TIPS: Overcome the Challenges of Finding Work after a Lengthy Absence
By Frances Chaves
The challenges of finding work after a long period of unemployment can be overwhelming, no matter what the reason for your separation from work. The average length of unemployment in 2011 was 34.2 weeks—meaning it was much longer for some people (http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0211/how-unemployment-stats-affect-employed-people.aspx#axzz29qmqy5t4). This recession has affected people aged 55 – 64 especially hard, and unlike previous recessions, higher education has been no protection against unemployment. So how do older professionals, who have been out of work for lengthy periods of time, meet the challenges confronting them in their job search?
1) First and foremost is meeting the mental challenge
It’s impossible to do anything if you can’t get out of bed in the morning! Clinical psychiatrist Dr. Sylvia Geering recommends these strategies for avoiding the depression that so often accompanies long-term unemployment and sabotages our return to work (http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2010/09/16/brain-exercises/):
Believe that you CAN affect the outcome of a situation by how you look at, and react to, the situation. This counters helplessness, a primary cause of depression. To acquire an attitude of control, use affirmations, listen to positive tapes, act-as-if you believe.
View your current situation as an opportunity for growth. Get excited about this time in your life. Excitement is the antidote to boredom and helplessness. Again, use affirmations; tell yourself (often!): “I am excited to meet the challenges of transition.” (Another trick is to learn something new—it keeps your brain active and takes your mind positive).
Faith, belief in something bigger than you, helps in times of adversity.Committed people find a sense of will and discipline that keeps them positive during tough times.
In every aspect of your life, act as if things are going to work out in a reasonable positive way.
6) Once your head is straight, tackle the tasks
Bill Barnett’s (formerly McKinsey Strategy Practice Leader) has these steps to returning to work after a lengthy absence (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/08/conquering_the_job_search_afte.html):
7) Pursue a specific target
Know exactly what job you want. Do the research required to target specific job titles within specific companies.
8) Retune your skills
Get the training you need to qualify for your target job. Volunteer for a position using those new skills so that a potential employer sees you as experienced. (Volunteer work with PSGCNJ has helped many former members land their jobs).
9) Recreate your network
This is important because this is how you access the so-called “hidden job market,” the key to getting out of the black hole of online job boards and into face-to-face interviews. You need to connect with people who are actively engaged in your target market if you have been out of the job market for a while. Barnett recommends starting with social connections, asking them to connect you with people in your industry. If that doesn’t work, go directly to people in your industry through so called “informational interviews.” Establish a schedule of daily goals to be met in reestablishing your network.
10) Be transparent
Be open and forthcoming about your absence from the workplace. Don’t try to hide holes in your resume by deleting dates—potential employer might fill in the blanks with things that are much more negative than the real reason for your absence. With social acquaintances and interviewers, address the gaps up front. I would suggest you cast them in the most positive light possible; for example: “Corporate downsizing gave me the opportunity to return to school…”
Nobody says it is easy to find work after a lengthy absence from the job market. But following these tips can make it feel achievable. Good luck!