5 Strategies to Overcome Long Employment Gap
Overcoming unemployment is one of the biggest fears worldwide since 2020. International Labour Organization (ILO) has projected global unemployment at 207 million in 2022, 21 million more than in 2019. This has disastrous implications for developing nations which experience higher inequality and weaker social protection systems. Female unemployment worldwide has experienced a sharper increase and is often seen to be almost double the unemployment rate of the country. (Source: ILO)
What does this mean for the individual who is in the job search mode and for whatever reason now has an employment gap of more than 3 months? The Great Resignation and deluge of offers is not a reality for many who are not in the favoured experience and skill bubble. The employment gap could be longer for one of the following reasons:
Longer lead time to find a relevant role, especially true for C-Suite leaders, senior Program Managers, and specific support functions
Reasons of caregiving or health issues
Taking time off to travel, settle in a new place
Pursuing further studies or professional training either to upskill or reboot your career in a different direction
Trying to start a business or freelance career
Finding it difficult to get a job after being laid off
Whatever be your reasons for your long employment break, here are some key points to remember when bouncing back and preparing for the long haul back to the workforce.
1. Psych Yourself Up for Success: I cannot stress enough the importance of this. Get rid of self-doubts that “you can’t do this” or “you are unprepared”, or “what will the interviewer think of me?” Say positive affirmations such as “I got this” or “I am a winner.” You need to get into the best mindset to psych yourself up. Go into the interview with your head held high and never approach an interview as if you are unemployed. Get a job buddy/coach/counsellor who can hear you out at regular intervals (weekly/bi-monthly at least) and hold you accountable. Don’t forget to exercise as those endorphins are critical to raise your motivation levels.
2. Get a Reality Check: Where can you add value? Do you need to change your career direction? What are employers willing to pay for? Where are the employers? These are but some of the questions that you can ask yourself as you seek to make yourself more employable. Perhaps upskilling may be required. In some cases, you may want to hold informational interviews with those working in your target companies or target roles to zero in on how you can align your skill sets and messaging (resume/LinkedIn/cover letter etc) to the target role.
Pursuing a passion area whether it is starting a garden landscaping venture or a restaurant venture with no previous professional experience in that area or seeking to build a reputation as an advisor/thought leader have to be planned in a manner that you start taking the baby steps in that direction parallel to the job search.
3. Anticipate the Recruiters Question on Employment Gap: Be ready with your answer. The recruiter could assume one or many reasons for your long employment gap. These could range from she’s lazy, not interested, poor work ethics, has money, is unemployable or must have been fired. Some of the top questions could be “why have you left your last job?” or “what were you doing with your time?” or “aren’t you overqualified (or underqualified) for this role?” It is better to be upfront about the reason for the long gap, whether it was caregiving, raising a family, dealing with a health setback, receiving a severance pay as the role got eliminated or being selective about the opportunities. Be diplomatic and avoid oversharing. For example, there is no need to mention that your boss and you did not get along. There is no need to also share about the job you almost got, but lost out on – in such cases, just mention that you are “actively interviewing.” If possible, you can share what you did to upskill yourself or stay relevant during the employment gap (volunteering, advising start-ups, consulting etc). Avoid being defensive about your unemployment. Key point here is your answer on the employment gap needs to be only one or two sentences and you need to immediately move on to reassure them as to how that situation is now solved, you are raring to go to work and are prepared to be with the firm for the long haul. Proceed to then talk about your excitement and readiness for the role you have applied for with solid facts to back up your statement.
4. Make Networking a Key Part of your Employment Strategy: Lets be real. If a recruiter has a stack of applications, the resume with a longer employment gap is probably going to get overlooked. Networking with ex colleagues, alumni, affinity groups, and on professional platforms like LinkedIn and many other smaller groups is definitely key to success. Remember that networking is not just the number of connections you have, but the number of meaningful conversations you have. You need someone to give your candidature a push and that can only happen when they believe in your potential. The operating word is “guidance.” Seek guidance on next steps and doors that your connection can open for you. Offer to help your connection also for networking is a two-way street.
5. Get your Job Messaging Evaluated Independently: It’s always a good idea to get your Job Messaging documents – emails/cover letters/introduction notes/executive profiles/resumes/LinkedIn profiles etc. evaluated independently for a second opinion. I believe in the power of 3 i.e. get 3 relevant people to review your resume. If they have worked with you, ask them about your key strengths. Some ways that you can reduce the first impression of a gap can be to focus more on skills and achievements in your summary. Make sure you have a compelling summary which helps you pitch a case for the role for which you are applying. If you have strong educational qualifications, do highlight them upfront. If you have been self-employed, then do put some solid achievements there.
In conclusion, yes long employment gaps are detrimental, and even more so when one has had multiple work gaps or several unconventional career choices. For sure, there will be setbacks. Take each interview as a learning experience. Just remember not being apologetic about your employment gap. Taking time off is not a crime. Be ready with straight forward answers, have the right messaging, learn from your network, and don’t lose any opportunity to sell your fitment for the role.