I keep reading how the longer you’re out of work, the more likely you are to never find a job. Paul Krugman has an article in the NY Times today (“The Jobless Trap”) where he says that employers tend to see workers who have been unemployed for a long time as unemployable. I’m too young to be out of work for the rest of my life. But frankly, I’m worried. I’ve been looking for a new job for five months with no luck. I’d hate to think I’ll never find anything but I’m starting to feel like I should just give up. Should I?
Dear Feeling Hopeless,
Sometimes, the media, even Paul Krugman (whom I respect enormously) are wrong about these issues. Or misinterpret data. Or don’t understand how a career transition should be executed. The real issue is that people on job search might be marketing themselves poorly. For example, announcing "I've been out for 8 months," or "I've really had a terrible time since I graduated," or "It's really tough out there; no jobs to be found," is like announcing "I really am terrible at job search," which casts the applicant in a negative light, no matter what the reason.
The way I see things, it's always about how you present. One way to tackle this, when asked (and only when asked), is to say you knew it would take some time to find something, but it is critical for you to find a great fit (one of my favorite words in all of career transition). And. . . if it takes time, then it takes time. You've found a number of reasonable opportunities during the search, but did not take them because you are determined not to take a position just for the sake of taking a position. You're more interested in making intelligent career choices, and realize it will take time.
Or, if asked more persistently about what you've been doing, if you have worked at anything remotely relevant to your search, talk about it. Even if it was a two-day consulting assignment for a friend, you say you've done some consulting; for example. . . If you've done anything else to build skills, including taking courses, talk about that as a major objective you had for this time, and discuss what you've learned. Or, if there's been a major family illness or issue, then you have had to take off time to help resolve it, you're happy you had that opportunity, and it's now over.
I've met very few clients or students over the years who couldn't come up with something to explain the gap. It's a matter of how you present it, how positive you are about the process, and how you avoid any of the negative perceptions that are created by talking about the terrible time you've had.
To find answers to your questions on job search and career transition, get your copy of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies that Work