If you’re unemployed and worried that employers will turn you down for taking on unimpressive work during the recession or for the large employment gaps on your résumé—you needn’t panic. A new survey just released by the careers website CareerBuilder.com reveals that the vast majority of employers are sympathetic to such circumstances.
The nationwide survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive, on behalf of CareerBuilder, among 3,023 hiring managers and human resource professionals between November 9 and December 5, 2011. Not only does it offer unemployed job seekers some hope, but it also provides tips to help them land a new position.
“More than 40% of unemployed job seekers have been out of work for six months or longer,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder. “There’s a sense that such a long gap on a résumé negatively affects a candidate’s chances, but the survey shows that is not true. That’s very positive news for this group of job seekers. If you fill the gaps with activities and experience that illustrate how you are still developing your skill sets, the overwhelming majority of employers will look past your unemployment and focus on what you can bring to their team.”
Eighty-five percent of those surveyed employed reported that they are more understanding of employment gaps post-recession. Ninety-four percent said they wouldn’t have a lower opinion of a candidate who took on a position during the recession that was at a lower level than the one he or she had held previously.
But this doesn’t mean you can sit around and wait for a sympathetic employer to offer you work. “The worry is that employers may think job seekers are losing some of their skills because they haven’t been utilizing them. By volunteering, taking temporary work, or signing up for a class that develops your professional tool kit, you show employers that you’ve made the most of your time and will be ready on day one,” Haefner says.
Employers and CareerBuilder experts recommended a variety of activities you should engage in to build, expand, and strengthen your skills during period of unemployment, in order to increase your marketability.
Take a temporary or contract assignment.
Seventy-nine percent would recommend doing this. Why? “The key is to get people to see your work and to see what you’re capable of doing,” says Andy Teach, the author of From Graduation to Corporation: The Practical Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder One Rung at a Time. “If you do a great job, even if it’s for a temporary job, whoever hired you is more likely to recommend you for a permanent position.”
Take a class.
Sixty-one percent of the hiring managers surveyed recommended taking a class during a period of unemployment. “You never stop learning in your career, so the more technical competence you have, the better,” Teach says. “When you take a class in your field, you are also showing that you are serious about your work and that you take initiative.” Another advantage to taking a class: It’s a great networking opportunity.
Sixty percent of the hiring managers said volunteer work makes you more marketable. “When you volunteer for something, you are telling potential employers something about you as a person,” Teach says. It shows that you are passionate about something and care about helping others—and it demonstrates that money isn’t the most important thing to you, he adds. “When companies are hiring, they are looking not only for people who can get the job done but also for people with character and integrity.”
Start your own business.
Twenty-eight percent suggested doing this—but starting a business can be pricy and time consuming. If you have the means to do it, it’s a great résumé booster and a wonderful marketing tool.
“The beauty of having your own business is that you can work part-time or full-time depending on whether or not you are able to land a job working for someone else,” Teach says. “You are also going to learn skills that are transferrable if you do end up working for someone else again.”
Start a professional blog
Eleven percent of the surveyed employers said a professional blog can be a good way to market yourself to employers. Why? You get people to see you as an expert in your field. “You are also conveying your passion, gaining knowledge, and separating yourself from others,” Teach says. “Potential employers will see you as having taken the initiative during your job search to blog about something you truly care about: your career.”
Follow stories on hot industries and job functions.
CareerBuilder experts say information technology, engineering, health care, sales, and customer service are among the top areas for hiring nationwide, according to CareerBuilder’s job listings. Follow the news and job openings in these fields.
Use the time to come up with ideas.
Whether it’s an idea for a marketing campaign, new revenue stream, cost savings, etc., the candidates who show up at an interview with ideas demonstrate that they are passionate, knowledgeable, and excited about the opportunity. These job seekers always stand out from the crowd, CareerBuilder experts say.
A résumé handed to the hiring manager directly from someone within the company is more likely to get noticed, CareerBuilder experts say. Build and expand your network of contacts through social media and professional organizations. Let friends, family and professional contacts know that you’re looking for a job, and ask for their help in finding connections to the organizations you’re interested in.
According to CareerBuilder, two thirds of workers reported that they don’t follow up with the employer after submitting their résumé for consideration. It’s important to take that extra step to let the employer know you’re interested, and make sure you always send a thank you after an interview. Handwritten notes will set you apart from the pool of candidates, but e-mails are acceptable, too.
Use key words.
As long as you’re actively pursuing a job, you’ll likely be spending a significant amount of time editing and sending out your résumé. Remember to use key words. Why? CareerBuilder experts said most employers use electronic scanning devices to screen and rank candidates. You’ll want to tailor your résumé for each position you apply for, and include specific words from the job posting. Do this and your résumé will come up higher in employer searches.
“These types of activities tell the employer that the job seeker is serious about their career development and made the most of their time off,” Haefner says. “The key for the job seeker is to make the connection between how their volunteer work, blog, class, or temporary position prepares them for the next job. If they can successfully do that, their employment gaps won’t be an issue.”
By Jacquelyn Smith, Forbes Staff