By Ronnie Ann Himmel
Former hiring manager and career blogger Ronnie Ann Himmel answered some questions asked her by Susan P. Joyce, Job-Hunt's editor.
As you will see, below, Ronnie offers excellent advice based on her experience.
My heart goes out to anyone who has been unemployed for a long time.
It’s hard enough getting hired in this job market, but when the months drag on, it feels even harder. And it’s easy to lose hope.
I’ve been in the hiring seat many times and, over the years, learned from the stories of discouraged job seekers who come to me for advice.
But added to that is my own experience of looking for jobs (more than once) after being out of work for a long time. I remember all too well how that feels.
I wish there were an easy, sure-fire method for anyone who has been unemployed a long time, but unfortunately there isn’t. Still, there are things that a job seeker can do to greatly improve his or her chances.
Good question. Here’s my take on it.
As someone who has done many phone screenings, understand this -- you are being called because you have something the employer thinks might work well for them.
It’s very important to remember that the screener is not calling to be kind to you.
They want to talk with you because they think you could be a good candidate for their job. Very likely, every candidate is being put through this screening process with few exceptions (employee referral, for one).
So don’t feel "less" in some way. You wouldn’t be getting a call unless the screener is hoping to find someone who can help them.
Carefully read the job description beforehand, and where possible, emphasize those skills and experiences you have that either match or show relevant capabilities.
If asked about the gap, try to fill it with things you’ve done that show your skills and ability to self-motivate. I’ll talk more about that next.
Two words: Stay active! The more involved you are in things, especially where you feel you’re accomplishing something, the better you’ll feel about yourself. And that really shows in interviews and when networking.
Momentum and good positive energy can lead to more people wanting to "invest" in you. But that’s really hard when you go for months without an interview or offer – and lots of rejections. It wears on you.
What helps are things like volunteering, taking on freelance work, special projects where you use your skills, and / or teaching yourself a new skill, in a local class if possible (although online is good too).
Not only does helping others or learning new things remind you how capable you are, but you get to meet new people who might help you. You’ll also have good gap-time stories to use in interviews and networking.
Although we all need downtime to rejuvenate ourselves, talking about Judge Judy or the latest Kardashian adventure won’t cast the same "this is a person I’d like to help / hire" light.
Also, although this may not seem all that important at first thought, exercise, eating well, and even some form of meditation can help keep your spirits up. Too much time just sitting and maybe munching on things to momentarily feel better – especially with no positive news coming in - can add to depression and low energy that is common for many unemployed folks.
While our hearts go out to unemployed people, we hire people who project "I can get things done even if no one is telling me to!"
Finally, in addition to the other things, if you feel you need extra human support, especially from people who understand, there are career blogs and online support groups that can help you get through the tough times.
A networking contact can come from anywhere. Family. Friends. Someone from your past. Someone you meet in a supermarket or at a party. It’s happened to me.
This is not the time to be shy or assume anything.
I once got an offer of help from a homeless woman in my neighborhood that I used to speak with every day. Surprised? Turns out she has a brother who is a lawyer.
If you can tell your story in one or two sentences (your "elevator speech") in an engaging way that is about your goals and determination (positive energy rather than downcast), you’ll find people who want to help.
Just as in sales, it’s about not being discouraged when you hear a "no." It’s not a reflection of you. It’s about the person and their own situation. And you only need one good "yes!"
It depends on the length of the gap and the particular situation, such as skill level, education, experience, job level, job type.
In some cases, even a long gap is OK as long as you present yourself well in your interviews or have someone recommending you internally. (Good to at least try to find an internal connection through LinkedIn, fellow alumni or folks you know.) Employers realize it’s a tough market.
But there are also employers whose minds are not as open.
So, in all cases, do your best to show you’ve done things in this gap-time that, as best as possible, relate to the job you want.
For every job seeker, if you don’t have any of the kinds of things I mentioned above, start adding strengths now to fill the gap. Even just having started shows initiative and is good for an interview answer or when speaking with networking contacts. And even better if you can also add new skills that point to where you want your career to go while "filling the gap."
Guest contributor Ronnie Ann Himmel is a valued voice in the career and job search community. Founder of Job-Hunt's sister website, WorkCoachCafe.com, Ronnie Ann currently blogs at WorkToTheWise.com, and coaches her clients in successful job search strategies. Connect with Ronnie Ann on LinkedIn, Twitter: @WorkToTheWise.