Finding a new job can be daunting, especially in a post-recession economy. The rules have changed; companies are running leaner, people are working longer, and the job market has become incredibly competitive. Having anything other than ideal circumstances can feel like a death sentence for those who are taking the plunge into the talent pool, so what's a person to do if they've been out of the workforce for any considerable length of time? You’re smart, so I won’t lie to you – trying to find a new job after being unemployed for a while does put you at a disadvantage. That said, it’s not the end of your career aspirations. Here are some ways you can give yourself an edge, even if you’ve been out of work for a chunk of time.
The first thing you’ll need is a bullet-proof explanation as to why you’re not employed at present. This one is on you to think about, since every situation is different. Maybe you took time off to have kids, finish school, or relocate – or maybe you just haven't been able to find a new job for a long time. Whatever the case may be, the important thing is to have a satisfactory answer for a potential employer when they ask (and they WILL ask, so be ready to articulate your reasons). While you’re thinking about what to say, lying will probably cross your mind. Tread lightly into that territory, because a lie is almost always more trouble than it’s worth. Stick to an honest explanation. That’s not to say that you can’t put on your PR hat and put a positive, employer-friendly spin on your time off, just be sure you’re being honest. Nothing looks worse to an employer than a lie, especially if it’s about an already questionable element of your resume. If you left your most recent position on good terms, a great thing to do is reach out to your former boss and ask for a signed reference. Attaching this to your resume shows that you're totally employable and are out of work by choice, not because they showed you the door. However, if you ARE out of work due to a firing, you need to spend time thinking about how best to explain that as well and be prepared to explain why you've had difficulty finding your next role.
Now that you’re ready to tackle the interview, we can move on to what you should be doing until you get that coveted job offer. Be realistic and set your expectations accordingly. It might take time before you finally land a new role, so be ready to tough it out in the event that you aren’t snapped up right away. Even though you’re unemployed it’s no reason to jump on the first thing that comes your way. If you’re offered a job you know you aren’t going to be happy with for long, the best thing to do is not to accept. That seems counter-intuitive, but accepting a job you don’t want is going to make you miserable. What’s worse is that you could miss the boat on something you’d actually love by taking yourself out of the market too early. Add to all of that the fact that you’ll probably wind up leaving the sub-par role in a very short amount of time (adding job-hopping to your employment history gap and turning one problem into two), and the benefits just don’t outweigh the risks.
With that in mind, your expectations should still be balanced. You have to be cognizant of the fact that re-entering the workforce puts you at a disadvantage, so you probably won’t get your dream job right out of the gate. Don’t take the first offer you get out of desperation, but be careful not to turn the hunt for a good job into the hunt for the perfect job. It’s a fine line to walk, I know, but it’s something you’ve got to manage.
Don’t use the fact that you’re unemployed as an excuse to do nothing but binge-watch New Girl and try out new Jello shot recipes; there’s still a lot you can do while you wait on someone to recognize your genius that will make you more attractive to potential employers. Taking a part-time, temporary, consulting, or internship assignment can help you keep your skills sharp and make new connections and inroads that may lead to a full-time, permanent role. If nothing else, a part-time or temporary job means that you have recent references and can show that you were still involved – albeit in a limited capacity – in the workforce during your time between regular employment.
Part-time jobs and internships don’t grow on trees either, though. While they can be easier to find than a desirable full-time position, they aren’t guaranteed. Don’t worry, though; there is one place you can go where they won’t turn you away. There are countless volunteer opportunities available for people of all skill levels. You won’t get to bring home a paycheck, but you will make great connections in your community, keep your skills fresh, learn new skill sets, and get an awesome add-on for your resume. Who doesn’t love an altruist? Plus, bonus karma points for your good deeds!
Your best bet at landing a new position after being unemployed will come from within your own network. Make sure you're on LinkedIn, where employers and recruiters can find you, and that you've reached out to old colleagues, classmates, friends, and family to let them know you're in the market. They already know what a responsible hard worker you are, despite your present unemployment, and will be a fantastic resource to use. Make sure all of your other ducks are in a row before you start applying (you know the drill; Google yourself, take down the Facebook photos from New Years Eve that show you making out with a random in a bar, and change your novelty voice mail greeting to something more standard) so that the only hurdle you have to climb is the gap in employment. The most important thing to remember is to not get discouraged. Finding the right job can take time, but as long as you're consistent and persistent, it will be recognized and you'll find yourself back among the ranks of those that dread Mondays.