Job search is a central element of activation policies, which aim to transform unemployed people into active jobseekers who are subject to checks. We examine a neglected aspect of activation: sanctions. To do so we analyse, through biographical interviews with formerly-unemployed people whose benefit payments have been stopped, what it means when a job search is deemed insufficient. Although these formerly-unemployed people have failed to present enough written and tangible evidence of their job search during checks, they have pursued a different type of job search comprising more informal activities that are difficult to convert into written documents. So, we identify a twin-stranded job search – prescribed and alternative. We also point out that the gap between institutionally-framed job search and experience-based job search widens among unemployed people having low employability attributes, so that ever-stricter checks penalize those who are most vulnerable.