Can’t get a job because of a resume gap? Here’s how to explain it

According to research by the Economic Policy Institute, the share of the unemployed who have been without work for more than six months remains at near-record levels. In January 2014, the long-term jobless accounted for 35.8 percent of all unemployed Americans.

Career experts advise job seekers to remain current in their field as a way to enhance their prospects as they struggle to land their next role. Online training, professional LinkedIn groups and local professional associations can be good and inexpensive places to start.

According to Martin Yate, career expert and author of “Knock ‘Em Dead 2014: The Ultimate Job Search Guide” (Adams Publishing, 2013), professional associations give people an opportunity to meet and be known by the best-connected local people in their profession. “They will be invaluable to you when it is time to find a job,” Yae says. “And they will also keep you abreast of the skills you need to develop.”

When full-time professional opportunities are scarce, career experts say that job seekers shouldn’t hesitate to take on temp assignments or work outside their field. In fact, such a move can actually help workers ultimately land a gig in their field because of the prejudices employers often show against the long-term unemployed.

For his recent working paper “The Jobless Trap,” economist Rand Ghayad sent out resumes for 4,800 fictitious computer-generated resumes to potential employers. Those unemployed for six months or more got virtually no callbacks, even when they had better qualifications than other candidates. “Filling a gap with anything will help,” says Ghayad. “Taking any temp job to give you something on your resume may help you from getting screened out.”

According to Yate, job seekers should craft a short, succinct story about what they’ve learned from such a role that applies to the job they covet. Likewise, anyone who starts a home business between full-time jobs should choose a job title that enhances their career narrative. “Make it applicable to the job you want,” says Yate. “Putting CEO as your job title won’t help you get a job as an accounts receivable specialist.”

Should a resume reach human eyes, Carole Martin, interview coach and author of “What to Say in Every Job Interview” (McGraw-Hill, 2013), says that it will on average be reviewed for less than two minutes.

“Resume reading is boring reading, and people are looking to not work very hard,” says Martin. For this reason, she believes a strong professional summary at the top of the resume is critical. “They won’t scroll down if there’s nothing worth looking at up top. You need to catch them right away.”

Come interview time, Martin says that candidates should arrive with their feelings about their situation already settled in their head. “If you were laid off and you feel angry or ashamed, it’s like bringing baggage to the interview. You should never apologize for yourself,” she says.

Instead, Yate recommends that job seekers prepare for questions about being fired, leaving a company or being out of work for a long time. He advises job seekers to create a believable answer to each question, translate it into between two and five bullet points and rehearse it until every point can be made confidently within 45 seconds.

No matter the situation, confidence is key. In his book “Flawed System/Flawed Self” (University of Chicago Press, 2013), MIT Assistant Professor Ofer Sharone notes that unemployed white-collar American job seekers, compared to their Israeli counterparts, are more likely to blame themselves and feel “flawed” and give up their job search. This, he says, is because of what he calls the “chemistry game” behind the American interview process.

For this reason, it is important for job seekers to strive not to take a dry period in a job search or an unsuccessful interview personally. “The biggest thing is to believe in yourself,” says Martin. “You may have had some wrong turns or zigzags. And maybe you’re starting over again. But if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.”

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