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How to Find a Job after a Gap in Employment

by THEA kelley | February 13, 2020

Looking for a job after a gap in employment isn’t an ordinary job search. There are challenges to overcome. One of the largest barriers is in the minds of employers, who may hold stereotypes about job seekers who haven’t worked in several months.

Negative Perceptions of the Long-Term Unemployed

Employers may be worried that the candidate…

  • …has been passed up by other employers for good reasons;
  • …may be depressed or bitter;
  • …may have a mental or physical illness or drug problem that will interfere with work;
  • …is “too old” and would lack energy, be set in their ways or a slow learner, or not relate well to younger customers and co-workers;
  • …is unmotivated;
  • …is “rusty” in their skills and has outdated workplace knowledge, requiring a steep learning curve if hired.

What Can You Do About It?

You can counteract these possible perceptions. To present an image of being highly capable, committed, healthy, positive, motivated and up to date you must both make it so and make it show.

Make it so: Polish up your skills through training, an internship, or free-lancing. If your career is taking a new direction, prove your commitment to that path by doing pro bono work and/or joining the relevant professional association. Mention these activities in your resume, perhaps in your experience section as a Professional Sabbatical, and include them on LinkedIn, where you can create an “Experience” entry about your activities and skills. Tip: You don’t have to wait until you’ve completed a course to add it to your resume and profile, just note that it’s “in progress” and when you expect to complete it.

Build health and a vital appearance through exercise. Find ways to work through any emotional baggage you may be carrying.

Make it show: Prepare strategically crafted communications – your resume, your online presence, your interview messaging – to counteract employers’ worries. Pay attention to all the details, from the tagline in your email signature to your LinkedIn photo. Speaking of LinkedIn, consider carefully whether to use the “Career Break” feature. And for interviews, prepare answers to common questions like “Why have you been out of work so long?” (Tip: Keep your answer very brief, upbeat and future-focused.) Find and correct any weak links in the image you’re putting across.

Use Best Practices in Networking

Realize that your big opportunity will probably not come about through applying to a job you found online. Networking is especially essential for those with gaps, since the online application process favors people with “ideal” work histories. If you feel some uncertainty or distaste toward networking, it may be you’re just not doing it in the most effective way and you need to try a different approach.

Follow Through, 100%

Many people who read this article will think “Hmm, some good ideas here,” and maybe act on a few of the ideas, but not others. They will be blocked by obstacles or feelings of overwhelm. They will do a halfway-effective job search, cross their fingers and hope. They may get a job, but it may take a long time and it may not be as good a job as they could have gotten.

If you are thorough and dedicated in researching, designing and implementing a smart job search campaign, you will be miles ahead of the job seeker whose approach is “halfway & hope.”

You will run into obstacles. Be curious about them. Search for solutions. Find sources of help. Use your head and your heart. Impress yourself by working smarter than you ever have before. Getting back into the workforce after a gap in employment isn’t easy, but it’s just a matter of putting your best foot forward, one step after the next. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

 

This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated.

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