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Prolonged Unemployment: Reconnecting With The Labor Market

Aug 17, 2007
We are reminded almost daily of improvements in the labor market and that jobs are now available, even if not plentiful. More workers than ever are quitting their jobs, worn out by the efforts that have been required over the past 5 to 8 years to be as productive as before with half the staffing of the past.

If you have been unemployed for an extended period of time, you may find that when you apply for one of the positions now appearing, that you are competing with individuals who are either still working but looking to make a change, or with others who have been working until very recently. From experience, you know that potential employers are going to look at your long period of unemployment with a jaundiced eye.

What approach can you take that will best allow you to compete and disarm that prejudice that interviewers seem to display against anyone who has not been in the competitive work force for an extended period?

Confront the issue head on!

It is a common expression in business that there's an elephant in the room but everyone walks around it, pretending that it's not there. When a major issue exists, we so often skirt around it, alluding to it here and there but never really confronting it.

An interviewer may ask what your recent activities have been, have you applied for other positions, what salary or shift demands you have. These innocuous questions really represent a negative train of thought concerning you. The unspoken questions revolve around: Is there something wrong with you that other interviewers identified? Are you really more comfortable NOT working? Have you lost the ability to adapt to structure, learn new skills, or respond appropriately to authority? Do you have so many restrictions on where and when you'll work, and what salary you will accept, that you have made yourself virtually unemployable?

Interviewers will never actually verbalize such misgivings. Questions that can be asked in an employment interview are too circumscribed by law. However, there is no way to legislate what people think and a legal justification for not hiring you can easily be fabricated.

Make the interviewer's job easier by bringing everything out into the open and making it genuine grist for discussion.

Often an early statement may be something like "Tell me a little bit about yourself." Before you launch into a recitation of your skills and achievements, take the time to give a little description of what has been happening since you last worked. Just a few sentences should suffice as the interviewer can always ask for more detail or further clarification.

Prepare what you are going to say beforehand and try to accomplish two goals with your brief presentation. First, couch everything in as positive terms as possible. Complaints about not being given a fair chance by other employers will lead the interviewer to infer that you will be a complaining employee, something no employer ever wants to be burdened with. Second, try to address the earlier outlined doubts in the interviewer's mind.

A sample statement might be: I was a skilled _______ before my layoff last year. Since then, I have been actively seeking work but local openings for my skills have been, as you probably know, few and far between. I want to work because I feel better about myself when I'm productive. I miss the structure of regular work and I miss being part of a team and reaching goals. I'm very flexible when it comes to hours, shifts, overtime, working conditions, and salary. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of being at home and feeling as though I'm no longer a valuable human being. I want to prove myself to someone who will give me a chance to show what I can do.

This is the time to bring up any kind of temporary, self-employment, volunteer, or school work you might have accomplished over the past few months. The more you can show how active you've been, the more you appear to be still comfortably connected to the world of competitive work.

If you have, be honest now, been sitting around at home because you felt that every opening had been exhausted and it didn't seem worth the effort to keep searching, figure out a way to put a positive spin on it - think like a politician!

Explain that you had exhausted every job lead you could find and that systematic rechecking of all job leads had failed to identify any opportunities for your particular skill set. If you spend a lot of time on your computer, explain that you have been honing your computer skills or trying to acquire new skills through Internet study. If you spend your time on household tasks, or with the kids, explain that it was initially a fun break that allowed you to deepen your relationships with your family but enough is enough. You want to step back into the mainstream and are anxious to be back in your old role of primary breadwinner for your family's needs.

You may have tried different jobs since your layoff. We are often so desperate to find something that we take anything -cashiering, waiting tables, fast food, or mundane clerical work. After a short time, we can't take it anymore and quit, telling ourselves that there has to be something better. Your quandary is whether to mention such work. You want to emphasize that you prefer work to unemployment but you are wary of planting a seed in the interviewer's mind that you may only stay for a short period of time.

A solution is to mention that you have worked one or more jobs on a temporary basis, just to keep working, but that you are really interested in a permanent position where you can grow with the company and really dig in to learn new skills and become a valuable member of the team.

Will this approach work with all employers? Probably not. If the interviewer's mind is already made up, even your frankness may not jar it loose. However, there are many employers out there who are willing to take a chance if they like you. They may have experienced similar situations themselves or they may just appreciate your honest and forthright approach.

Remind yourself that there was enough interest in you to schedule a face to face interview so exploit that interest to transform it into an offer.
About the Author
A Licensed Psychologist and Rehabilitation Counselor, Dr. Bola developed emotional coping strategies and job search skills for clients and has served as a recognized Vocational Expert in court. Visit her at: http://www.unemploymentblues.com
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