At least every other week, I answer this question: “If I quit my job, will I be viewed as less desirable by recruiters?” I also hear this one: “Does the fact that I lost my job mean I’m going to have a really hard time finding a new job?”
My answer to these questions isn’t “yes!” and it isn’t “hell no.” Rather, my response is that it depends.
On what, you ask?
The ease with which you’re going to find your next job—whether you’re unemployed by choice or by circumstance—depends on several things: your attitude, the specifics of your situation, how long you’ve been out of the workforce, how current you are with your skills, what you’ve been doing while unemployed, and so forth.
There’s no magic answer to the “How hard is this going to be?” question, but here a few of the most common things that factor in, and how to manage through them as you work to land your next position:
How Long You’ve Been Out
Reality is this: If you’ve been unemployed for a long stretch (let’s say, more than a year), you’re going to face a steeper uphill climb than those who are currently employed or have recently become unemployed.
As blood-boiling and unfair as it is, some recruiters won’t even look at candidates who have been out of the workforce for long stretches of time, in large part because they assume your skills have begun to atrophy or there must be red flags about you as a candidate (otherwise, you’d have taken another role by now).
Don’t throw in the towel if this is you. We’re going to talk strategy in a second.
What You’ve Been Doing in the Meantime
Lots of times, I speak with “unemployed” people who have been doing incredibly interesting and cool things with their time—things that absolutely can be listed as current employment on a resume or LinkedIn profile. I had a client recently who insisted she hadn’t worked in several years, then went on to tell me about how she’d been making and selling jewelry for the past two years—jewelry that was so great that a national retailer had taken note and purchased some of her designs. (We promptly added that to her resume.)
Another client was pulling 30 hours a week as a marketing manager for a nonprofit but, since it was a volunteer position, she was convinced she couldn’t list it as a “job.” (You sure as heck can.)
Yet another took a yearlong sabbatical, during which time he traveled the globe with his family. While not employment, that sure as heck points to his fearlessness, a sense of adventure, and the ability to navigate all kinds of environments.
The point here is this: If you look like you’ve done straight-up nothing for the past three years, recruiters may well steer clear. Assuming you’ve got a story to tell about how you’ve used that time? Tell it.
How Well You’re Managing the Message (on Paper)
Speaking of telling your story: You need to tell it well, both in conversation and on paper. When you’re unemployed, managing the message proactively and strategically is absolutely essential. If you think they’re going to wonder what’s up when they look at your resume, assume that they’re going to, and proceed accordingly.
Your best defense is almost always a good offense. In fact, I wrote an entire article on explaining your gaps in a way that won’t make you cringe.
Here’s an example: Say your last employer relocated from Los Angeles to New York, and you didn’t want to move (so your job ended). On paper, I’d make a brief mention of this when highlighting your experience at that job. You don’t need to belabor the point, but you could say something like, “Position ended unexpectedly due to corporate relocation to New York.” Done.
Be succinct, be strategic, and then move on with all the great stuff you can deliver.
How You’re Going About the Hunt
Simply put, if you’re unemployed for more than a brief while, your most effective path to a new job is going to be networking. Sending out a gazillion resumes to blind mailboxes may exhaust and bewilder you because, again, recruiters could judge you based on your employment status.
Try not to get hung up on this. It sucks. It really, really does. But it’s reality. You can either be mad at how the game works and refuse to play, or figure out a better way to play the game (and find a great new job). I vote for the latter, all day long.
Your game should involve getting out there, asking curious questions, introducing yourself to people at companies of interest, requesting introductions, and showing up at industry events. You want to make it immediately clear to people of influence that the “you in person” is absolutely fantastic, and 150% employable. Harder to do through a blind mailbox. Infinitely.
Being unemployed can (and is) stressful for many, for a lot of reasons. But try to not let stress about the overall situation impede your ability to bust out a strong, strategic “re-entry” game plan. Play it smart, play it confidently, and keep playing it until you get to the finish line.