From ‘Unemployable’ to Employable: 5 Tactics

The number of people unemployed for longer than six months is up 21%. But experts say many workers can fight the trend.

It’s a fear gripping millions of people of all ages, backgrounds, skillsets, and salary levels: a worry that they’ve become unemployable.

There is some data to back up their anxiety: The number of people unemployed for 27 weeks or longer is up 21% over the past year. At the same time, organizations have been rethinking which roles they want to fill, along with which skills they’re seeking. Plus, many firms have been thinning out their middle and junior levels, using AI or other technologies to automate work people have traditionally done, or simply asking existing employees to make do with less. 

Experts caution that such shifts have occurred in the past—and that there are still 8 million job openings in the US alone. “Supply and demand is cyclical,” says David Vied, global sector leader for Korn Ferry’s Medical Devices and Diagnostics practice. But many experts believe that some formerly important roles have become obsolete. That’s forcing people to do everything from fast reskilling to testing out roles in other industries. Other tactics include:

Focus on work you love.

Think about what energizes you professionally. Maybe it’s number-crunching or problem-solving or distilling information into easy-to-understand messages. Whatever it is, experts say it can help you target specific job roles you might normally overlook (there are plenty of healthcare-related roles outside of healthcare organizations, for instance).

Often, Vied says, professionals who have worked their way up through large, publicly traded organizations don’t think about working anywhere else. But there are plenty of start-ups, smaller private-equity-backed firms, and regional organizations desperate for people to do the type of work you enjoy.

Make yourself more visible.

It is true that many jobs get hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants. But how many of those other applicants are writing engagingly on LinkedIn? And how many are on a board of directors? There likely are plenty of people looking for the kind of expertise you have, even if they might not be able to give you a full-time job. Writing about a key topic in an industry you want to work in can attract the attention of people within that industry. At the same time, nonprofit boards are always looking for help with marketing, finance, technology, and other backgrounds. Board work can not only keep you professionally engaged, but can also expand your network and lead to more opportunities.

Make some résumé tweaks.

Job applicants need to make some adjustments for a modern marketplace that, for better or for worse, involves many automated résumé screeners. Applicants should focus on the key words AI filters for. For instance, if the job description focuses on collaboration, but your résumé uses the word “teamwork,” rewrite the résumé to include the word “collaboration.” Experts say failing to make this kind of adjustment is a key reason that people don’t reach the earliest round of in-person interviews. 

Make your résumé easier for human recruiters to digest as well. Highlight key elements at the top of the document in an attractive way. So-called “title tags”—phrases specifying the role you’re applying for and what you think the most important competency for the job is—can immediately pique a recruiter’s interest, says Sarah E. Williams, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “The average time a human recruiter spends on an individual résumé is three to five seconds, so using title tags can really help out,” she says. Candidates should put title tags at the top of the document, just below their contact information. 

Don’t be limited by a traditional career ladder.

Don’t limit yourself to roles that include a promotion or a raise, says Mark Royal, senior client partner for Korn Ferry Advisory. Smart workers, experts say, develop a “career lattice” in which they take roles at the same level—or even below it—to learn skills that will pay career dividends later. “Very few roles these days offer pure next-step progression,” says Korn Ferry Advance coach Frances Weir. Instead of limiting your growth progression, a career lattice allows you to continue learning and growing by broadening your skill set, perspective, and the value you bring to an organization.

Tweak the way you network.

“Don’t wait to reach out,” says David Ellis, Korn Ferry’s senior vice president of global talent acquisition transformation. Get back in touch with former colleagues or bosses to catch them up on what you’ve been doing. Approach people you admire, via LinkedIn or email, for informational interviews. After that initial approach, rather than asking people in your network directly for a job, ask for any job leads or contacts who’d be good to know professionally.

If you’re employed now, network within your organization. “Raise your hand, educate people about your skills, and tell them you’d be happy to take on new roles,” says JP Sniffen, practice leader of Korn Ferry’s Military Center of Expertise. 


For more expert career advice, connect with a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.