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What to Do When Your Job-Search Stalls

Tips to help you stay focused and avoid frustration

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After being laid off from her job in the biotechnology field, Martha Lemieux, 57, of Athol, Massachusetts, immediately began networking and applying for new positions. Given her 35 years of experience, she anticipated landing a new position within a few months. Instead, Lemieux found herself applying for numerous jobs only to be met with silence from prospective employers.

“This was the first time in my career where I didn’t have a new job lined up, so I had no idea what to expect,” Lemieux says. “Over five months, I applied for 96 jobs, had five interviews and experienced some depression combined with an overwhelming sense of not being valued.”

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Searching for a new job can be both mentally and physically exhausting. Sending out hundreds of résumés, receiving a lack of response from employers and the uncertainty of a long job search can all lead to job search burnout. Older workers can be particularly vulnerable to job-search fatigue because they are more likely to face long-term unemployment. According to recent numbers, nearly 26 percent of people age 55 and older who are out of work have been unemployed for six months or longer. Only 18 percent of people age 16-54 had been long-term unemployed.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of adults felt as if they lost a piece of their identity during their job search, while 56 percent say they experienced more anxiety and depression while looking for a job.

How your résumé helps — or hurts — your job search

According to Ed Samuel, an executive career coach and founder of SamNova, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a prolonged job search can take a toll on even the most confident job seekers. The first step to improve your chances of getting hired is to make sure your résumé is effective.

“One of the best ways to avoid burnout is to begin your job search with a great résumé and an exceptional LinkedIn profile,” says Samuel, who authored the book Optimize Your Resume: DOs and DON’Ts the SamNova Way. “Don’t list jobs you held over 10+ years ago, and avoid phrases such as ‘references on request’ that make your résumé appear outdated.”

Roza Szafranek, founder and CEO of HR Hints in Chicago, Illinois, says an effective résumé should highlight past work experience while also demonstrating how your expertise will benefit prospective employers. 

“It’s important to demonstrate the impact you made on an organization and the results you achieved,” she says.

As an example, don’t just say you exceeded sales goals in your last job, or that you trained new employees — quantify your accomplishments with percentages and numbers to show the value you offer a potential employer. 

Lisa Severy, a certified career counselor with University of Phoenix, says it’s also important for your résumé to reflect the specific keywords listed in job descriptions.

“Many recruiters now use screening software, known as applicant tracking systems (ATS), to rank résumés based on their relevancy to the job description,” Severy says. “To ensure your résumé makes it past the ATS, you need to include relevant information and job-related keywords.”

If you would like customized assistance with improving your résumé, AARP offers free résumé reviews through its Resume Advisor service.

Networking with other job seekers can help you focus

When a job search drags on over the course of several months or longer, it’s easy to experience periods of self-doubt.

“Getting involved with networking groups or working with a career coach helps job seekers stay motivated and boosts their confidence,” Samuel says. “Networking is also a great way to tap into the ‘hidden job market’ and learn about positions that haven’t been publicly posted.”

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He cites the nationwide Great Careers group as a place for job seekers to find education, networking, virtual workshops and ongoing support. The AARP Foundation Back to Work 50+ program also offers coaching and resources to older job seekers.

“Work tends to be one of the biggest ways we connect with the world outside of our family, so when we don’t have a job, we lose those valuable connections,” Severy says. “It’s important for job seekers to connect with a professional community, not just to advance their careers, but to also stay connected to others during a stressful job hunt.”

Practicing self-care can help you beat job search burnout

To avoid job search burnout, career experts caution against letting a job hunt completely take over your life.

“Carving out a specific time each day or committing to sending out a certain number of applications each week is a healthier way to approach your job search,” Severy says. “Practice self-care and avoid burnout by doing things like taking daily walks and getting a good night’s sleep.”

Lemieux says she typically applies to four or five jobs each week and spends two to three hours each day on job search activities such as checking LinkedIn and following up on job leads.

“In the afternoon, I make time to work in my garden, walk the dogs, complete tasks around the house or run errands, and it makes me feel productive,” she says. “If I didn’t have a routine, the entire day would pass, leaving me feeling as if I hadn’t accomplished anything meaningful.”

Think outside the box during your job search

For job seekers who are feeling burned out, Severy says it may be time to consider a new approach.

“If you’ve been submitting applications and using the same job search process for months, without seeing any results, it’s time to change tactics,” she says. “In addition to changing the outcome, a new approach can offer a fresh perspective.”

Samuel says career coaches can offer job seekers feedback on their résumés, interview techniques and increase their likelihood of being hired.

“Sending out résumés isn’t enough. Job seekers need to have a LinkedIn profile that highlights their strengths, experience and social media skills,” he says. “If job seekers don’t have a LinkedIn profile, hiring managers and recruiters won’t be able to find them and reach out about job openings.”

In addition, Samuel says LinkedIn can be a good way to build a professional network and apply to jobs directly.

“Job seekers also need to utilize LinkedIn’s profile headline with keywords that draw employers to their page,” he says. “By expanding your social connections on LinkedIn, you’re building a strong network that can offer support, job leads and more.”

Be prepared to talk about ageism during your job search

Even though the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), forbids age discrimination against people who are 40 and older, ageism is still a reality in some workplaces. Research conducted by AARP found that two in three adults age 50 and over think older workers face discrimination in the workforce based on age and 93 percent believe age discrimination against older workers is common in the workplace today.

If you think ageism may be preventing you from landing a job, Samuel suggests being honest and ending a job interview by saying something along the lines of, “I’m in good health, have no plans to retire soon and I see myself working in this field for the next 10 years.”

Severy agrees, noting that employers want employees who are skilled, experienced and enthusiastic about taking on a new position.

“Assessing what an employer needs, what problems they are looking to solve and then presenting yourself as a solution is really key to landing a job,” she says.

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