Thursday, August 12, 2010

So You've Been Out Of Work For How Long?

For the past 6 months, I have been supporting a family member in his search to locate a new job. He has been seeking employment for close to a year. The mental, emotional, financial, and physical toll of his search for employment has been deep. Sadly, he is not alone. There are numerous stories of people within the KnowledgeStaff network that have been on the hunt for a new job for as long and longer. None of these people I mention are dead wood, poorly skilled or problem employees. They are all struggling job seekers, members of a fraternity that none chose to join.

But there are promising signs out there. Slowly, I am hearing stories of people landing new jobs or assignments. At KnowledgeStaff our activity with full-time placements has picked up noticeably. Predictions of a slow economic recovery seem to be on target.

A question that I get asked frequently is “How do I explain being out of work for so long?” with the follow-up question “How do I let this potential employer know that I am not damaged goods?’ These are not easy questions but the best answers to these questions may come from dissecting the concerns of the potential employers that are behind these questions.

It is important to remember that employers are readily aware of the job market and economy. In many cases they too have experienced downsizings. Unlike other market downturns they are clear that many very qualified people lost their jobs and that layoffs went much deeper than just eliminating the poor performers or dead wood.

The most frequent concerns that I hear from employers when considering candidates that have been out of work for a while are:

  • Why so long? They basically want to know the story behind the story. What were the circumstances that caused you to be out of work and why have you not secured a position to date? What they are listening for is sincerity and to be sure that there is no remaining bitterness. They want to hear that you are in a mood of resolve and excitement about beginning a new position and making a contribution to that organizations' success. A small dose of humility can also go a long way.

  • How have you been spending your time? Has the job search been a full-out endeavor? Have you been volunteering your time or done any consulting work? Candidates that appear to have been sitting on the sidelines or putting out anything less than a full-out effort may raise concerns about work ethic and commitment.

  • Have you made any investments (time or money) to improve your skill set and marketability? If the answer is no, there is still time. Take an online course, read some books or download a free trial version of a software tool that will enhance your marketability.

  • How much? We are all aware that there is a new reality when it comes to compensation. The law of supply and demand is just not in the favor of job seekers. Candidates that show a willingness to consider positions at a significantly lower level that what they are accustomed raises serious retention concerns for the employer. The best answer that I have heard presented by a candidate was to offer to commit to remain with the new employer for a period of time (12-24 months seems reasonable). Please note that the employer may not raise their concerns about retention - just know that it is most probably there and any answers that you can provide during the interview to stress your commitment and the fact that you are not a job-hopper can only help.

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