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posted: 2/19/2012 7:00 AM

What to do when all the jobs are gone

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Q: Living where even the menial jobs have dried up, and last work reference asked to stop being used as a reference. What options are left?

A: As I see it, you have two options: Stay or go. But first, I'm trying to get my head around why your one remaining reference has opted out of helping you. Referral fatigue? Inability to give a more-than-tepid tepid endorsement? I can't help thinking there's an important nugget there.

Back to your two meager options. They actually offer a wide range of possibilities, depending on how creative you can get without turning to a life of crime.

If the jobs have dried up in your area, go where the wells are deeper -- after careful online reconnaissance. Research locales that host the kinds of industries you want to work in. Apply online for jobs, making it clear that you're looking to relocate. If you have family or friends in those locales, rent sofa space from them in exchange for housework or errands when you are in town to interview. If you don't have those connections, seek short-term housing opportunities in local classifieds or on Craigslist.

If you can't leave your current area, you'll have to get even more creative. Mine your social connections for informal leads on paid work. Even in a tight economy, there are people who will pay to have their houses cleaned, yards mowed, errands run, children tutored, pets watched. I assume you've already looked into temp agencies or headhunters; if not, do. They might be able to send a trickle of work your way, especially if you're flexible about traveling to sites and working odd hours. And sometimes those trickles can widen into a steadier flow as you gain experience and a good reputation.

Finally, consider volunteering with a group that does interesting or meaningful work, focusing on tasks that play to your strengths or that you've always wanted to master: editing, vehicle or computer maintenance, organizing. At the least, volunteering will get you out of your head for a few hours a week. If the leaders like your work, they might produce some leads -- or at least some enthusiastic references for your files.

Whether you stay or go, however, it is vital that you keep moving. If you let despair settle in, it will blind you to all other options.

The Washington Post

• Karla L. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office.

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