Brent Rasmussen


Brent Rasmussen heads the day-to-day operations of the North American division of CareerBuilder, the global leader in human capital solutions.

HBR Blog Network

We often hear from job seekers: “If I have the necessary skills and experience, why am I not hearing back from more companies?”

It’s a fair question, especially for the more than five million workers who’ve been unemployed for six months or longer (more than 40 percent of all unemployed job seekers). Struggling to get a foot in the door doesn’t mean this group is unqualified or lacks what it takes to do the job. With hundreds of applications submitted for a single open position, it’s indicative of a fiercely competitive labor market.

So how does someone who’s among the long-term unemployed stand out? Will employers even look past their employment gap — the time that’s elapsed since their last day on the job?

New research from CareerBuilder found that 85 percent of hiring managers and human resource managers are more understanding of employment gaps now than they were pre-recession. While that’s refreshing news, it comes with an important caveat: This group still needs to go another step to draw attention to their resumes.

Companies are still looking carefully at how unemployed job seekers have spent their time. There’s a notion is that if you’ve been out of work for an extended period of time, you begin to lose an edge on previously acquired skills. Whether or not you buy into the concept of skills erosion, it’s safe to assume that hiring managers are more likely to look past employment gaps for applicants who’ve stayed active in the interim.

So what do hiring managers recommend?

In the same survey, 61 percent said taking a class or going back to school is a great start. This can be as simple as taking a certification course (e.g., IT workers), attending professional seminars, or enrolling in community college courses. If the subject matter expands your skill set or can be applied in the next job, that’s information that should be featured prominently on your resume or in your cover letter.

Sixty percent of hiring managers said volunteering increases the candidate’s marketability. Volunteerism is a testament to a person’s character and work ethic. However, many job seekers are not doing the best job of promoting that experience on their resumes and cover letters. It can’t be an isolated bullet point buried on the page. Job seekers should choose volunteer work that can be woven organically into their existing professional narratives — and then be ready to sell it no differently than the rest of their work history. Ask yourself: What skills did I learn or hone? Can I quantify my impact or speak to how my efforts contributed to the organizations’ successes?

Seventy-nine percent said taking a temporary or contract assignment is advisable. Temp or contract work is not just for entry-level workers and young professionals. Opportunities are available across job types, experience levels, and salary ranges. If becoming a permanent freelancer isn’t in your plans, note that about one in four employers plan to transition some temporary workers into full-time, permanent employees in quarter two of 2012.

Fewer employers felt that the ambitious task of starting your own business (28 percent) or writing a professional blog (11 percent) were good ways to improve your marketability, but if those activities showcase your potential value, they certainly can’t hurt.

Say a job seeker has done all this and still isn’t faring any better? There are two job search tactics that are vastly underutilized, according to our research and conversations with employers: follow-through and presenting customized ideas to your prospective employer.

Two-thirds of workers don’t follow up with the employer after submitting their resume for consideration. If the hiring manager provides contact information, sending an email a week or two after submission can prompt a closer look (or maybe even a second look) at your resume. And when the interview opportunity arrives, it’s best not to focus solely on the past. Employers want candidates who have researched their company rigorously, and have prepared concrete ideas for what they’ll bring to the role.

A competitive labor market requires a dynamic job search. Regardless of how unemployed job seekers spend their time, the common denominator is to continue your professional development and show potential employers how you can help them.

This post is part of the special series The New Rules for Getting a Job.

Paul Champion
Strategic Project Manager

Mobile: 07540 704920

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