Overcoming the stigma of unemployment

Even though the recession has been going on since October 2008, there are still recruiters who make negative assumptions about candidates who are unemployed—especially those who have been unemployed for a year or more.  Many top-quality candidates have been out of work for a long time in this economy, but how do you overcome the recruiter’s negative assumptions?

There are several steps a jobseeker can take to counter these assumptions.

1. Fill the resume gap with education, volunteer work, consulting or other activities.  In other words, while you continue job-searching, try to find at least a little time to build your skills, keep current with industry trends by joining a relevant professional association, or maintain networking contacts by getting involved with your community as a volunteer.  You will be able to add some good points to your resume, and you will also be a more interesting candidate to speak with when in the interview.
2. Start your own consulting business.  Consider whether you and a friend can open an LLC to have a legitimate, if small-scale, company that can find contract work in your field.  Not only will you find many new contacts this way and keep your resume up to date, you may even be successful in launching your own company.

3. Keep a positive attitude.  Make sure you focus your job search efforts on networking and building relationships with people in your field.  Focus on how you can help others rather than being a desperate jobseeker who is constantly trying to sell yourself without considering how you can connect other people with each other.  If you are remembered as positive and helpful, you will have a better chance of being remembered when jobs open up.  Also, if you get to know people through networking before a job opens up, they will be able to find out how good a candidate you are, which can preclude them from making negative assumptions about you.  If all they see is your resume and cover letter, they are more likely to make wrong assumptions.  Which leads me to the last point:

4. Be able to explain the layoff.  Some people don’t have to explain too much: if you worked for Lehman Brothers or Washington Mutual, you don’t need to say in your cover letter that your company no longer exists, because everyone knows.  But if your prior employer laid off a large number of people, outsourced your job to another country, or is too small to have been in the news when it folded, you might mention this in your cover letter.  Of course, focus the majority of your cover letter on the positive qualities you have that would lead you to being a good candidate.  But you may address the negative inferences recruiters may have head-on by mentioning briefly, at the end of your cover letter, that you have been consulting/volunteering since the date of your layoff, which occurred because your company restructured and laid off a specific number of people.  By addressing the issue head-on, you might keep an employer from reading too much in between the lines about what you have been doing since your last full-time

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