This is a great article on LinkedIn explaining how to run a job search when you are currently unemployed, or are returning to the workforce after some time off. While it focuses on LinkedIn profiles, many of the strategies can be applied to your resume and cover letter as well.
How to Job Hunt When You’ve Been Away from the Workforce
You’ve probably heard the saying that it’s easier to get a job when you have a job. Well, what if you don’t currently have a job? What if you haven’t had a job for a long period of time?
Don’t despair. It may take some extra effort to land a job after a long period of unemployment, but it is absolutely possible. Here are five Es to guide you:
First and foremost, it is a mistake to hope that employers won’t notice that you are currently out of work. A gap in your LinkedIn profile or your resume is certain to raise a red flag. You need to address it directly.
Depending on the reason for your time away and your personal comfort level, you can either explain the gap at the beginning of your LinkedIn profile Summary or in your InMail correspondence or cover letters to recruiters when you apply for positions. In whichever place you choose to give your explanation, do it quickly, honestly and positively.
Here’s an example if you stopped working because of a layoff:
I am a creative, client-focused public relations professional with deep experience in the financial services industry. Since ABC Public Relations closed its financial services practice in June 2012, I am currently seeking a new opportunity to join a large agency.
Here’s an example if you stopped working for personal reasons, such as childcare:
I am a corporate generalist attorney with substantial in-house legal experience. For the past three years, I have focused on raising my family and I am now eager to commit my substantial energy to a full-time position as an in-house counsel for a small- to medium-sized company.
Next, describe any professional endeavors you have pursued during your time away. This might include volunteer work, part-time work, freelancing, temping or helping out in a family business. When possible, demonstrate how this work is related to your desired career path.
Here’s an example of what the laid-off PR professional might say:
I am currently providing pro bono communications support to three nonprofits, one of which specializes in financial education. In these roles, I have further sharpened my skills in social media strategy and event promotion.
One of the fears an employer might have about a candidate who is not currently working is that his or her skills are outdated. You can counter this fear by showing that you have maintained — or, ideally, increased — your knowledge during your time away.
Be sure to completely fill out the Education, Courses, Skills & Expertise and Certifications sections of your LinkedIn profile. If you are currently enrolled in a class or recently updated a skill or certification, then it’s worth mentioning that directly in your Summary.
For example, in the case of the lawyer returning to work after time off with her family, she might highlight the fact that she recently completed her mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) requirement. The PR executive might include some of his most cutting-edge skills — perhaps some that he developed recently in his volunteer work — in his Skills & Expertise list and invite his connections to endorse them.
If you know that your skills are rusty or that a mandatory professional certification has expired, don’t wait for a recruiter to notice. Do your best to get up to speed now, and include your current training or skill building in your LinkedIn profile to show that you are being proactive.
It is one thing to promote yourself as a safe bet despite your time away; it is another thing for someone else to say it for you. You can use LinkedIn recommendations and endorsements as strategic tools to address any concerns you believe an employer might have about your particular situation.
In the case of the PR executive, he might worry that an employer thinks he was laid off because he failed in his previous job. To counter this impression, he can request a recommendation from a previous boss, client or colleague to praise his successful results or mention that he survived three previous rounds of layoffs during the depths of the recession.
In the case of the attorney, she might fear that recruiters will assume her skills are rusty, so she can list her most cutting-edge skills in her profile’s Skills & Expertise section, which her contacts can then endorse.
Finally, it is crucial for unemployed job seekers to network extensively. Your best-case scenario occurs when a recruiter or hiring manager meets you or learns about you through a trusted contact before knowing that you have been away from the workforce for an extended period. The more impressed they are by you in real life, the less important the details and length of your unemployment will be.
The new LinkedIn Jobs page will alert you to your LinkedIn connections at companies with current job openings, or you can use Company Pages or Advanced Search to find an “in” with a prospective employer. When you find a friend on the inside, you can ask for their help with a polite and positive message that reads something like this:
I hope you are doing well. As you may know, I was part of the end-of-year layoffs at my previous employer and have been doing freelance PR since then. The freelance work is very interesting and I’ve built some new skills, specifically around social media, but I am eager to return to a fulltime role.
I noticed on LinkedIn that you have a connection at Edelman, whose work I admire greatly. Would you be willing to introduce me to your contact Bob Smith so I might chat with him about potential opportunities at his company? I would be very grateful for your support.
In addition to requesting introductions and referrals on LinkedIn, you’ll also want to ramp up your in-person networking by attending networking events and inviting professional contacts, such as former colleagues or clients, to meet for coffee. Remember, you never know which action might be the one that leads you back into the workforce and onto your next success.