I get the question all the time in my LinkedIn workshops: "How do I let recruiters know I'm not currently working?" My answer has been somewhat noncommittal. I give people four options, none of which are entirely optimal:
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Leave your most recent employer as current for a short period of time.
Create your own "company."
Write that you're unemployed in your headline.
List volunteer experience in the experience section.
There are problems with each tactic. After all, being out of work is ... being out of work. And some ignorant employers still prefer to hire passive job seekers over job seekers who are actively looking for employment.
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No matter how you spin it, employers will know the story. Let's look at the potential solutions from worse to best:
1. Leave Your Previous Position Open
Of course, indicating you're still employed when you've been laid off, let go, or have quit is dishonest. When job seekers ask me if they should do this, I tell them that, ideally, they should end their employment at a company a day after they lose the job.
That being said, pretending you're still working for no more than three months is somewhat acceptable. Herein lies the problem: When a recruiter asks if you're still at the company, you have to make up some story about how you haven't gotten around to closing out the job. You'll have to do some fancy dancing, and this may end the conversation immediately.
One could argue that at least you'll have the opportunity to have a conversation with a recruiter or hiring manager. And that recruiter or manager might buy your tale.
2. Create Your Own 'Company'
This is my second least preferred way to solve the unemployment conundrum. It fills the "current employment" field and, therefore, gives you more visits (no one really knows how many more), but it also screams "desperation."
I've seen profiles with "unemployed" in the current field. Their place of work is therefore called "Unemployed." How much value does this add to a person's profile? None.
If you feel you need to go this route, at least show value by writing something like, "Project Manager Delivering Projects on Time, Under Budget." Then explain the ways you're going to put your talents to use helping your next employer. You can also write a brief objective statement.
3. Tell Employers in Your Headline
The problem with doing this is that it takes value away from your headline.
Obviously, the worst thing you can write is something like "Unemployed," "Seeking Next Opportunity," or "Actively Looking for a Project Manager Position." Any of these statements alone fail to express your value. Sure, they tell employers about your situation, but that's about it.
A practical reason for not writing any of these statements is that doing so reduces your character count. You're allowed 120 characters in your headline. You kill 24 of those characters by writing "Seeking Next Opportunity" in your headline. Those 24 characters could be better used to boost your brand in a meaningful way.
Instead, you might want to explain your current situation in the summary section. Don't make it the crux of the summary, but state it clearly and concisely.
4. The Best Way to Cover the Employment Gap – Volunteering
A Forbes article suggests including volunteer work in the experience section. I tend to agree. I can hear the critics bemoaning this practice – after all, it's not paid employment!
While this is true, volunteer work is exactly that – it's work. In some cases, you may even work harder than you would in paid employment.
If you are going to include volunteer work in your LinkedIn experience section, be sure to make a note of it by writing "(Volunteer Work)" next to the position. Do not mislead potential employers into thinking it is paid employment.
The volunteer work you list should be substantial and relevant. For example, if you're a web developer, spending 20 hours a week developing a nonprofit's website is a great way to showcase your existing skills and the new ones you may be learning.
Another thing to note: You can include recommendations with your volunteer experience, but only if you list it in the experience section of the profile. If you leave your volunteer work in the volunteer section, people will be precluded from sharing recommendations.
So, is it necessary to point out your unemployment status or falsify information on LinkedIn? Probably not. Covering an employment gap with volunteer experience is the best method, in my mind.
Which brings us to the topic of volunteering. I'll save that for another post.
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.