The whole concept of unemployment bias is reminiscent of job searching at 16, going door-to-door to every yogurt joint and coffee place to beg for a first job. “No experience? No thanks” was a theme among employers. It is circular logic: “How can I get experience if no one will hire me because I don’t have enough experience?”
Fast forward several years. This terrible economy has resulted in downsizing and lots of folks are out of jobs for long periods at a time. If you have a gap in your employment, you’re not alone. Of the 14 million unemployed, about a third of job seekers have been unemployed for more than a year, according to the Associated Press.
And, unfortunately, there’s a terrible stigma attached to job seekers with a gap in their employment history. How can you patch up your work history if you can’t get a job because there are holes in your resume? That pesky circular logic ensues again.
But don’t feel helpless. After all, you successfully ended that cycle once before when you finally landed your first job. Now, whether you were laid off or out of work for whatever reason, follow these steps to fight unemployment bias and find the best job.
1. Don’t Dwell
Try not to focus on the fact that you have an employment gap. Be honest, but your shortfalls shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re applying to a job or talking to an employer. Of course, employers are likely to ask you about the gaps, but answer them in a positive way by mentioning how you’ve sharpened your skills in the meantime.
Come to terms with your unemployment. Like any other stigmatization, your self-esteem is likely to take a hit. Talk to others who are in your position, and try not to feel so victimized. It happens, move on.
2. Be Active
Not just in your career, but physically and mentally. Challenge yourself by Yoga or running. Do something—anything— that doesn’t involve sitting around or sleeping all day. That’s too easy. The boost of self-confidence that results from physical activity will transfer to your job hunting attitude as well.
3. Learn Something
One option to fill your employment gap is by going back to school. Senior Account Executive at major recruiting firm Red Zone Resources Mike Barefoot suggests taking classes as a way to reverse the stigma of employment gaps.
Barefoot says that some unemployed job seekers say, “They took extended break from the workplace to get re-invigorated by going back to school to enhance their current skill sets or by learning new ones.”
He explains, “This can be parlayed into a candidate that is viewed as being more well-rounded and adaptable to an ever changing, economic landscape.”
When you’re talking to people about your career, stay positive. Smile and act like you have it all together, even if you don’t. Networking can only be effective if you convince the other party that you’d make a great asset to the best companies around. Complaining or playing the victim has no place in networking.Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University’s College of Business Administration, suggests “developing a story you are comfortable repeating that tells employers what you have been doing while you’ve been out of work.”
Work for free. This is a great way that you can try to proactively bridge gaps in your employment history, particularly if you aren’t financially stable enough to go back to school. Volunteering to help out a company will still provide you with the benefit of more networking opportunities as well as a resume booster.
6. FreelanceIf you take initiative and begin your own business, employers will value your entrepreneurial and self-starting skills that you cultivate during tough times. You’ll never know unless you try. Also, starting your business can be one of the most rewarding careers.
Barefoot exemplifies, “If you’re a Web Developer, start your own company and secure consulting engagements or work pro bono.” He says, “In this scenario, you’re showing continuity while keeping your skills sharp.”
Of course, it’s not always easy to find clients without a solid brand. But Barefoot says you should give a little to get a little: “In conjunction with your consulting, utilize your skills in a volunteer format.”
He says, “By doing this, you show that you’re community minded and referrals (from the quality of your work) are the best advertisement to finding your next working/paying opportunity.”
7. Be Patient
When you’ve burnt through these 6 steps, start back at 1. Keep at it, and don’t give up. You won’t find success overnight, but if you’re diligent and patient, you will successfully fight unemployment bias.