The first week that you started looking for a new position, hiring managers may not have even noticed that you were technically unemployed. And they certainly (hopefully) had the common sense not to hold this against you. But if you’ve been on the market for a few months—or years—now, things might be a bit different. After about six months, it’s reasonable for hiring managers to question your employment gap. After all, they are making an important decision that should serve the best interests of the company. For the most part, this is nothing personal. It’s a just a necessary and reasonable aspect of due diligence. So how should you answer these questions, and how can you make sure that your unemployed status doesn’t create an unwelcome job search obstacle?
- First, although it may be difficult to hear, you need to do something—anything—that shows you aren’t sitting on the couch all day. Even if you’re collecting a small or irregular paycheck or doing work that is beneath your qualifications, you need to “work.” This may mean taking a part time job, offering your services for odd jobs, or looking for occasional (or regular) freelance work, consulting positions, or temp jobs.
You might even consider volunteering. Employers like to see this on your resume, and this kind of work will keep your hands active and your social skills sharp. This can also expose you to new experiences and contacts you’d otherwise miss. Just don’t give away your time to a company that could easily pay you but chooses not to.
2. Don’t commit so much time to this this place-holding work that your search for more appropriate positions falls behind. If you have to put your dream job on the back burner for a while, do so, but control the hours you spend working on other things so that you still have enough time and energy to submit applications to more appropriate employers.
3. If you’ve looked for part time or temporary work and haven’t found any opportunities, that’s okay. Just keep focusing your search on appropriate positions, but widen your definition of appropriate. Be flexible. Push the boundaries of what you want to do, what you can do, how you define your areas of interest and expertise, and the rigidity of your long term-goals. Keep your mind open. You never know when or where the right job might come your way.
4. If you can afford to, take a course. Take plenty of courses. Steer clear of for-profit degree programs, and by all means read the fine print before you accept any educational debt, but do what you can to keep learning and growing. You can also consider joining a club, a team, an industry organization, or an open source programing project to stay connected to changes in your field.
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