I Lost My Job. Where Can I Get Free Job Search Help?

Nine and a half years ago I lost my job. The emotions are so intense that I can recall them as if it were just yesterday.  Some things are hard to forget.

I was fairly new in this town, not knowing many people, and feeling quite lost and unsupported.  Other people had either grown up around here and had friends from high school who were now in a position to help them network… I didn’t have that.  And some people had professional services that their ex-company bought for them, commonly known as “outplacement.”  My company would never, ever have paid for outplacement.

So, where do you turn for help, when it seems there is not help for an out of work person with no money to spend? Here are some ideas:

Job Clubs and Job Ministries

Have you ever heard of job clubs, or job ministries?  This is one of the greatest secrets in our local communities that should be our first stop. Many (not all) communities have them. If yours doesn’t, look for the nearest one. It might make sense to drive an hour or two to go to one.  The value you get out of attending a job club or job ministry goes beyond just sitting in a chair and learning for a speaker. Networking with other job seekers was one of the most important things I did in my job search. Partly because job seekers are well-networked, and partly because I learned that (a) I wasn’t the only one in this pathetic situation, and (b) there were people more qualified and awesome than I was, and they were in transition too (which means, I could stop thinking I was broken, or at fault).  Also, at these job clubs, you’ll find volunteers who have been there for years, sometimes decades, who are well-versed in all-things-job-search, and they can help you avoid the inevitable pitfalls you would otherwise fall into.

I have spoken to groups at job clubs over the years and job clubs will always hold a special place in my heart.

 Check the state resources

When I went to my local workforce services office, I knew it wasn’t for me. I walked in, they didn’t quite know what to do with someone with my education and skills, and looking for the level of job I was looking for… they sat me down at an old computer from the 1800’s, with a 14 inch monitor that was almost impossible to use, and asked me to do something (I can’t remember… work on a resume, fill out a form… whatever it was, it was a useless cookie-cutter exercise). The services seemed to be geared at entry-level positions, and the staff was accustomed to working with people who were chronically unemployed, hoping they could get an entry level job.  Classes on grooming, showing up on time, etc. were not what I needed.  I hope that has changed in my state…

But what I’ve seen in other states is mind-boggling.  In California the EDD is amazing. I’ve spoken at various EDD events and they are well-attended by higher level professionals who are anxious to network and help others. In Minnesota the state money went to private parties that created environments that reminded me of outplacement offices in Class A facilities (that is, expensive buildings).  They were clearly geared towards executives and professionals in transition. In Maryland the state’s Professional Outplacement Assistance Center is amazing, offering excellent job search training and help that you would expect from any for-profit outplacement company… all for free to state residents.

Give your state offices a chance… you might be surprised to know they have services that fit your needs (better than they fit mine, almost 10 years ago).

University career center

One of my programming professors would tell us to never go to the career center.  They were a waste of time, not effective, and didn’t even know how to help people going into the IT. Unfortunately, that colored how I would think of career centers.  When I lost my job they weren’t even on my radar.  Finally, though, someone suggested I reach out to them. Unfortunately, they weren’t really designed to help someone like me who had been in a professional capacity for a while. HOWEVER, I’ve spoken at a few universities since then, working with career services, and I’ve seen some great programs and counselors and directors who are awesome.

Not all schools have resources that will or can help you, and sometimes they charge a small fee for alumni who have been gone from the school for a certain period, but it’s worth a phone call to see if they can be a resource to you.

If they can’t help you, call your alma mater’s alumni office… sometimes they offer career services that the career center doesn’t know about (because a lot of career centers focus on helping their undergrads and new grads).

Find one person who can be your accountability partner

Of utmost importance to any job seeker is a weekly accountability partner. This is someone, typically NOT YOUR SPOUSE, who you will meet with once a week and report on what you have done, and what you will do the following week. I can’t emphasize how important this is, even for self-motivated individuals!  Just knowing that you’ll have to sit down with someone, look them in the eye, and say “no, um, I didn’t do all those things… I got caught up finishing a game of Sudoku on Tuesday that went a couple of hours longer than it should have…” or “I haven’t called that person yet” thinking (I’m too afraid – they might say… NO! to me). An accountability coach should help you (a) do what you think you should do, and just as important (b) make sure you aren’t implementing ineffective job search tactics (which is what I spent way too much time doing in my job search).

Who can do this?  Perhaps someone you met at a job club. Perhaps someone you met at church. Perhaps someone who lives by you.  Maybe it’s a brother, cousin, nephew, or a current or past mentor.  You are simply looking for someone who will spend 20 to 30 minutes with you once a week (it can even be on the phone), who will ask you the hard questions (“WHY DIDN’T YOU DO THAT THING?”), and help keep you on task.  INVALUABLE.

Get some money from family or friends to hire a coach and a resume writer

Finally, even if you don’t have any money, don’t discount the idea of hiring someone to help you, even if it means you borrow money from family or friends. There are some very affordable, very good coaches and resume writers who can make sure you are doing the right things.  The reason I love good coaches and resume writers is because they are in the trenches with their clients, and they have been-there, done-that, and know how to best help you make progress.  If I would have found a thousand bucks to find a good coach and a resume writer I would have been pointed in the right direction, not wasted months and months poking around trying to make up my own systems, etc.  I know a thousand bucks seems like a lot of money when you don’t know how you’ll pay rent in three months from now… but a coach could make the difference between having a job within those three months, or continuing to spin your wheels and growing more and more hopeless.

What do you think?  Good ideas?  Have you exhausted them?  What other resources have I missed?