Businessman jumping over a gap in the bridgeGetting back into the workforce after an absence is a lot like going back to school after summer vacation. You have to get up early in the morning, follow other people’s rules even if they don’t make sense, and do lots (and lots!) of homework.

There are many reasons why you might have a gap in your resume. Perhaps you’ve been caring for children or elderly parents. Maybe you’ve experienced job loss and haven’t been able to find employment. New grads, from baccalaureates to doctorates, often find themselves unable to land even an entry-level position in their field. In the bleak economic landscape, trying to find a job can feel like searching for an oasis in an endless desert.

If you’ve been out of the workforce for an extended period of time (six months or more), or if you’re a recent graduate with no professional experience, there are steps you can take to give you a leg up on the job hunt.

Step One: Clean Up Your Image

You only get one chance to make a first impression, so make sure that your suit is free of holes, your Facebook page is free of embarrassing photos, and your resume is free of typos. A professional appearance is essential for interviewing and networking, so if you don’t already own a suit, now would be the time to get one. If money is tight, check secondhand stores and discount retailers like TJ Maxx first.

Employers often search for prospective hires online, so if the top results for your name are pictures from wild weekends in college or angry rants against former employers, make sure to delete or untag as much content as possible. Set up a LinkedIn page with your resume and references, too.

Finally, do not send out your resume unless it’s 100 percent error-free. Get a friend to read it over or try running it through Grammarly, a writing enhancement app, to find and correct any spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors. Don’t forget to do the same thing for your cover letter!

Step Two: Hit the Pavement

Scouring job boards, such as or, may not be the best use of your time. Many positions never make it to the public postings; they’re either filled internally or by someone the hiring manager already knows. Take advantage of the so-called “hidden job market” by publicizing your search. Tell friends, family, acquaintances—heck, even the clerk at the grocery store—that you’re looking for a job. Be proactive by researching companies in your field and make first contact. Get inexpensive business cards printed up by a company like Vistaprint and hand them out like candy. The important thing is to get the word out.

It turns out the old advice is true: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Networking is the single best way to get a job. Join clubs and professional organizations, go to networking events, and don’t be shy about sharing your story with strangers when appropriate. You never know who will be able to lend you a helping hand, so make sure to shake a lot of them.

Step Three: Stay Busy

The longer you remain unemployed, the easier it is to let your skills—and tolerance for a 9-5 schedule—slip. Keep yourself occupied (and give yourself a reason to get out of bed and put on pants) every day with constructive activities. Note that watching an entire season of TV doesn’t count as “constructive.” Instead, volunteer for a worthy cause, find an internship with someone in your network, or try your hand at freelancing. You might even consider starting your own business, but develop ideas with low overhead, such as web-based ventures. You’d be surprised at the many ways people earn income, from pet sitting to proofreading; who knows, after freelancing for a while, you may not even want to find a “real” job!

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