Absence Makes the Search Grow Harder – The Stigma of Extended Unemployment

I received the following email from a reader who is concerned about the current state of her job search:

“I don’t know if you’ve heard the recent debate/theory over whether companies avoid reviewing or hiring job applicants who are or appear to be out of work for a long period of time. I’ve been out of work since last November and I find as the months go on I’m getting fewer responses from companies I submit my resume to. What is your take on this? I try to keep myself current with professional development classes and side work, but wonder if I am missing something.”

I can tell you that I am intimately familiar with this school of thought, and have been guilty of subscribing to it from time to time. I’m not proud of the fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless.

In many circles, conventional wisdom dictates that in a healthy job market, the “good” candidates are employed while the “undesirables” remain on the market. This line of thinking is more prevalent than I’d like to admit, and is certainly responsible for keeping some very qualified people out of work longer than they should be. It’s a self-serving and self-sustaining principle, in that it can falsely create the appearance of a more severe talent shortage than actually exists – while employers are busy trying to poach employees from one another, a sizable population of unemployed and qualified candidates goes un-noticed. The longer this goes on, the more unemployable the unemployed start to appear and the more heated the battle for the employed becomes.

In long-term good economies, I think there’s certainly some validity to this theory – in a good job market, the qualified candidates will get jobs in relatively short order while the less qualified will remain unemployed. The past few years, however, have thrown a few monkey wrenches into the equation. In early 2010, for instance, it wasn’t uncommon at all to find very qualified candidates in a variety of fields who had been out of work since late 2008 when the market fell apart. These unfortunate souls were among the first casualties of the recession, and found that things only got worse as they remained unemployed. So as recently as a year ago, many of these long-term unemployed were considered readily hirable and perfectly untainted by their hiatuses. As the market began to pick up in 2010 and into 2011, however, the old thinking about the unemployed started to creep back into the psyches of recruiters and hiring managers alike. The thinking was “if nobody else wants them, why should I? I don’t want someone else’s rejects.” I know these are harsh words, and they may sting. But I want to make sure you know the reality of what you’re dealing with – it’s not pleasant, and it’s not an easy thing to overcome. I’m not saying that it’s right, mind you. I’m just saying that it’s there.

So how can someone combat these harmful negative perceptions? What can you do to not make yourself appear so unwanted? The answer is simple. Work.

“But HR Dave, it was as easy as that we wouldn’t be having this conversation!”

A fair statement, but I’m not talking about working in a regular job for a regular employer. I’m talking about finding a way to do something that’s worthy of putting on your resume. If you’re an accountant, offer to do your friends’ taxes. If you’re in marketing, find someone who’s starting a business somewhere and offer your services for free or almost free. If you’re a shepherd just go find a flock somewhere and tag along to make sure no sheep get away. Trust me, no matter your profession there are people who would love to take advantage of your services. Especially if they’re free.

Once you’ve found your opportunity, frame it in a way that will make employers take notice. At the top of the “experience” portion of your resume, put the company name “(Your Initials) Marketing/Accounting/Shepherding/Whatever it is that you do.” Then list your position as “Consultant.” Then put the dates in from whenever you became unemployed until present. Then bullet-point your tasks, responsibilities and accomplishments just as you did for your other positions. If you find more than one “client” to take on, you can list your multiple clients to make it clear that you haven’t just been sitting around.

Once you have this on your resume, you’ll never guess what happens. All of a sudden you’ve gone from the chronically unemployed to an entrepreneurial go-getter whose services are in demand. Now that’s something that companies are looking to hire.

In addition to the usual comments and questions I would like to open up the comments section on this post as a sort of classified ad. If anyone is unemployed and has a service they would like to offer, let it be known below. If anyone is in need of a service for your business of any size, let it be known. In the spirit of community, we can all keep our eyes open for opportunities to be matchmakers. We can do that, can’t we?

Do you have a question you’d like to see answered on this site? Send an email to HR.Dave1@gmail.com.

Questions or comments about this topic? Please leave them below.


4 thoughts on “Absence Makes the Search Grow Harder – The Stigma of Extended Unemployment

  1. Your idea to open up the comments section of this particular post as sort of a classified ad is a noble experiment. Can you supply more detail? Seems like pretty limited distribution. Not sure how to go forward. But let’s give this a try.

    For starters I’ll announce that my service is stimulating business by transforming data to dollars. That gets done by running research projects and subsequent operations calling for finding, building and improving on information. Incidentally, “building” means fortifying and energizing information, not adding more raw data to overloaded decision makers and marketing leaders. Services cover process and project disciplines plus higher powers for analysis, insights, critical thinking and writing usually applied to market positioning and selling issues and agendas.

    Come what may, thanks for your effort.

    1. Bob – Thanks for boldly going where no man or woman has gone before. In my dream world, this comment thread would be filled by early-stage entrepreneurs looking for help in marketing, website building, accounting, sales, etc. and by people in career transition looking to offer their services for low or no cost in order to stay relevant and active.

      Yes, my audience is relatively small – I average only 100-200 viewers a day on my site, so I knew that my dream would probably not be realized.

      However I’m still hopeful that the idea can live on. Tell your friends! I’ll tell mine. And let’s see if we can’t get some traction on this thing yet.

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