12 Ways to Jump Start that Impossible Job Search

Dear Work Coach,

I’m writing because I’ve had 9 interviews and 3 second interviews in 9 months. No job offers.

I was out of the workplace for seven years while I was married, although I did work part-time during the marriage. Now, as a divorced single mom (without alimony because of my advanced degree) I managed to work as a writer/editor. My resume had a few starts and stops due to daycare problems with another one my children who has high-functioning autism. Still, I managed to buy a nice home a few years after the divorce and my oldest has graduated summa cum laude and makes 45K at a great job.

Seven years ago while working as an editor for a large HMO I became ill and was told it was stress. The last six months there I didn’t get a good review due to absences and my performance wasn’t really up to par. Turned out I had primary bone cancer as well as a brain tumor. I ended up selling my home a few years late and incurring credit problems due to my medical situation.

Last year I had my last surgery and received an excellent prognosis and look and feel healthy. So I found a job with a local school district where I work in special education part-time, no benefits, low pay. I wanted to keep busy and also have a regular schedule and believed I’d find a writing or editing job in several months. (The Secret has been no help here!)

I was very hopeful as the first job I interviewed for with an educational publishing company called me back for a second interview and I was told by the CEO they wanted to create a job for me because they liked my ideas and personality etc. She asked for references and said she was leaving town but would get back to me in four days. I never heard a word from her again, even though I sent an email to follow-up. She never contacted my references.

Then I had an interview to be a marketing manager. A stretch, but I did have two interviews and was told they would call me back either way. Never heard a word once again.

Then I had interviews with two hospitals to be their Communications Director. I was never called back for second interviews, don’t know why. I also had an interview recently for a free lance project where he told me on the spot he wanted to use me (it paid very well.) And 3 weeks ago, I had an interview with HR and the editorial director for a local company and was contacted by email to send more writing samples because she stated I was an “excellent writer.” Haven’t heard anything back.

As far as I know, none of my references have been contacted, unless the employers or HR departments were contacted without my knowledge. Or would they have done any background checks after the first interview and maybe found out about outstanding medical bills? I have no idea what I can be doing better and wonder if if it’s because of my age (55), a credit check revealing problems – somehow they know I was sick–or???

I am generally very good at persevering but have hit rock bottom in the last few days. A job coach at a local church called and told me I should apply for a live-in housekeeper position for a wealthy family in the parish who needs ones. He said “in all honesty” that was all I could expect to get. I was flabbergasted.

I’m devastated and my money won’t hold out much longer. But even during cancer or when I lost my home I never felt depressed, I had hopes for the future. If this is the only future I can expect, it’s disheartening to say the least. This job coach told me the economy will only get worse, I’m getting older etc.

I have to work, and I have maybe 10 years before I’d be forced to retire. I look professional, have a personality that people generally like, appear confident (most of the time), have a good portfolio, years of experience, but am not sure what to do. Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated.



Dear CS,

Congratulations on ALL you’ve survived! Your strength, ingenuity and perseverance are tremendous assets for any employer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You sound great to me.

I’ve decided to mention some obvious things and also some wackier things. This is a full-frontal effort and I hope you pull out all the stops until you get a job you want and deserve. Although society doesn’t recognize this enough, passion is one our greatest allies for living a healthy life, and if at all possible, let’s get you to a job you feel good about!

1.) First, let’s start with the idea of finding you a champion and/or mentor who sees possibility and not impossibility. I know the coach was trying to help and actually means well, but I don’t think he sees all that you are and can do.

I wonder if you would be willing to go back to the CEO and ask if you could meet with her for 15 minutes to ask for some advice. Explain that you understand the job is no longer available for you there, but that you’d very much appreciate her thoughts on where else you might look. Really…you have nothing to lose. All she can say is “no” or not respond. Informationals like this are a key part of networking. Now think of other people over the years you can also ask for 15 minutes of their time. Don’t be shy…this is the time to draw on all that survivor strength and see yourself finding a way…whatever it may be.

2.) Unfair as it is, you’re right not to mention illness in interviews. It’s a shame you can’t point to how you handled your illness to show how tenacious and resourceful you are, but it really is best not to mention it – unless it’s an interview with someone who already knows your history.

As for your divorce and children, it sounds like you’re handling that well in interviews. Whenever talking about personal things like this, you need to only give the bare-bones details and use it to convey how well you handle and succeed when faced with challenges – and that you are about the work now. It’s the next challenge you want to take on and succeed with!

3.) Rather than jobs, your particular resume should lead with a section on relevant skills targeted to the job you’re looking for. This is best when there are gaps or jobs that don’t seem to match what the employer is looking for. If it doesn’t, please type the word “resumes” in my blog’s search box and you’ll find some links. As for the gaps…fill them in with volunteer work and any other projects you took on that show who you are. Don’t worry that you didn’t get paid.

Education is also good for gaps. So is writing a book, since you are a writer. As for any remaining gaps, you can handle this in the interview. While I strongly advise people to be honest, a good writer can always weave the facts into a story that puts her or him in the most favorable light!

In addition, use your cover letter to sell where you’re going – not where you’ve been. That helps take the emphasis away from your resume. A good cover letter can help get you into the interview and at that point you can sell yourself. (You can also search on my blog for “cover letter” for resources that can help.)

4.) A smaller company may be your answer for now. Larger companies look more deeply into things like background checks, including debt. And since your debt is associated with your illness, they’ll sniff that out. Not fair and illegal to use illness as a reason not to hire you, but they’ll say it was the massive debt. I don’t think that’s been the issue so far since you never signed permission slips; it is required I believe. And anyway, companies rarely take the time to do that until they’re ready to make an offer and have checked your references, which you think they haven’t. (Good to make sure those references are solid, just in case.) But all this considered, smaller companies would seem to be a better choice for you, at least for now.

By the way, since huge debt can get in the way of landing a good job (and yet in a Catch 22 it’s hard to pay it down until you actually get hired), it’s worth making every effort to get it reduced. If you haven’t already tried, you can often negotiate your debt with hospitals. Really push for lowering what you owe and setting up a regular payment plan, even if the amount is small at first. That can help improve your FICO score.

5.) When there are obstacles such as in your case, you need to network as much as possible. There are groups for people over 40 – one like 40PLus in DC that also lists other branches; if they don’t have one near you, the folks there are really nice and may have some ideas. The AARP website also has info that might help you find places near you. Just know that there ARE jobs for people like us over 40. In fact…more and more employers are realizing what good employees we can be. (Not all get that yet, but we’re getting there as we baby boomers make up more and more of the workforce!) If there’s a local job club for seasoned workers, check that out. Also look for other groups in or related to fields that interest you. As I said…full frontal attack!

As part of your networking, look for allies in your community. Visit your local politicians’s offices – state and national too – and ask for suggestions. You never know.8) And mention that you’re job-hunting to everyone you know or meet. This is not a time to be shy!

Also, since you have a master’s, don’t forget to contact your alma mater and take advantage of any career services they have. (Even if you went to school in another area, they often have local alumni contact lists.) Also if there is a professor you liked a lot, this is a good time to ask if s/he has any suggestions.

Use your great personality to connect everywhere you can – even while trying some of these other suggestions! And for the tech-savvy (or tech-curious) among you, social networking sites can often hook you up with local contacts. Leave no tech or non-tech stone unturned!

6.) In addition to your standard job-search sources, don’t forget to go to local non-profits to look for jobs. They may be more receptive and in need of your skills and vast experience – especially the smaller ones and ones you care deeply about! The salaries may be lower, but they can be great places to work. Idealist.org and the Foundation Center (if there’s one near you) can be very helpful in finding places to contact. So can the phone book! Don’t be afraid to knock on doors or send direct letters to the Executive Directors. You have nothing to lose.

By the way…non-profits need good writers who can help with grants and fund raising. Even if you have to start as a beginner (and with your skills you could talk your way up a bit in salary), you can probably land yourself this kind of job. I once did fund raising without a lick of non-profit experience – although to get there I told everyone I met (even at parties) that I was looking to work in non-profit and I was open to anything. The main thing is to get people caught up in your excitement rather than in your need.

If you can, while still holding your p/t job, you might even volunteer at a non-profit you’d want to work for; sometimes it opens doors there or with affiliated orgs. A lot of job hunting is about creating the positive energy around yourself that makes you an attractive candidate to someone you meet. You seem to have a great personality, so let it get you a job! :)

7.) Look for other ways to put your skills – in your case writing – to work. Besides grantwriting/fundraising, there are technical applications for writing. Not as exciting for sure, but since I’ve done it, I’ll mention it. When computer systems are developed, they need writers to help document the processes and also to create user documentation. A quick tutorial or two (maybe local job placement orgs can help) can open you up to a junior business analyst position. Other types of companies also need process documentation. Tedious at time for sure – but the money is good. And since you mentioned your own business – you can do this as a consultant.

8.) Following up on that last thought, you can also create a free-lance business with your writing skills. All you need is a few good clients – and since you are working for yourself, they won’t be looking into your personal business! All kinds of professional offices need writers for their marketing departments, online divisions, documentation, newsletters, internal and external communications, etc. I know this takes a while to set up, but if you set yourself some goals, you might be surprised how much you can have going within 6 months. And where do the clients come from? NETWORKING! And setting goals for yourself.

In the meantime, temp jobs or, if it comes to it, things like housekeeping would at least be a way to finance your future. Even J.K. Rowling had her really low points.

9.) Crazy idea time: You’re a writer, so maybe you could contact local media and try to sell your job search as a feature that you’d help write and produce. It doesn’t stop you from doing the actual job search and might also open other doors that lead to something cool. I know this may feel too public, but if the idea at all appeals to you, the doors this could open may help ease any temporary discomfort. Sometimes we have to shake things up just a little to get to truly new places. (I do realize this one may not work for you, CS. Mostly throwing it out there in case any other reader might benefit from the essence of the idea.)

10.) Temp jobs are a good way to check out companies and let them get to know you. Move around until the right fish bites. And meanwhile, you have your writing and can be pitching stories to magazines and other places to keep your creative juices and passion alive!

11.) Although in your case I know you may not have the luxury of time, one great way to jump start a career change is getting a degree or, if pressed for time, a certificate. Many universities and colleges offer these. There are several advantages. First, it gets you new contacts. Second, the institution often helps you with your job hunt. And three…a potential employer may see this as evidence of your commitment to your fresh start.

12.) Finally…be positive! Not just on the outside, but deep inside yourself. You seem to be doing all the right things, but maybe…just maybe…you’re conveying something extra in your interviews. There’s always a way. Know it. Believe it. And, most of all…believe in yourself and you will get there – even if you have to find your own less-traveled way!

Sometimes this also entails recognizing paths that open up that one might at first say “no” to, but that might actually be getting us to something we’d feel good about. That fund raising job I mentioned? No way I wanted to do that, but since I needed a way into non-profit, I said “yes” and did it with all my heart. And it changed my life.

Well, CS. That’s about all I can think of right now. Not sure if any of this helped. But hopefully it at least sparked some of your own ideas. At the very least I hope you really get how much you still have to offer! Heck…you’re only about half-way through. 😉

Even if 20 or 30 or 40 people say no, all you need is that one YES. Good luck! And please keep us posted, ok?

Ronnie Ann

If you’re curious, this comes from comments on How to Tell If a Job Interview Went Well posted 2008/05/16.


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. I’m rooting for you and pray that you find something. Try to stay positive about the situation, I find myself falling into a depressed state ever so often, that doesn’t help. So I have to reiterate to myself to stay positive.

  2. Hi Mr. X!

    Nice to see you. It warms my heart to read your words of comfort and support for CS. And I am still rooting for you in your own search. I hope some employer soon realizes what a good addition you’d be to his or her team.

    Good luck!

    Ronnie Ann

  3. If a grad degree is what you need, Idealist.org also offers a series of graduate admissions fairs for mid-career professionals. The first two of 2008 are coming up this month: June 18th in DC, and June 19th in NYC. 15+ more this fall all around the country, and an online web portal will launch this summer on grad school topics. http://www.idealist.org/gradfairs. Best of luck!

  4. Thanks, Amy. Usually I undo promotion links in comments, but I’m a huge fan of Idealist.org and recommend the site highly for job hunting in the non-profit sector. I’ve used it myself.

    I considered posting about these graduate admissions fairs, so I’m glad you beat me to it.

    Ronnie Ann

  5. BRIANT J. COLEMAN says:

    Dear job searcher,

    Don’t give in it will come in time you just have to give yourself a chance, after all most big and small corps and companies are only human and they make mistakes also. But in essence a plethora of the masses will not admit their mistakes, and for your betterment I’m going through the same thing also. And make time for meditation of the good things that can be gain from this experience. Good luck and god bless!

  6. A very nice sentiment Briant. Thank you!

    I hope a wonderful new job comes your way when the time is right!

    Ronnie Ann

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