bucks and I’ve been earning $5 Amazon gift cards. Again, even the tiniest little bit helps.

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avatar LeeBee

I completely agree with this article. I started consulting and I now have a client. I am working on getting more. So many resumes and cover letters went nowhere in my job search. Now I build my skills using all the wonderful online resources that are out there, and I bring in a bit of money, instead of sitting at home wasting time on my resume, letting my skills die, and freaking out at an empty email inbox.

Figure out a way to be a consultant or run a small business. People who think outside the “real job” box in this day and age will survive.

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avatar Cejay ♦1,521 (Half-Dollar)

Years ago when I quit I job that I hated and was miserable at I offered to write a How-To manual for the office. The manager agreed and I made a couple hundred doing that. I think that right now I would offer to tutor but otherwise I would have to use temp jobs. But I have heard that even in this small town companies are beginning to frown upon long term unemployement.

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avatar qixx ♦1,890 (Half-Dollar)

I suggest either getting a business license for your contracting or finding a business name to run your side work through. Some employers see independent consulting work almost the same as unemployment. Working for “Joe Schmoe Outsourced File Clerks” looks better than “Independent Consultant” on the resume.

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