Job Hunting Strategies: What Works, And What Doesn’t, for the Long-Term Unemployed

Need some expert advice on how to tailor your job search, especially if you’ve been unemployed for a while? Here’s some tips.

The typical job search methods taken by the long-term unemployed (LTU) include accessing portals like MyCareersFuture, Jobstreet, LinkedIn, Indeed, JobsDB, Career Builder, amongst others.

In addition, word of mouth is often seen as a reliable source as well, especially for the less tech-savvy, according to Wilson Chia, an Employer Engagement Manager at MAXIMUS Asia, a career matching provider under Workforce Singapore (WSG).

But beyond platforms, a good job-hunting strategy LTU’s must take is a closer look at the reasons for their extended job search; why it hasn’t panned out so far; and what’s keeping employers from picking them. We take a closer look below.

What are some of the reasons LTUs leave their last job, and what are their chances at re-joining the same industry after?

Two common reasons why LTUs leave their last jobs are retrenchment, and resignation due to personal reasons, shares Wilson.

“For those retrenched, this is usually due to changes in the economic cycle. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, industries such as manufacturing, oil & gas, energy, banking and finance, and information technology, have all had their various hiring cycles.

“Now aviation, hospitality and tourism, F&B and retail, amongst others, have been hardest hit since the pandemic, and may yet be out of the woods.”

With government support helping companies pivot or recalibrate their business strategies – particularly for those that are bearing the brunt of the blow from the pandemic, the majority of LTUs that have been retrenched do return to work either in their previous industries, or a related industry.

Wage support schemes in recent years have also encouraged employers to offer opportunities to LTUs.

In some cases, LTUs re-enter the workforce in a completely different industry, pivoting their careers in a new direction. This is also aided by WSG’s Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) for industries that are poised to grow, and become significant to Singapore’s economy.

The same is true for LTUs that had left employment due to personal reasons, Wilson believes. “If they come from industries that are doing well in the current climate, chances are that they will mostly return to their previous industries.

“Sometimes they do decide, at this new phase of their career, that they want to pivot to new industries either due to better prospects or personal interest. Again, the network of PCPs and SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways are there to offer support for their journey into such new industries.”

Common gripes and why LTUs get rejected

According to Wilson, five of the most common challenges by LTUs in their job search include:

  1. Employers think they’re overqualified
  2. Employers can’t pay them
  3. Employers want them to do more work for less pay
  4. Employers are looking for someone younger
  5. Employers only offer contract jobs

And while some of these are real, often they are perceptions that may not be true, ranging from personal experiences, hearsay from friends, or articles online they may have come across.

“Frankly, we have seen many successful cases of job placements to prove these notions wrong”, Wilson said. “At the end of the day, there are two sides to every story, and jobseekers need to consider the employer’s perspective as well.”

Job-hunting? There are over 60,000 jobs available on MyCareersFuture. Apply for your next job role here!

He shares the flipside to those common gripes below:

Employers think they’re overqualified

The employer’s perspective: Some jobseekers may be a flight risk, or they’ll work for awhile, use this job as a stepping stone and move on to better opportunities once the market recovers. Another possible challenge for over-qualified candidates may be that the jobseeker may be difficult to manage after being hired.

Employers can’t pay them

Employers need to manage their financial resources in making the decision to hire LTUs, because they’ve been out of the market for a considerable period of time, and may not be able to pick up the job quickly.

While they have set aside a budget to hire the headcount, employers will, understandably, seek the best “value-for-money” they can get out of a hire.

Employers that are more budget-conscious will often take a more conservative approach. This may also mean they offer a lower initial salary, with an adjustment factor upon confirmation.

Employers want them to do more work for less pay

LTUs often compare their last drawn with the offer on the table and perceive them as being undervalued or underemployed. What is overlooked, is that even though they come with years of experience, the employer may well be looking at hiring someone with considerably fewer years of experience.

For example, an employer looking for a candidate with three to five years’ experience offers the role to an LTU with 15 years’ experience.

“But the likelihood is that they will be making an offer at the market rate of five years’ experience,” Wilson reveals.

“The truth is, last drawn salaries are not necessarily relevant to the decision of the offer.”

More importantly, last-drawn salaries do not reflect the LTUs current skills and market knowledge, all of which do not make a competitive argument for the offer.

Employers are looking for someone younger

The reality may be that some employers only require someone with five years’ experience for a particular job, and when someone with 10-20 years of experience applies, there are other applicants that are more aligned with the requisite years of experience, and it is natural for employers to shortlist those that are more aligned first.

This is the nature of competition, Wilson believes. “Another reality is that jobs that require upwards of 20 years of experience are few and far between, so highlighting that one comes with 30 years’ experience may well be irrelevant.”

As digital disruption continues, it is probably the new norm that one’s years of experience may not count for as much as their relevance to the ways of business in current times.

Read More: Is Age Just a Number in the Singapore Workplace?

Employers only offer contract jobs

“We have noticed a rise in contract jobs over the years, and this may be due to the model of business in today’s economy”, Wilson said.

“Projects may be won for a contractual period, hence jobs offered in relation to the projects are tied in with the years awarded.

Or it may be that there is a new project within the organisation that is expected to run for a certain period of time, and the hires on this project are again tied in with the anticipated project length, to be extended on a situational basis.

In some cases, employers use the contract period as an alternative to offering permanent employment with a probation period, effectively using the contract period as the probation period, and converting the new hire to permanent employment thereafter, Wilson explained.

The rise of the gig economy has also expedited this practice, with employers exploring contract jobs as an option to temporarily expand their workforce to cope with increased demand, and when proven to be sustained, these jobs may then be converted into permanent employment.

Curious about the contract job opportunities available for you? Look through the job listings on MyCareersFuture today.

Some real-life experiences

Wilson also shared the story of a successful job seeker in similar situations as above: “Mr Raju (not his real name)’s contract as a director in a manufacturing firm ended in 2018.

“He had over 30 years experience in the manufacturing industry, but wasn’t able to find a new job, and was referred to Maximus in June 2019.

“For many months, he had submitted applications for jobs ranging from director to manager levels but was often overlooked because of his seniority and maturity.

“However, in June 2021 government-linked company in the services industry was looking for a Quality Excellence Business Partner. One key quality that stood out? Mr Raju’s Six Sigma Black Belt qualifications.

“He interviewed successfully and was offered a one-year contract starting within the same month, at the age of 60!”

He also recounted another example with Madam Tan (not her real name).

“She had been a stay-home mom for the last decade, before being referred to Maximus in August 2021.

“Madam Tan had worked in the telecommunications industry prior to her hiatus, in administration and project management roles.

“While her challenge was to convince employers that her skills are still sharp and relevant to the business world of today, she was also open to her coach’s suggestions to try out different means of returning to work – including a Career Trial (CT).

“She was offered a two-week CT with a food manufacturing company as an order administrator the following month, having impressed the employer with her excel skills and interview.

“Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic meant business was uncertain and Madam Tan was not converted to permanent employment after CT.

This did not let her get her spirits down, though. In her next interview with an electronics retailer in a similar role, she was able to draw from her recent experience. She succeeded, was offered a job and started work in her new role in October 2021, Wilson revealed.

So, what’s the best strategy for you?

A skills-based approach in presenting their CV makes the most sense, especially in cases where they have been out of the market for a long time.

“It is important to surface the skills they have picked up during this downtime, which could come from various activities – such as volunteering, self-improvement, self-study, and even hobbies, amongst others,” Wilson advises.

Transferable soft skills that withstand the test of time include those like customer service (people-oriented approach), sales (negotiation) and attention to detail, which can further be used for potential employers to apply to other related skills such as collaboration, deal closing and quality control.

A hobby may also turn out to be a skill worth highlighting, in the right instances.

Photography, gardening, hiking, cycling, cooking, baking, picking up a new language, are just a few of the many activities that Singaporeans have picked up over recently, no thanks to the pandemic putting a halt to our usual activities.

In the eyes of the right employer, these may be skills worth highlighting. For example, someone good at photography may be of interest to a social media company, while someone skilled at baking may be of interest to an F&B company.

“The key to landing lies in portraying the right skills that will be of interest to the employer and role that they are applying for, and what makes you the right person for it,” Wilson concludes.

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