If you’re out of work, there’s one major factor that can predict how successful you’re likely to be in your job hunt: the length of time since you last held a job—with an almost mystical dividing line setting in at the six month period. A recent article in the Atlantic reported on a study that examined the callback rates to interviews for a set of fake resumes where the only major difference was the duration since the “candidate” had become unemployed. Here’s the article’s author, Matthew O’Brien, on the study’s findings:
“Employers prefer applicants who haven’t been out of work for very long, applicants who have industry experience, and applicants who haven’t moved between jobs that much. But how long you’ve been out of work trumps those other factors […] People with relevant experience who had been out of work for six months or longer got called back less than people without relevant experience who’d been out of work shorter. […] As long as you’ve been out of work for less than six months, you can get called back even if you don’t have experience. But after you’ve been out of work for six months, it doesn’t matter what experience you have.”
To get a sense of the scale of the problem, consider last month’s BLS data: among the 7.6 percent of the working age population who were reported as unemployed last month, almost 40 percent of the total—some 4.6 million Americans—had been out of work for more than 27 weeks. Combine that with the data from the Atlantic, and the picture is scary: around 3 percent of the working-age population in this country is facing a challenge not just to find open jobs, but a much bigger handicap in the form of employer discrimination at the hiring level.
So what can you do?
While it’s undoubtedly difficult for the long-term unemployed to find work, it’s not impossible—especially with the economy continuing to show slight improvement. Here are a few tips for getting your foot back into the door:
1. Rework your resume
If the first thing on your resume is a “recent experience” section that is, well, not recent, you’re starting off on the wrong foot. Try reworking your resume so that it focuses more on the skills that you possess and the value you can create, rather than a straight chronological listing of employers.
2. Fill those holes
Another way to update your resume is to gain some new skills or experiences to include on it—things that you can do even without spending a ton of additional money. Anything you can add that highlights a commitment to being engaged and using your time for self-development—from an online class to a volunteer position with a local charity organization, or even a company you’re interested in working for—will help you to stand out.
3. Make connections—and use them
Problem number one in the job-seeking community is making it past the initial resume screen to get to the people who can actually make a decision about whether to hire you or not. The best way to do that: networking, both physically and virtually. Getting an introduction to someone—whether via LinkedIn or a neighbor—is a much more efficient way of getting companies to see you as a person with useful skills, instead of a date on a page.
4. Get your story straight
Make no mistake, if you make it to an interview, you will be asked about the reason for your extended period out of the workforce. A simple statement like “my position was eliminated at my last job, and I took some time to consider my options and figure out what I really wanted to do next” sounds a lot better than “I haven’t been able to find anything because the job market is awful,” even if the latter is the truth.