After my second layoff and a year of unemployment, I spent a bit of time talking with recruiters and others to gain perspective on what’s happening in the world of today’s job search.
I know how challenging it is to pick yourself back up and charge forward. It’s not easy by any stretch, but there are a few key points to consider if you’ve been laid off or you’re re-entering the workforce with a gap on your resume.
1. Own your story
I talked about my layoff very openly on LinkedIn and with people face to face. I second-guessed myself before I publicly posted for fear of judgement and collateral damage to my career, but the fear was unfounded.
People I never expected to hear from reached out, and had I not put it “out there” I would still be feeling apprehensive about my situation. In a lot of ways, it gave me confidence and that is the last thing I was expecting from going public. (Ironic, isn’t it?)
While crafting your story, one recruiter I talked to added that “what’s important is you’re backing up your situation with facts or a reference letter. It’s all about positioning… get a credible person to vouch for you.”
Another recruiter advised, “Go in and expect to have to tell your story a bunch. Keep it short and sweet and put a positive spin on it. People will feel for you if you went through a rough patch, but they don’t want to hear the sob story, especially not the first phone call.”
TIP: The more you talk about your employment situation with someone else (and not just the voices in your head), the easier it will become to talk about it in general. Your story will naturally come together and that’s what you want – to feel natural and unemotional when you discuss it.
Regardless of whether you were just laid off or you’ve been job searching for months, others can help and relate but you must put the effort into sharing your story one way or another. It’s important to get the cobwebs out. Practicing your story with others will help you perfect it!
2. Fill the resume gap
I came across some interesting perspectives on the resume gap when talking with recruiters and hiring managers.
Most of the folks I spoke to felt a gap could hinder a candidate’s chances — could being the operative word. If you leave a resume gap, a recruiter or hiring manager won’t know what you were doing during that time, and that could land you in the “no” pile before you even get a chance to talk.
In my case, I could have left a year’s gap on my resume. Instead, I started some freelance work and my own project the month after my layoff to show I had other things I was focused on. This made a world of difference when I interviewed!
“It is important for candidates to show that they have been active or keeping their skills up during the non-working time,” said one recruiter willing to share advice.
TIP: This point is about building confidence. If your job search goes on for longer than you would like, consider filling that resume gap with relevant (but brief) information that will help future employers understand that you weren’t just twiddling your thumbs waiting for someone to call you. It’s also the perfect opportunity to show how you’re keeping yourself relevant.
“Candidates can explain the reason for unemployment, the reason for layoff, or the reason for gaps in their resume in a cover letter or … directly on their resume, pretty simply,” advised one recruiter. “Another way to show that you haven’t been idle during non-working time is to volunteer for non-profits. I have been seeing a big push for rating candidates that are involved in their community a bit higher when all else is the same. To be able to say our employees volunteered X hours of time to non-profit organizations is great for their perception.”
3. Learn how to play the game today
I hate to say the job search is a game, but it is a game of strategy to the nth degree. This is your livelihood and if you’re not an active player in where you land next, then you have no one to blame but yourself at the end.
Aside from networking, which is still the gold standard, what may have worked for you a few years ago may not work for you today. I myself had a plan A, B, C, and D, with plan C being getting help as previous tactics netted zero results.
My help was in the form of working with a coach that revamped my resume for today’s standards and provided some networking strategies. Did it land me a job? Not necessarily, but it was a good step (for me) to ensure I was putting my best self forward.
Resumes have changed over the last few years and they’re a challenge to get right for today’s job search! A sage piece of advice from many recruiters and hiring managers I spoke to is that you don’t need to highlight that you’ve been working for a much longer time than what’s listed in job description. For example, if the job calls for eight years of experience, don’t list 25 years on your resume.
TIP: You can gain a lot of insight into the game by eavesdropping on public recruiter conversations on LinkedIn. These conversations are amusing and somewhat comforting at the same time! A lot of job seekers follow these folks and you’ll be able to find like-minded people as you scroll through the comments. Chances are, you will feel a lot less alone when you start following some of these conversations, so why not give it a try?
If you go the resume writing route, please be warned there are a lot of providers out there that will take your money but none of them can guarantee you a job. If you choose to work with a resume writer or a career coach, talk to a few people that worked with the coach/writer to understand their personal objectives (and results) before you plop down any extra cash!
4. Expect nothing and learn from everything
I often hear from job seekers how disappointed they are. Disappointment comes from expecting something from others in a situation, and a job search is full of let downs for most people.
You may be completely qualified based on the job description, but you don’t hear squat back from the company. You may be reaching out to former colleagues to network, only to hear silence on the other end. The list can go on and on, but the bottom line is you can’t take any of this personally and you can’t solely rely on others to help you move forward. Unless you know exactly what is going on in the other person’s head, do yourself a favor and don’t dwell on why you’re not hearing back. Instead, figure out what you can change about your approach or mindset to make progress.
All these points are under your control. You and only you can control your search. It’s imperative you put your best self forward as you head out to find your next role. Give these points a shot and see if they help you adjust your mindset moving forward. Good luck and you are not alone!
Dina Louie is marketer by trade and the founder of YeahItSucks.com, a project focused on bringing all perspectives of the layoff together. She believes our identities are too tied up in what we do for work and now asks people, “what makes you happy?” She’s naturally a night owl but finds some of her happiest moments are tied to experiences outside of her normal day to day environment, wherever that may be in the world! You can connect with Dina on LinkedIn.