You’ve likely been given the career advice not to resign from your current job before securing a new role. But why? Well, there are two primary contributing factors for this:
- The hiring process is about elimination, not selection. At least initially. Most posted jobs receive hundreds of applicants, so an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is used to whittle down the list to a more manageable number. About 25% of resumes make it to human eyes, but even at this stage, the process is still focused on reducing the number of candidates to a reasonable number to interview. Unfortunately, some employers view unemployment as a red flag and utilize this to cut you from the list.
- Hiring is highly biased. Even when smart technology is used, it is programmed by humans, who by nature are biased, often unconsciously. Assumptions are made based on incomplete information or previous experience, which can negatively impact applicants. Research shows that employers discriminate against jobless candidates and tend to rate employed applicants higher on hireability. Also, the longer a person is unemployed, the lower the chances of getting an interview.
So, when given the option, it’s best to find a new job before leaving your old one. However, we’re not always given this choice, and many have learned this firsthand over the past year.
If you find yourself unemployed and looking, here’s what you can do:
Maintain your brand. Whether you’re earning a paycheck or not, your brand is never “between jobs” or “currently searching” when introducing yourself or on social media. If you’re networking (and you need to be), people will ask where you work or what you do, and you may be tempted to immediately relay that you’re currently unemployed – don’t. Instead, clearly share the value and outcomes you provide to your target audience, including a relatable accomplishment for credibility. Of course, you can also share you’re currently looking for new opportunities, but that should be secondary, once you begin to establish the relationship and share an understanding of what you offer as a professional. Your skills, abilities and worth don’t diminish just because you’re not employed for a period of time.
Don’t spend 100% on you job search. This may seem counterintuitive at first. While it may be tempting to focus all your spare time looking for a job, this will lead to burnout and there are other activities that can contribute to this goal, while also building your marketable skills and network. Earning a relevant certification, volunteering at a community non-profit or working part-time on a side hustle can all be beneficial to your job search, marketability and mental health. In addition to providing you with some structure, which can be invaluable, you will build your connections and gain valuable skills. Employers will want to know that you’ve spent an employment gap being intentional. There is a different vibe that comes across when you speak about this time in a manner that has purpose and focus. So, whether you’ve spent this time homeschooling your children, caring for an ill family member, or taking on a leadership role in an industry association, these activities will boost both your mood and your candidacy.
Address your demons. A layoff or unexpected unemployment of any kind can have a huge impact on confidence and lead to feelings of anger, anxiety or grief. Denying it just means it will take longer to resolve and more forward. Worse, these emotions will seep through when networking and interviewing negatively impacting your success, even if you believe you’re doing a good job concealing them. Combine that with the fact that attitude and likability play a large role in getting hired and being successful, you’ll understand why bringing negativity into the job search process will most certainly delay the outcome. Although you may feel the need to rush into a job search, taking space to process what happened, reflect on your goals and regroup will likely propel your job search rather than set it back.
Practice your story. Although many people you know seem to have a linear career path based on their resumes, most people have professional trajectories that look more like a series of zigzags than a straight line. Careers often unfold through a series of both intentional and unexpected discoveries, good and bad decisions, and life happenstances that derail or boost our professional goals. The idea that anyone has an uninterrupted employment history without a few bumps is a fantasy, and is becoming even more rare as the future of work significantly shifts supply and demand in the marketplace. What’s most important is that you continue to reinvent yourself and your career story to align with the needs of the market and your audience. This doesn’t mean fabricating untruths, but rather organizing your history in a manner that shows how your relevant abilities solve problems in the current market and leaving out the parts that no longer make sense in the current ecomony.
Own it. If you work for any length of time, you will inevitably experience a layoff, employment gap or other unanticipated career hurdle. This is not something to be embarrassed about or apologize for, it’s just par for the professional journey. When networking or interviewing, avoid overexplaining the situation, which can sound defensive. If asked, speak about it neutrally and briefly, then move on to the value you bring to the marketplace or company. You’ll likely find many hiring managers who’ve been in the same place as you, who can relate to the situation. So, when you demonstrate that you can take setbacks in stride, build a plan and move forward, they’ll quickly forget about the topic and be more interested in discussing how you can contribute to their strategic goals. The storyteller directly impacts the level of drama conveyed, which means you wield the power of the messages your audience receives.
Get social. There’s s stigma associated with unemployment that tends to cause many job seekers to retreat from their networks, especially as time goes on. Resist this urge. In my TEDx Talk, I discuss the job search as a social activity, and one that all professionals will be engaging in every few years as the marketplace shifts towards “tours of duty,” skills continue to have a five-year halflife, and machines become our coworkers. Changing jobs, switching careers and reskilling are becoming increasingly commonplace, which means that exchanges about professional goals will be standard at the dinner table, holiday parties and social gatherings. This is a huge benefit as people can help one another get connected to opportunities and fill gaps in their own companies. Be focused and targeted in your message, making it easy for others to help you. And, don’t underestimate those closest in your inner circle. They’re your biggest cheerleaders and need to understand your goals, target and brand to assist, so be sure to share them clearly.
The good news is that the pandemic of 2020, which impacted tens of millions of jobs has caused recruiters to rethink unemployment and have a more open point of view, recognizing that these situations are unavoidable at times. However, it’s tough to predict if this perception will last as the market rebalances. The steps listed above will continue to bridge the gap regardless of the economy.