It seems odd and unfair that employers question the “employability” of someone who has been out of work for a couple of years, or even six months.
Don’t they understand that “life happens”?
Well, gaps in employment are more common since the start of the recession, so employers are somewhat less inclined these days to imagine negative reasons for the gap. However, it’s still true that most prefer candidates who are currently employed, or who have only been unemployed a few months or less.
Constantly on guard against costly bad hires, employers can be a little paranoid. Warning: I’m about to tell you what their fears are. I’m not saying this is what I believe about you, the person reading this! These are perceptions that you need to be aware of.
Negative Perceptions of the Long-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 or not relate well to younger customers and co-workers;
- …is unmotivated;
- …is “rusty” in their skills and workplace knowledge, requiring a steep learning curve if hired.
Furthermore, returning from a gap often involves a change in career path, and employers may doubt whether the candidate is really committed to the position they’re trying to fill.
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.
Positive Perceptions: Make It So
If you aren’t positive, capable, etc., it’s hard to seem like you are! You may need to polish up your skills through training, an internship, or free-lancing. Build health and a vital appearance through exercise. Find ways to work through any emotional issues you may have about the hard knocks you’ve experienced.
Make It Show
Prepare strategically crafted communications – your resume, your online presence, your elevator intro, your interview messaging – to counteract employers’ worries.
Be thorough, from your email signature to your LinkedIn photo. 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 conveying.
If your career is taking a new direction, prove your commitment to that path by enrolling in a course or taking free seminars / tutorials, doing pro bono work and/or joining the relevant professional association. Add these items to your resume.
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, you may want to try a different approach to networking.
Many people who read this article will think “Hmm, some good ideas here,” and maybe act on a few of those 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.
And congratulate yourself for setting up the conditions for success.