I recently heard from a man who’d been in an active job search for two years. He got a good new job!
The man was in the “older worker” professional category hit hard by downsizing. That demographic had a tough time competing for the few high-quality job openings that were available in the extended post-recession slump. And the longer their unemployment ran, the less favorably employers looked on them as viable job candidates.
Now, the vastly improved job market is opening doors for the long-term unemployed. Re-employment isn’t a gimme, though. Hirers still may have questions about work gaps.
If you’ve been out of work for more than a few months, it’s important for you to update your resume to include some kind of current activity. It doesn’t have to be paid employment from an establishment. It can be a do-it-yourself job.
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If you have computer skills, for example, there’s no reason why you can’t provide help to friends and family and call yourself a software consultant. If you have a woodworking hobby, there’s no reason you can’t put some creations online and maybe make a sale. Ditto providing any kind of household or personal service. If you can do it — and you do it for someone else — you can list it as work.
Or, instead of having an employment blank, you can list significant volunteer work. Are you volunteering in a nonprofit gift shop? Working on a professional association newsletter? Caring for a family member? Listing any of these unpaid tasks will show some get-up-and-go instead of couch potato lethargy.
Another viable entry could be education. Going back to school for more training or a different, more marketable degree, is a clear indication that you’ve been trying to improve your work life.
Listing something current may help get you past the initial screening. If you land an interview, you need to be able to explain what’s listed. Be ready to wow an interviewer with how you kept your work-related skills alive or what you learned from your entrepreneurial venture.
It may be harder to translate family medical care to a work-related asset. You may need to stress that you’re no longer needed in that capacity but that you were very grateful to be able to devote full attention to your loved one without having a distraction from work.
And it can be particularly hard to explain a work gap from incarceration. Again, it’s vital to emphasize any work-related skills or education you gained and project a work-ready, responsible personality. (Most cities have nonprofit organizations that help ex-offenders re-enter the job market.)
If your extended unemployment was because you simply hadn’t gotten job offers no matter how correctly and conscientiously you searched, the thing you need to be most aware of in interviews is to be positive. It’s understandably easy to be consumed with anger, hopelessness and cynicism. Just exorcise those demons before you walk in the interview door.