What to Do If You Find Yourself Unemployed in Your 20s

Your twenties are confusing enough, with college graduation, career aspirations and a wide-open playing field that forces you to straddle the line between student and adult. Thanks to your four-year degree and repertoire of extracurricular activities, you’ve landed your first (or maybe even second) big girl job and have gained valuable skills and experiences that will follow you for life. You barely remember that period of post-graduation unemployment—those days are history.

Or maybe they're not.


For millennials, joblessness in our twenties is much more common than it was for preceding generations. In fact, data has shown that we’re nearly three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population. Whether unemployment opens new doors for your career success or it completely blindsides you, you will be faced with feelings and challenges that you've likely never experienced.

Fear not, girlfriend, because you are not alone. We’ve compiled bits of wisdom from virtuosos Emily Miethner, President and Founder of FindSpark, a career development community for young creatives, and Vicki Salemi, author of Big Career in the Big City and career expert for Monster, to help you land your next big gig.

Related: 6 Ways to Work From Home (& Actually Get Things Done!)

1. Change social profiles to offer an accurate portrayal of your current position

First and foremost, the changes you make to your LinkedIn profile and/or digital portfolio will depend on your future job objectives.

For those who are serious about finding a new job immediately, consider changing your LinkedIn headline to show networks that you are available and ready to become an asset to their team. A simple “Seeking New Opportunities” shows that you are open to new positions without disclosing too much information, and may help job seekers identify you as a potential new hire.

For those who would rather keep their current employment status under wraps, “position yourself as your own company by making your part-time, side passion your current job title,” offers Emily. Whether you’re versed as a freelance writer, blogger or eBay top seller, nearly every side skill will be transferable in your next position.

Related: 5 Ways to Fight Senioritis & Land a Job After Graduation

2. Hustle your heart out

Create or build off of a preexisting side project. Endeavors may include a blog, Etsy shop, band or full-blown business, and can be any project that requires your original creativity and demonstrates your dedication to unique objectives that can be transferable throughout the workplace.

“I met a guy at a networking event who was an eBay shop owner for 9 years. He was known for being a consistent top-seller, and always had that strong reputation to follow him,” says Emily. In addition to demonstrating such leadership skills, side businesses can offer a financial cushion for when you don't have a steady paycheck and, even better, an additional source of income when you lock in your next position.  

3. Network smarter, not harder

“It’s just as important to pound the pavement as it is to pound the keyboard,” says Emily. Make sure the time and effort you spend in the digital world is complemented with face-to-face interaction. In fact, offline networking is becoming far too overlooked by our ever-growing screen-savvy generation.

Combat the trap of isolating yourself behind the computer screen by attending events and scheduling informational interviews at least once a week. From formal industry meet-ups and conferences to casual drink-and-draws, make sure you’re giving employers a face and personality to associate with your resume.

But don’t stop there. Continue connecting with new individuals via LinkedIn and remind them of your introduction. “Never discount people who don’t have something for you presently, because you never know where those connections may take you in the future,” Emily says.

4. Never underestimate the power of pre-existing relationships

Reconnect with people from your past or in your desired career field—whether they are old bosses, colleagues, intern friends or professors—and update them on your current situation. Not only will these individuals be able to offer a recommendation, but they're likely to keep you in mind for upcoming opportunities.

“I spoke with friends at companies I was interested in like TJX, and sought networking opportunities through relationships with my co-workers at my part-time job with Baxter’s Fine Jewelry,” states Marie Audette, collegiette from the University of Rhode Island. “Eventually those conversations and connections helped me land my current job at Hearts on Fire Jewelry in Boston, but without them I wouldn’t have had my first phone interview.” 

Related: How to REALLY Use Social Media to Get Hired

5. Leverage this time to explore personal pursuits

Don’t feel as if your unemployment downtime needs to be entirely focused on your professional pursuits. “When I worked in recruiting, it was refreshing to hear that a candidate pursued a trip overseas, a culinary passion, or anything he or she found enjoyable and now had time to commit [to]," Vicki says.

Take the time to enroll in an online class, such as HTML coding or web design, to further enhance your current skill set or introduce you to something completely new. With sites like Lynda.com, an online education company that offers thousands of video courses in creative, business and software skills, and Coursera, a network of free online courses from 140 institutions throughout the world, a new breadth of education is literally at your fingertips.

6. Keep track of job applications

If Excel isn’t your best friend already, it will be now. Stay on top of all of your search efforts by creating a detailed spreadsheet that notes important application moves and contact methods. “When did you apply, what’s the job title and description, when and how did you follow up, and what was the employer’s response?” Vicki suggests you ask yourself.

The more organized you are, the more streamlined and efficient your job search will be. Not only that, but a record of your experience will enlighten you to an employer’s hiring habits. Although each position has its own unique hiring timeline, an understanding of the entire process can ease potential anxiety and feelings of unsettlement regarding job updates.

7. Spend more time on fewer applications

Truth: it can be scary to limit the number of positions you apply to when you're desperate for a job, but submitting fewer applications does not mean you have a lesser chance of getting hired.

In fact, sending out the same resume and cover letter to countless positions may keep you “busy,” but don’t confuse activity with productivity. Instead, try spending the same amount of time with more focus and take more time to follow up. “Aim for a smaller number of jobs and you’ll get further along,” Emily states.

8. Be honest, but brief about your history with potential employers

“When employers ask about your employment history, add in your unemployment the same way you would any other line item—but be brief,” Vicki advises.

If there is a period of unemployment greater than six months on your resume, simply add one succinct line such as, “Took time off to search for new opportunities” and explain your personal growth endeavors. “One of the first questions a hiring manager will ask is how you spent that time,” Vicki continues. “Employers are typically not so concerned about the gap, but rather how you maximized that time in terms of your professional and personal development.”

9. Be calculated about your next step

On average, it takes a long time to find a new job—typically months—so understand that when you do step foot in the next door, you’ll likely be staying for a while. “I encourage people to not rush into something if they don’t have to, because it’s a shame to get stuck in a role and realize that it’s not good for you,” says Emily.

So how do you explore your options? Take advantage of temporary roles and/or full-time fellowship and rotational programs that expose you to a range of departments.

“The FindSpark job board is a curated resource that promotes options like fellowship programs at major companies, including L’Oréal, which are full-time, paid experiences,” says Emily. Not only will these experiences expose you to different companies, but also different management structures. “What types of people do you want to be around? What type of work environment do you work best under?” she continues.

Don’t rush through these considerations out of desperation, but rather utilize this time as an opportunity to learn about your working habits and preferences and find an environment that will foster your growth in the workplace.

10. Lastly, be realistic

Keep in mind that most people do not land all the jobs they apply for. “It’s just a shared numbers game,” Emily says. Find reassurance in the fact that once you get known, opportunities will fly. “Think of [professional] bumps as new beginnings,” Vicki adds. “Sometimes it’s very challenging to see the gift and re-direction in the midst of unemployment, but the only way out is through,” so stay persistent with writing the next chapter of your career.

Keep your head up, shoulders back, and expectations high for yourself because the time you spend unemployed is completely what you make of it. Trust that things will fall into place, regardless of how long the process may take.