Believe it or not, being unemployed for an extended period of time may make you less employable. I recently was speaking with a colleague of mine about a hiring manager who was less likely to consider a candidate for a position if he/she had been unemployed for an extended period of time. Both my colleague and I thought this state if mind was short sided and actually flat out wrong. Why would a hiring manager eliminate a candidate from the interview pool because he/she was unemployed for an extended period? Is this simply recession think?
If you take into account the unemployment numbers in Los Angles County, with an 11.4% (or California at 11.6%) it is highly probable that a large portion of the eligible employee pool will be out of work and very likely for an extended period of time. Over one in ten people are unemployed today, which is a tragic number and running into someone out of work is a daily occurrence. So, the question here is why would someone take the position that he/she is not interested in meeting someone who is out of work for 4 months or more? While I do not agree that that is an elimination criteria, I do see some rational for this thinking–depending on the type of person you are looking for, this might be a leading indicator of the disposition of the candidate. It might make you appear complacent and unmotivated. While I think this misconception of unemployed people is wrong, understanding this rational will help those out there who are unemployed overcome this potential barrier and perhaps open new opportunities that might have been overlooked.
First, assuming you were laid off: does this necessarily mean that you are out of work, or does this mean that you lost your former source of income? Quite a different distinction if you consider losing your job in this light. If you think of it as a lost revenue stream, replacing that revenue stream is the actual goal. Finding a like for like job may be the ultimate goal, but you do have options in the meantime that may give you the ability to characterize your “unemployed” status differently on your resume.
Start a business of your own, even if it is short-term: While you might be aggressively seeking new full-time work, you can do freelance or contract work (or at least try). Look into employment agencies or past contacts to see if you can find short-term contract work that may position you as an expert in a given area. Form an S-Corp or set up a “real” business that employs you–you might be the the only employee, but you are employed by a company. While the income may be hard to make, doing business development increases your network contacts and keeps your mind sharp. Also, it allows you to fill the gap on your resume, so that you do not look like you are sitting idle for a long period of time. Potential employers will better understand your situation when you are proactively doing things to fix income loss in the short term.
Start a project: What did you do in your last job? What are you good at? Dust off your functional skills and build something. There can be sources of revenue in this too. While minuscule at first, start a blog on a topic or area in which you are an expert. Sign up for Google AdSense or affiliate programs with eBay, Amazon or iTunes and integrate that in your blog. The research required to write good content will keep you sharp mentally and also may unearth opportunities you might not have seen. If you code, learn a new language–build that iPhone app you were thinking of. The key is do things that you did for other companies–except do it for you. With all the open source and free (yet amazingly powerful) tools out there, you have low to no cost options to build something cool.
Volunteer your time: Consider giving your time for free to a cause. Explain to them that its short-term, but its something you can put on your CV or resume that will help fill the void of time. Get involved politically–use your skills to help a movement you believe in. Offer to set up a website or program for your local school. There are infinite ideas and ways to help your community while your efforts for re-employment develop. Volunteering both increases your contact points and also helps our community–win-win.
In the end, just because you lost your job–doesn’t mean you have to stop developing your CV or skills. Employers will be impressed with your tenacity and ability to work independently on ideas. Explaining your situation to an employer will be much easier if you can show that you made significant accomplishments professionally while between full-time jobs. I think that much of the perception of the unemployed knowledge worker is colored by a lack of empathy by those who haven’t been in their shoes. But, understanding the thinking of others is empowering and creates paths to understanding that would not otherwise be there. In the end, my advice is to never sit idle and don’t give anyone the chance to ask what “what have you been doing over the last six months?” without a cool snappy answer that shows them you rock!