Economic Woes and Work Breaks

Examine the statistics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports double-digit unemployment in the US. The Great Recession presses on, affecting millions both employed and unemployed. Those unemployed are finding it takes longer now to secure a job than ever before. As periods of unemployment drag on, many job seekers worry about the impression the gap in employment will have on prospective employers. What will hiring managers think if they see you’ve been out of work for nine months or a year or more?

Many job seekers believe an extended period of unemployment is a commentary on their professional value or performance. If that were true, it would mean over 10% of the population has been sidelined because they are poor workers. When stated in those terms, it becomes obvious unemployment is not a personal reflection on a job seeker’s abilities, value, or intelligence. In this recession, unemployment is simply a comment on the economy. Companies have to cut budgets and payrolls are most affected.

As a job seeker, once you get your mind around that perspective, you won’t find the period of your unemployment quite so intimidating. It’s not your fault you were laid off! Unemployment is not some kind of negative mark against you. It’s life. It happens. Staying mentally positive and not seeing unemployment as some sort of unspoken black mark on your record is very important to the success of your job search.

Attitude is everything. Job search is marketing, and to market/sell something well, you have to believe in it and have a positive attitude. Ask any sales person and he will tell you really sell well, it is vital to believe in the product and approach the sales process with a can-do mentality. That principle applies when marketing your professional skills and experience in a job search. You have to believe you are valuable. If you are unemployed and think you are unemployable because of that fact, then you are. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Additionally, your attitude will bleed into your resume and cover letter if you allow it. If you are negative about your job search, you will unintentionally communicate negativity in your job search marketing. If you are positive, it will also show. When addressing a date gap on the resume, think first of your attitude. Do you see a date gap as a bad thing or something neutral? How do you think an employer views date gaps?

In today’s economic environment, date gaps are common, especially recent date gaps. What is the best way to handle date gaps on the resume or in the interview? There are several strategies that work well.

It’s no big deal. If you have been unemployed for six months or less, it is reasonable to not address the last six months on the resume at all! You can simply list the dates of your last job in years only, with the current year being the last date on the resume. Employers know how long job searches are lasting in this recession, so it’s not surprising or unusual. Start trying to overly explain the gap of the last few months, and you will seem frantic on paper which raises concern. The following is an example of desperate over explanation:

2009 – Present Employment search following involuntary lay off as a result of negative economic conditions and complete collapse of construction industry. First time in 15 year not fully employed. Had perfect attendance and outstanding evaluations for entire career.

Be brief and positive. Many people take the opportunity of unemployment to pursue further education or professional development. Sometimes, a period of unemployment can be a well-timed sabbatical that can be addressed briefly yet positively in the resume. Bringing that information into the resume can serve as a positive. See the following techniques:

2009 – Present  Pursuit of PMP designation. Expected completion May, 2010.

Career Note:  Professional sabbatical to care for terminally ill parent, 2008 – 2010.

2009 – Present Full-time study to complete Master of Science – Accounting. Graduation expected August, 2010

Date gaps become problematic when they are extensive and unexplained. If you have a ten-year gap in your employment, it should be addressed because it stands out like a sore thumb. If you don’t give an explanation, you allow the reader’s imagination to run wild, and naturally, the worst case scenarios will spring to mind. When that happens, you allow the date gap to overshadow your qualifications for the position. A straightforward approach to the elephant in the room is usually the best strategy for minimizing any negative impact, either real or imagined.