You've sent out 500 resumes, hit every job fair in town and contacted everyone you've ever met in your life to see if they know of any job openings.
You're not just pounding the pavement -- you're pulverizing it. And, yet, here you are, still unemployed.
It's enough to make even the most confident person wonder if it's not the crummy job market, but you: Is your resume selling you short? Are you flubbing your interviews? Asking for too high a salary? Completely unaware that your breath wilts plants and makes small children cry?
Unless they work in human resources, friends and family can only offer so much feedback. As your unemployment benefits begin to dwindle, you might begin to wonder if you should hire a professional: a career coach or career counselor to weigh in with his or her objective opinion and expert advice.
But how do you find a career coach you can trust, and can hiring one ensure you land a job before your savings run out? Read on.
You don't need me to tell you that when the going gets tough, the scammers come crawling out of the woodwork.
"They play on your desperation," said Margaret Dikel, who publishes The Riley Guide, a free directory of online employment information. "And the more desperate you are, the more careful you should be."
Red flag No. 1: A career coach or career marketing firm "guarantees" that working with them will land you a job.
Yes, a good career coach will advise and guide you through the job hunting process and teach you to be more effective at finding gainful employment. But coaches aren't recruiters, and no honest coach will guarantee you a job.
Red flag No. 2: A coach or firm tells you that they have "access to the hidden job market" -- as in, super-secret job leads you won't find anywhere else.
This is another empty come-on, Dikel warned.
"Everybody has access to the hidden job market: It's called networking," she said. "And you can do it for free."
Red flag No. 3: You're asked to pay a flat fee of several thousand dollars up front, and you're pressured to make your decision -- and fork over your money -- now.
"It's like those crazy infomercials in the middle of the night," Dikel said. "The harder they push you, the more you need to take a step back."
A good coach won't give you the hard sell or a one-size-fits-all rate. Instead, they'll charge you by the hour or session and will tailor their services to the kind of assistance you need: resume makeover, interviewing techniques, help making an industry change.
Fees vary greatly among coaches, from about $100 an hour to several hundred. Time spent with a coach can range from one or two sessions to multiple sessions over the course of several months or a year, depending on your needs.
Rather than going with a big career-marketing firm, I recommend working with a small career-coaching firm -- or better yet, an individual career coach or career counselor -- so you know exactly who you're hiring.
No one governing organization of career coaches exists, which means anyone can wake up tomorrow and call themselves a career coach. To further confuse matters, several organizations offer credentialing programs for career coaches, with the National Career Development Association offering the most rigorous program of the bunch.