If you've been unemployed for a long stretch – say, six months or more – the job search may feel like a fruitless endeavor. However, with the economy improving and more and more jobs being created every month, opportunity really does exist. It's just a matter of learning to position yourself to grab that brass ring.
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If you've been out of work for a while now, there are some simple tweaks you can make – to your resume, to your cover letter, and to your expectations – to increase your chances of landing the job you want. Here are eight tips to help you:
1. Be Honest
Honesty is the best policy for several reasons, not the least of which is that the stress of trying to hide a big gap on your resume can take its toll and affect your performance in job interviews.
Our advice? Lay your cards on the table. Mention in your cover letter that you've had an employment gap and briefly explain the reason why. There is no need to get too personal or go into great detail. Simply acknowledge that you experienced a layoff or took time off to raise your children, for example. Before an interview, rehearse your employment gap explanation verbally.
Another reason never to lie? A background check or call to a reference will likely send your house of cards tumbling, and an impending offer could be pulled if a recruiter discovers that you've misled them.
2. Don't Disparage Your Previous Employer
If you were laid off or fired from your previous job, it might be tempting to trash your former employer. Resist the urge. Your explanation of an employment gap should never contain bitterness against a past company or former boss.
Keep your responses simple and neutral. Explanations like "Culturally, it wasn't a good fit for me" or "After the merger, my role was eliminated" explain an exit without laying blame. Better yet, try emphasizing something positive about the situation, such as a lesson or skill you learned during your time in your previous job.
3. Rewrite Your Professional Summary
As an unemployed person, you've likely been filling your days differently than you did when you were working full-time. Perhaps you've been volunteering. Maybe you started a blog or took some courses to beef up your skill set. Mention these activities in your summary to show employers you've done valuable things with your time while you were out of work.
4. Focus on Results
Quantifying achievements is essential for any job seeker, but it's especially critical for people who have been unemployed for long stretches of time. Being able to provide numbers to back up your past professional achievements – e.g., "Managed a team of five engineers" or "Increased sales revenue by 10 percent" – will show a prospective employer what you'll bring to the table.
5. Organize Your Work History According to Relevance Rather Than Chronology
If you've been out of work for awhile, you may end up taking a job outside of your career path just to make ends meet. If your most recent position isn't relevant to your career goals – for example, if you are a marketing professional who waited tables to survive unemployment – try reorganizing your resume so that irrelevant jobs end up at the bottom. Bump up the roles that are relevant to your career and the roles you are applying for.
6. Keep an Open Mind
If you've been unemployed for six months or more, it may be time to look into opportunities to use your skills in a new field. Many skills are transferable between industries. Do your homework to find out if your skills are sought after in an area with more opportunity.
7. Adjust Your Wish List
The job hunt is like dating: People have definite ideas about what they want and can be very rigid when it comes to their lists of must-have qualities. If you've been looking without success for a particular job title in a particular industry, you may have unintentionally limited your chances of getting hired.
You aren't the same person you were when you lost your job, and reorganizing your professional wish list can help you find new opportunities. Are catered lunches at the office really a must-have? Could you conceive of commuting a bit further? Making small adjustments, like being slightly flexible about your job title or being open to contract work, might bring to light opportunities you've been overlooking.
8. Reinvent Yourself
The gift unemployment gives us is time, so make the most of it. Take courses, read books, or learn the latest software in your field. Grow your skills! If you see unemployment as an opportunity rather than a curse, you can come out the other end with a new set of skills.
Be sure to add all that you've learned to your resume. Employers want to see engaged candidates who seize opportunity.
LiveCareer develops tools to help job seekers write resumes, draft cover letters, and prepare for interviews.