Sometimes the greatest barrier to getting a job is not having one. Though this is entirely counterintuitive, it seems that many employers prefer hiring someone who already has a job.
Before you whine, “Not fair!” (And it isn’t!), let’s take a look at some of the reasons that an employer might shy away from someone who’s not currently employed.
- Do they have contacts? For many people, who you know is just as important as what you know. If you’ve been “out of the game” for a while, do you have the contact base to ramp back up?
- Have their skills atrophied? Particularly in technology, you have to stay up to date on the latest and greatest, because it moves fast.
- Are they used to following a schedule and direction? Following months of making your own schedule, an employer might doubt your ability to jump back in.
And behind all these reasons lies the ugly truth that employers probably don’t want to face themselves: Is there a reason this person was let go or isn’t being hired? Am I the one to take a chance?
So if you are one of those unfortunate ones who have been out of work longer than you deserve your job is to assure your prospective employer that none of these is the case. Here are some ways to do it:
1. Keep up on technology, especially if technology is part of your job. Norms change fast and knowing an old version of a product isn’t going to impress anyone. Do you still fax while everyone else scans? Do you still do PowerPoint while many people have morphed to Prezi? Make sure you know the new standard, and drop that info into your resume or conversations as much as you can.
2. Volunteer with a purpose. Sure, you want to do good. But see if you can find a volunteer opportunity that does yourself good too. Are you in human resources? Offer your services to a nonprofit to help them assess their compensation or employee review systems.
An accountant? Run the function for your kids’ school or youth sports program. And think big! Maybe the district foundation needs assistance, not just your one elementary school. Or maybe the youth sports county-wide division could use your skills. The bigger the project, the bigger the challenge…and the more people you are bound to meet.
3. Maintain your network. It’s worth the cup of coffee to meet your contacts as often as possible. Even if you can’t physically see them as often as you’d like, or you are geographically unable to, make sure you keep up with them online. Follow them on social media and comment on their posts. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Email them to let them know what’s up…the classes you have been taking or the volunteer work you have been doing for example.
4. Stay up on industry news. Find out what the best blogs and newsletters are in your industry and follow them so that when you do get a meeting, you know the latest. Join Twitter and follow thought leaders and experts in your industry. Read what they’re reading and share it with your network. Nowadays your recruiter or interviewer is going to check you out online. Make sure you look connected, savvy and active!
5. Have a quick response ready when you’re asked or even address it head on. It WILL come up in your interview and so it’s probably best to address it as soon as possible. You have nothing to apologize for. You were downsized because your company lost a key client. Not one that you worked on but it affected the whole department. Or it was one that you worked on and they took their business in-house or they went with a vendor who overpromised them and is probably under delivering right this minute. Don’t sound defensive, but be clear about what happened in your industry. Almost everyone these days knows someone who was laid off through no fault of their own.
Maybe you were a travel agent and the whole industry went away. What can you do? Pursue new opportunities with vigor…which is what you are doing.
Or, if you took time off to raise kids, again, there’s no need to apologize. It was best for your family; you kept up on your skills and you are eager to jump back in with a renewed focus and excitement after your break.
6. Emphasize that you’ve been busy but that you are eager to jump back in.
To address the schedule question, make a point of mentioning what you’ve been doing that shows you’re reliable. Maybe you decided to work at the non profit instead of at home as a way to adhere to a schedule. Or, you deliberately scheduled classes for times when you would be required to get up and get going. Mention the involved homework, group projects or other requirements that you fulfilled with ease.
There is nothing you can do about a bias toward you except proactively make every attempt to head off the questions and concerns to show that indeed you ARE the best candidate for the job!
by Cathie Ericson