The simple, hard truth is that the unemployed are discriminated against. The longer the unemployment, the more difficult it is to receive a job offer or even an interview. Hiring managers, when pressed, will admit to passing over applicants with gaps on their resumes.
The stigma of lengthy unemployment is less damaging during a recession, since it is after all, more ordinary. The average time period for unemployment now stands at 211 days, and higher income earners average longer without work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you don’t handle it correctly, it will absolutely count against you.
It is imperative that candidates demonstrate that they have been involved in productive and relevant activities during this time. Employers want employees who are enterprising and inventive in the use their time.
Volunteering for a community organization, picking up contract or consulting jobs, or taking classes to better your skills are excellent ways to demonstrate that you have kept yourself in situations where you are utilizing or improving your skills. In addition, volunteering gives you the opportunity to build your network, and employers look favorably on those who donate their skills for the betterment of the community. It proves that you are philanthropic and compassionate, that you are not only focused on yourself or money. Who wouldn’t want this type of person on their team?
This is also true for contract or consulting work. Employers understand that when the employment picture is bleak, it is desirable to keep your skills sharp and some sort of income coming in. Another benefit to contract work is that it puts the job seeker in a better position to find out about openings. If a full-time position becomes available in the company where the job seeker is doing contract work, it is very likely that the job seeker will be offered the position if it is in line with his / her skills, since he or she is already a proven commodity to the company.
When writing your cover letter and resume, highlight your skills and accomplishments so that your overall experience and knowledge will be presented to your best advantage. The best resume format to use is the Functional Resume, which is the best platform for you to highlight your varied strengths, talents, and experiences without calling attention to a gap in dates.
Begin the resume with a brief Summary of Qualifications, which is a 3-8 sentence statement of skills and areas of experience. Then continue with a section titled Areas of Expertise, which should be a list of keywords appropriate to your professional experience. The Professional Experience section will follow, listing your employers, position, select accomplishments, etc. Do not omit dates, use years only. You may add an Additional Experience section to show your activities while unemployed, although if your volunteer or contract work has relevance to your work, it is perfectly acceptable to include in the Professional Experience section.
The cover letter is essential for making a good first impression and to personalize the information in the resume to the position you are applying. Accentuate your positives and be sure to emphasize your experience relative to the qualifications they are seeking. A well-written cover letter will make the hiring manager want to find out more about the candidate.
When you get to the interview, be prepared. First, never use the word “sabbatical” to explain a gap. You will be questioned about your unemployment, never say that you have spent most of your time looking for a job. The best way to handle this question is to explain your situation in a way that demonstrates how you used your skills during your job search. Be sure to exude an air of confidence and present your current awareness of top competitors and industry trends.
Take your time to plan and practice, carefully construct your written and verbal responses, be positive and you can level the playing field with your employed competition.