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Overcoming the "Unemployed Bias"

By Jeff Lipschultz

I am constantly telling unemployed job seekers that having the unemployed stamp on their resume these days is more of a "Badge of Courage" than a "Scarlet Letter."

Most employers realize that it is hard to have a career path that doesn’t hit a bump in the road somewhere along the way. The key to overcoming the bias associated with being unemployed is to paint the picture with the brightest colors possible.

Hopefully, your termination from your last job was not due to any negative actions on your part. If there was a layoff, reorganization or the job was shipped overseas, hiring managers are likely to give you a chance to tell your story. Whether in the interview, resume, or just networking, there are key approaches to keep in mind.

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Start with the facts.

When asked, present your situation factually. If you were fired, you’ll need to share what you’ve learned from the experience and how it has shaped your career decisions going forward.

If it was a bad fit, then explain what a good fit for you looks like (it should match the job you’re interviewing for, if you’re doing your homework).

And if you were laid off, realize this is not uncommon right now. You might be asked what prompted the layoff and/or why you were included. If many were involved, you should mention this, too.

Highlight the positives of your last employment.

Certainly if your tenure was long and filled with achievements, you should be able to give a positive description of your experience at your last employer. Stick to the accomplishments and give very little background to the separation details.

The idea is to move on and don’t dwell on the topic. Some candidates get a little tongue-tied when talking about it.

Don’t wing it—have a practiced response ready. If the hiring manager is comfortable with your response, all your other information will have more merit.

One way to solidify your reputation with the last company is to have a written recommendation from your last boss. You need not necessarily present the recommendation when the topic comes up. Simply saying you have a letter of recommendation is often enough to convince an interviewer that you were a good employee.

Fill the void on your resume.

I agree that looking for a job IS a full time job. But you must do something else, part time, to have something on your resume after the last job. Yes, it is all about marketing and you are marketing yourself. Having the best promotional documentation (your resume, LinkedIn profile, etc.) is part of most every sale. Especially when you can’t sell yourself in person.

To fill the void on your resume volunteer, do consulting work, help friends with their business (you won’t necessarily be asked if it was a paid position), go to a class, or be active in professional associations (which also helps with networking). Showing that you are taking advantage of the time available to you shows you are assertive, keeping your “saw sharp,” and like to be busy.

Always show confidence.

Employers can smell desperation. They don’t like hiring a candidate who “wants any job.”

They want candidates who really feel they are a perfect fit for their job. When they have dozens of qualified candidates to choose from, they are going to pick the one who best fits the needs they have. If they feel you are the best fit and they don’t see any risk in hiring you, you get the job. Risk to them can mean someone else thinks you are not the ideal employee.

You need to convince them that you are risk-free and being unemployed has nothing to do with your ability to do the job well. Showing confidence includes telling a compelling story. What are the special qualities, training, and experiences you have that may separate you from the rest of the candidates? The more value you attach to your name, the less important your employment status is.

Crank up the networking.

Going through traditional channels (job boards, want-ads, career fairs, employer web sites) can be a challenge when unemployed since there often is not human contact with the hiring manager.

You have heard time and time again how important networking is. There is a reason for this.

If a friend or colleague walks your resume down the hall to the hiring manager (or makes a phone call), they are putting their reputation on the line. Good recruiters feel the same way. This "investment of reputation equity" on their part balances out the unemployment bias.

Statements like this one go a long way to getting an interview:

"Check out Jim. I’ve known him for years, and he’s a go-getter and really smart. I think you’d like him. He’s been doing some freelance work between jobs as he was caught up in a huge layoff that was all about the dollars."

One other note on networking: leverage your social network. Whether on the Internet or neighborhood party, people need to know you’re looking. Make sure you’re approachable about the subject, too. You might also consider starting a blog. I’ve recommended this to unemployed CIOs in the past. One of them got noticed by the online Wall Street Journal and blogged for them. Soon after, he landed a new job.

More on Job Search Networking.

Consider contracting.

I just placed a candidate this week for a contractor position as a Business Analyst. She would have preferred a permanent role, but she now has a chance to show off her talents from within. Resumes saying you’re great are one thing. Actually showing them great work is another. I’ve asked the supervisor to keep an eye on her for potential long-term work if she deserves it, and he agreed he would.

More on Freelancing and Contracting.

Some good news.

In the last several years, I have had very few of my clients ask job seekers about their employment status. And when they do, the explanation of a layoff is sufficient.

Don’t forget the smaller companies in your search. They sometimes are harder to network into, but they tend to hire more quickly and have fewer candidates to choose from. They often have identified a need and want to fill it right away. An unemployed candidate sometimes looks more appealing to the potential employer because the unemployed candidate can start immediately, and the employer has no risk of being faced with a counter-offer from an existing employer and being rejected.

Bottom Line

As they say, "perception is reality." By approaching your job search and self-marketing correctly you can overcome the “unemployed perception” with “well-qualified candidate.”

More About Handling the Unemployment Issue:


About the author...

Job-Hunt's Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. He is a unique recruiter with Lean Engineering experience and a Six Sigma Blackbelt. Learn more about him through his company site alistsolutions.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter (@JLipschultz) and on GooglePlus.



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