Job Hunting in a Layoff Economy

My inbox is filled with e-mails like this:

"I've been at the same job for the past eight years and just got laid off. Besides 'update your resume,' what job hunting tips can you suggest for someone who's over 50 and has been out of the job hunting game for almost a decade?"

And this:

"I left corporate America four years ago to stay home while my kids were small. But now my husband and I need more money, so I'm trying to find a part-time or full-time job. I've sent out 40 resumes but haven't gotten any interviews. I'm worried that my skills might sound a bit out of date. Can you help?"

No matter what your back story, trying to find a job in a down economy probably seems more daunting than performing your own root canal -- especially if you've been off the market for several years (or decades). But it's by no means impossible. Herewith, my top recommendations:

Looking for career advice? Click here to send Michelle your questions and they might end up as a topic for her next column.

Get Off Your Rear -- Now

If you've been laid off, it's natural to want to take a couple weeks to sleep in, mope around in your robe, throw darts at your CEO's headshot and regroup. But don't linger in lethargy for too long.

"Any job seeker needs to be looking forward and needs to have a strategy," said Sherri Edwards, career coach and owner of Resource Maximizer, a Seattle-based career consulting firm.

Waiting till your unemployment checks run out (or your bank account dries up) to plot your next move isn't a valid strategy. Instead, give your job hunt a start date, preferably within the next two weeks. In the meantime, make a list of companies and roles you're interested in, professional contacts you'll reach out to and any other steps you plan to take.

Spend the time between now and your job hunt "start date" watching "Oprah" and "Maury" if you must, but take at least an hour a day to chip away at your list so you don't completely fade into career oblivion.

In this economy, Edwards explains, procrastination is not an option. Besides, online research, resume tweaks and networking via e-mail can all be done in your robe, so you've got no excuse.

Get Your Story Straight

Yes, you need to start shaking hands ASAP. But before you can interview, you need to figure out how you'll explain those twists, turns and potholes in your resume -- and to the hiring managers interviewing you -- preferably in two minutes or less.

Adding the phrase "the company closed" or "contract position" alongside a job listed on your resume is obviously a quick fix, Edwards said. But, she advises, the words "laid off" should never appear on your CV. Instead, quickly explain in the interview that you were let go. Unless the hiring manager hasn't read the news all year, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

But what if you have a five-year employment gap? Does that render you unhirable?

Not if you have a good explanation for what you've been up to and "how it will be of value to a current employer," Edwards said.

For example, if you've been off building schools in Third World villages since 2007 or running your own business since 2002, you probably have all sorts of bootstrapping, communication and decision-making skills an employer will find attractive.

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