The old adage is true: it’s easier to find a job when you have a job. Sometimes, however, you have no choice – you’re laid off or fired or your job otherwise disappears, and you find yourself looking for work without the security of full-time employment.
When that happens, the goal is make sure you go into the job interview process from a position of strength. You might not have a job right now, but you’re still the same candidate you were before you lost your last gig. You come to the table with the same skills, qualifications, and recommendations as you would have if you were still employed.
The trick is to make sure employers see that and understand your worth, not zero in on your temporary joblessness and try to get you at fire-sale prices – or worse, refrain from calling you for the job in the first place.
“Sadly the urban myth is true,” writes Liz Ryan at LinkedIn. “I have talked with HR leaders whose organizations routinely screen out job applications and resumes from unemployed job-seekers.”
Ryan, the founder and CEO of Human Workplace, calls this practice “arbitrary,” and adds, “I can think of 20 ways that are just as effective as screening out job-seekers who aren’t working. They could interview only the candidates whose last names start with K, or screen out everyone whose application arrives on Monday or Wednesday.”
Still, you’re trying to get a job, not reform the way companies do business. (That can wait until you’re safely ensconced at your new desk.) If you find yourself unemployed and job hunting, here’s how to keep employers from screening you out of contention.
Remember: Your Resume Is a Highlight Reel, Not a Biography
Switch up your resume format. If you’re still using a chronological resume format, now’s the time to think about making a switch. A functional resume, which focuses on skills, or a combination resume, which combines skills with work history, might be a better pick for you, depending on how long you’ve been unemployed. Both put the focus on what you’ve done and how you accomplished it, not when you worked. After all, the point is that you’re the best candidate to solve the employer’s problems and help them succeed.
Keep busy. The best way to bridge a resume gap is to keep one from forming in the first place. Volunteer work related to your field or classes that enhance your skillset will help keep you current and enhance your chances of getting hired. Freelancing and consulting will make sure you can meet your expenses while you’re looking for your next full-time role, as well as demonstrating that you’re still in demand.
Don’t lie. It can be tempting to fudge dates or make freelance projects sound like full-time roles. Resist. As Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Lies, on the other hand, are hard to keep consistent. Plus, most people are bad at lying, but good at detecting when someone else’s story isn’t quite right. Don’t set yourself up to spend the rest of your career waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Prepare to Answer Tough Questions
Eventually, no matter how good a job you’ve done at bridging the gaps in your resume, you’ll probably have to explain your work history to a hiring manager. When that happens, you’ll want to be prepared.
Here, your goal is to seem comfortable and positive and forward-looking – in other words, now is not the time to badmouth your former employer, or give any indication that the professional relationship that ended in bitterness on either side.
Come prepared with a script, and practice it until it feels like a natural part of the conversation, not something you’ve memorized by rote. Emphasize what you’ve done since the end of your last job, and move the conversation back to your skills and goals.
Know Your Worth
When you’re looking for work while you’re out of work, it can be tempting to think of the salary negotiation phase of the interview process as nothing more than a formality. After all, you’re pretty much going to take whatever they give you, right?
Well, maybe. But they don’t need to know that, and you need to make sure that you’re asking for what you deserve, for the employer’s sake as well as your own. The last thing anyone should want is an employee who comes into a role feeling underpaid and grows more resentful from there. That doesn’t help your bottom line or their corporate goals.
Come to the table with a salary range based on your skills, education, and accomplishments, and make sure the lower number is something you’re prepared to take.
Finally, if at all possible, let the hiring manager start the bidding. Especially when you’re feeling less than confident about your worth on the job market, it’s always a good idea to try to get the other guy to start talking numbers. That way, you won’t cheat yourself out of the salary you deserve.