Job Talk: How can I explain six-year jobless gap?
Dear J.T. & Dale: With the exception of eight months, I have been unemployed for the past six years due to the economy. How can I try to fill in that gap? Some employers ask me about it, and they don't seem satisfied with my answer that it is due to the economy, which I have no control over. Is there something else I can tell them? — Charles
DALE: I'm not satisfied either, Charles. Yes, unemployment is too high, but here's the reality: When the economy is running along nicely, the unemployment rate is still about 5 percent, as employees come and go. Compare that with the recent rate, about 8 percent, and you find just a 3 percent gap. That 3 percent is millions of people, and it's a human and financial waste, but it is still 3 percent. Even with multi-year unemployment, hiring managers wonder why you haven't found a way into the 90-plus percent. They ask themselves: "Why has everyone passed on this guy? What's wrong?" You can blame the economy for a few months or a year, but after that you either need retraining or to relocate, or maybe just a new search strategy.
J.T.: Let's start with a new strategy. Try to give hiring managers a more quantified sense of what you've been doing to look for work. Tell them how many hours each week you spend looking, the networking events you attend and what skills you've been working on to stay current and marketable. Let them know you're working hard at finding work.
DALE: That, I fear, will just reinforce the impression that a zillion other hiring managers have passed on you. Instead, I'd urge you to find a way to make a new start. Get holiday or part-time work, or help out in a friend's business in order to get something recent on your resume. Then, in interviews, tell hiring managers that you took time off to ... well, to work on family issues or whatever it is you actually were doing. Come up with something credible that allows you to say that you've just come back into the job market. Meanwhile, make the new start real: Don't look just for a job, but for new contacts and new skills. Use the time to get better at what you do, and you'll soon find yourself on the 90-plus percent side of the employment statistics.
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Dear J.T. & Dale: Earlier this year, I landed an interview for a great full-time position on the team I interned with while in graduate school. I was told I'd definitely be hearing back, although it might take a couple of months. I followed up immediately with thank-you notes, and with an email about a month after that. Fast-forward five months, and still no response. The fact that this was a team of people who know my work really stung. Is there anything I can do to prevent a situation like this in the future? — Emily
J.T.: It's really true that when you're in a job search, you are a salesperson. All responsibility to close the deal rests on you. Which means you have to find a way that you can know what's going on and get a clear "yes" or "no."
DALE: You can start by not giving up on this group of colleagues. The job simply may never have been filled. Even if it was, that person might not work out, or they may add another new position.
J.T.: Yes, it won't hurt to ask. More importantly, make a regular effort to touch base with each of these colleagues and show them how professional you are by sending them articles that they would find of interest. We call that "curating content," and it's one of the best networking techniques we can use today.
DALE: Further, after interviews, the way to follow up without seeming to be pushy is to ask for permission. "Would it be OK if I called you in a couple of weeks to see how things are coming along?" With every contact, offer to take the initiative for the next contact, always trying to keep some control over the flow of information.
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