Lately we’ve seen media portraits of an economic landscape in which “qualified workers can’t find jobs, and jobs can’t quite find qualified workers.” Many of the job seekers mentioned are the long-term unemployed — those who have been underemployed or unemployed for months or even years. They’re also experienced and qualified. And yet, the hiring manager in the article slogs through a stack of resumes, desperate to hire, but struggles to find candidates with the right skill set. It’s a tough position for employers, but it’s infinitely more difficult for job seekers.
For the long-term unemployed, getting a recruiter or hiring manager to look past the last job’s end date can seem impossible. If this sounds like an all too familiar part of your job search, these tips can help your resume tell your story much more effectively and keep your current employment status out of the spotlight.
Resume Tips for the Long-Term Unemployed
1. Tell a Different Story
Unemployed job seekers often have serious anxiety about explaining their current situation. The solution to this starts with creating a narrative for yourself that doesn’t put unemployment front and center. Start by writing a compelling profile statement, which you can read more about in How to Write a Great Resume. This is your chance to craft your own story, so be creative (within reason). Focus on your skills and the value you offer a potential employer. Don’t mention that you’re unemployed or even underemployed. Focus on confident, assertive statements of value, and make sure you keep referring to your value throughout the resume. Remember, you’re more than just a collection of job titles and duties — make sure an employer sees that, too.
2. Don’t Lead with Your Last Full-Time Job
Once a reader gets to the professional history section of your resume, be sure that the first thing they see isn’t a job that ended months or years ago. The best way to accomplish this is by seeking freelance or consulting work that’s relevant to your current job objective or even starting your business. Even if it’s something small that only requires a few hours of your time each week — a dog walking business, say, or even a Christmas tree farm — showing an employer that you’re active, engaged, and productive is critical. Volunteering can also work here, though it may not be as effective. Offer to teach a class in whatever your chosen field is at a local learning center, or volunteer with a charity. Even if it’s not exactly relevant to the kinds of jobs you’re looking for, it’s far, far better than nothing.
3. Keep Your Skills Relevant
One of the biggest concerns hiring managers have about the long-term unemployed is a lack of current skills. So when was the last time you learned a new skill? If it’s been a while, start now. Cruising around Linkedin is a great place to start. Look at people who have the kinds of jobs you want, as well as those who just work in your industry. Do your skills match theirs? If not, there are plenty of ways to learn new things without breaking the bank. You can look for courses at local colleges — or better yet, do it yourself through one of the countless tutorials available on sites like W3Schools and Lynda.com.
4. Update Your Terminology
Just like out-of-date skills, using older terminology on your resume can damage your chances with a recruiter or hiring manager. Again, LinkedIn is your best bet here: see what terms people in your industry are using and update your resume and profile accordingly.
5. Remove Months from Your Dates of Employment
This is one of the easiest ways to mitigate long-term unemployment. You’re not obligated to provide months on a resume, so if your last job ended in September 2013, use “2009 – 2013” rather than “July 2009 – September 2013.” For all anyone knows, your job could have ended on December 31. If they really want to know, they’ll ask — but they probably won’t, at least until later in the process.
These tips may not land you a job immediately. But when combined with a smart job search strategy and some savvy networking, they can help level the playing field.