When it comes to applying for jobs today, your odds of getting a callback boil down to one factor: How long you’ve been out of work.

That’s the takeaway of a new study from Northeastern University. 

For the study, researchers sent out thousands of fake résumés - for 600 job openings. All of the résumés were identical, with the same education and experience. The only difference? How long the applicant had been out of work.

So, what happened? As you might expect, the fake applicants who had a job – or had only been out of work for a few weeks - were the most likely to get a callback. But time and time again, the applicants who’d been out of work longer than six months were the least likely to get callbacks.

The study also found that, even if an applicant wasn’t qualified for the job, they still had about a 1-in-10 chance of getting a callback - as long as they’d been unemployed less than six months. But after six months? Their odds of getting a callback dropped to 1-in-50.

I know that sounds bleak for the estimated five million people who’ve been out of work longer than six months. But there is good news. Experts say there are ways you can overcome the long-term unemployed stigma. 

For example: While you’re looking for a full time job, make sure you take part-time or freelance work. Also, consider volunteering, because many non-profits need professional help, and in return, they’ll provide opportunities to develop new skills, or keep your old ones up to date.

The key is to do something that you can put on your résumé because as this new study shows, employers would rather see that you’re doing something – instead of nothing - while you’re out of work.