Here’s an ironic, ugly, and unfair truth: being unemployed makes it much more difficult to find a job. Unemployment bias is a very real issue in hiring.
Multiple studies show that employers have a bias against candidates who aren’t currently employed. In the some companies, you are automatically disqualified if you’ve been out of work for more than six months.
To beat unemployment bias you need a proactive plan for addressing your work-status with prospective employers.
The biggest barrier is your resume. A prolonged employment gap in your resume may raise the employer’s suspicion, eliminating your application early in the hiring process. If you can overcome this hurdle and get an interview, you’ll have an easier time explaining your situation, in-person, with the hiring manager.
Here are a four tactics to manage, cover, and hide a prolonged period of unemployment in your resume:
1. Explain your unemployment
One option is to tackle the issue head-on. Directly address your current unemployment and give it full context. Explain why you left your last job and why you’ve been out of the job market so long. This gives the hiring manager some background on the situation and keeps them from imagining the worst about you.
There are plenty of good reasons why you may not have been working:
- You were raising your children or caring for a family member
- You were part of a large corporate layoff
- You took time off for health reasons
- You’ve recently relocated
Full transparency certainly has it’s risks, but this may be the best approach if you have a solid and truthful narrative about your unemployment.
2. Think about “experience” vs. “employment”
By reframing the “employment” section of your resume as “experience” you create an opportunity fill in gaps with non-formal work activities. Think of any relevant, professional experience you can include in lieu of formal employment:
- Did you do any consulting work?
- Have you been volunteering with a local organization?
- Have you been working on a special side project?
- Are you taking any professional development classes?
The goal here is to fill the gap with some meaningful activity so that the hiring manager doesn’t have to guess at what you’ve been doing. You’re fighting against the stereotype of the lazy couch potato collecting unemployment insurance; show the prospective employer that you’ve been busy and engaged since your last full-time job!
3. Create your own company and job
Just because you haven’t been working for someone else, doesn’t mean you haven’t been working. If you’ve been doing freelance projects while looking for a full-time gig, you may consider listing yourself as your own current employer. Give your consulting/freelance practice a formal name (example: John Doe Consulting) and treat it like any other company on your resume.
The key here is to be honest about the actual (or, at least salable) services you provide. Making up a consulting practice totally ungrounded in your actual skill set would be inappropriate.
4. Ditch the chronological format
Traditional resumes present past employment in reverse-chronological order, with the most recent job first. This format disadvantages jobseekers who are currently unemployed because it puts your biggest weakness at the top of the page, front-and-center.
Consider other formats that may better hide your current lack of a job. A functional resume (highlighting your abilities) or an achievements-based resume may be better options for you. In both cases you have the opportunity to put your strengths at the top of the page and curate your employment experience around those skills. And, when dates are de-prioritized, it makes it more difficult for a hiring manager to spot gaps in your employment.