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Explaining why you’ve been out of work for months

Unemployed MBA grad

Finding a new job on Wall Street or in the City is no easy task, particularly when you have been out of the workforce for months. Employers and recruiters notice those gaping holes in your resume. Such gaps aren’t a death sentence – you just need the right answers and a confident attitude.

Be Confident – You’re Not Alone

First, remember the stats. The six largest U.S. banks announced roughly 21,000 job cuts through the first three months of 2013 and finance firms have cut more than 114,000 jobs globally over the past year. You aren’t alone and the banks know it.  “If you had an employment gap [on Wall Street] six years ago, it almost seemed as if you were damaged goods, even if the reason was understandable,” said Jesse Marrus, founder of Wall Street career search firm StreetID. With layoffs so prevalent, employers in financial services have come to expect it, he said.

Thus, there’s no reason to apologize for a stretch of joblessness. “With all of the upheavals we’ve seen in the job market, having employment gaps is certainly not rare – it needn’t be fatal,” said Liz Colodny, president of Synergy HR Partners, Inc. Don’t let your situation affect your sense of self-worth.

Fix Your Resume

Make sure your resume reflects your years of employment, not months, said Roy Cohen, a finance-focused career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professionals’ Survival Guide.” When you list your job experience, say 2012, not January 2012 to November 2012.

“You are not misleading anyone,” said Marrus. “If they’re not asking for specific months, don’t give them out.”

That said, never lie about dates on your resume. Don’t say you were laid off in 2011 if you left in November of 2010. Being untruthful can come back to haunt you. Dates of employment are usually verified through background checks, said Colodny. “You do want to make sure that your story syncs up with what your references will say,” she added. “Discrepancies will be big red flags on your candidacy.”

If you’ve received additional training during your time away, reorder your resume to lead with that experience, said Cohen. This will fill the gap, so to speak.

If you’ve been out of work for just a few months, or if the gap in employment isn’t current, there is no need to explain it on your resume or in your cover letter. Once you have been out a year, however, a recruiter or hiring manager will wonder about your employability, said Marrus. So be proactive on your resume. If you left a job due to a mass layoff, explain that directly in one of the bullet points listed under the job. “Give context, as long as separation isn’t embarrassing,” Cohen said.

If there is a more in-depth story behind your departure, explain it in a cover letter or in the body of an email, Marrus said. If you wait for the interview, you will sound defensive, said Cohen.

The Interview

No matter why you’re unemployed, you’ll need answers for what you have been doing with your time away from the workforce, assuming you score an interview. The most common mistake candidates make is explaining that all they’ve been doing is looking for work.

“It makes a difference if you can do something to account for the time,” said Peter Laughter, CEO at New York recruiting firm Wall Street Services. Look for opportunities to list what you were doing – maybe you learned a language, took the CFA exam or volunteered. “When hiring managers know that you were doing something valuable with your time the gaps are less painful,” Laughter said.

Jill Lauri, a consultant, trainer and psychotherapist specializing in career management, suggests jotting down a list of three things you accomplished during your time away from work that you’re proud of. This should instill self-confidence as well as provide a few talking points to help you through an interview, she said. If you can’t come up with three, it’s time to get to work on bettering yourself, Lauri added.

Once you discuss your personal situation, move the conversation forward. Shift the emphasis towards your value to the prospective employer, said Colodny. Also, talk about recent changes in the market or fresh news in the industry, said Marrus. “Show you haven’t been sitting on the sidelines.”

Comments (9)

  1. The fact that this article has been written is proof that there is a gigantic gap between recruiters/employers and those out of work. The last place anyone wants to be is across from a recruiter who has absolutely no idea that the market has collapsed, the numbers of people laid off, the carnage on the street. Ten years from now, someone will be asking you, what happened back in the olden days of 2008-2013? And to be asking you, the person obviously on the wrong rung of the pole, or you would have saved yourself, why? you have been looking for a job for months.
    There are lots of people who have been out of work longer — too old, too fat, too pasty looking, too blue-eyed, whatever. Very qualified, exceptional people. They are out of work because there are a lot of cultures out there interested in preserving the status quo, hiring managers holding onto their jobs and want to be sure that no one more talented than themselves is in the firm.
    Recruiters are only interested in accounting for time, get past them as quickly as you can. They are a complete waste of time.

    Accounting for time Reply
  2. this is 100% true and i have experienced while job hunting.. feel sorry for those who could not find jobs although they are talented.

  3. Headhunters are the most self-serving creatures on this planet. Worse than any other kind of broker or middleman.

  4. Headhunters have absolutely no clue how the market works. They promise you the penthouse, yet they cannot even get you into the outhouse. Stay away from recruiters at any expense. Network. Network. Network!

  5. You have my vote. Head hunters, interesting name for people who are helping to get you hired? Don’t they eat you after boiling you in a large pot of hot water? These people are in a fee based business. and they care much more about who is putting bread on their table and that’s not. My experience, as I know it.

  6. Head hunters = Flesh Peddlers

  7. Seriously? When you can’t pay your bills how can you possibly afford language classes or a certification. These expectations are unreasonable in this economy and all these articles purporting to help are actually unrealistic and insulting. Stop perpetuating this image that it is the candidate’s fault. In many instances now that just isn’t true. Companies waste your time, string you along, make you take numerous tests, and then drop you–sometimes without even the decency to tell you. And the job posting will still be there six months later. It’s a crapshoot now. Employers are getting more out of their overworked employees–US productivity has increased measurably–there is no pressure on their part to hire.

  8. All this negativity towards recruiters, and recruiting firms is completely outrageous, and the reasoning behind the respective opinions below is mostly unfounded.

    1) Recruiters work with a large inventory of candidates, they sort candidates by a variety of skills, and employment history, which includes gaps. If a candidate has a gap vs. a candidate with the same skills that does not have a break in employment – the recruiter gets paid to give their client the candidate with the more contemporary experience. Staffing agencies are for-profit companies, and their employees get paid to put their best foot forward and present the best inventory in their stockpile. If they don’t, another agency will, and that headhunter loses business! This is competition, this is capitalism – get over it.

    2) Market conditions are not set by head-hunters, and expectations are set by the clients. If the market was more understanding of the economic downtown and willing to give folks out of work a chance – then a recruiter can offer a client a profile with a hole in employment …

    3) BUT clients know they can be picky in this economy, and they can get more bang for their buck as well. By offering (sometimes over-qualified) candidates a lesser position or salary, clients take advantage of the downward spiraling trend set by market conditions in which people are willing to work for less, just for the sake of working.

    4) Recruiters get paid to network, and build connections to find the jobs that candidates might not even be aware of. If a headhunter likes you and your profile they will work to place you – it’s a people business after all, so making a good impression with your recruiter goes a long way. A strong personable rapport with your recruiter can out-weight a gap, as long as it can be explained – something this article is attempting to assist with.

    5) I’ve been on the inside world of headhunting, and also a client working with recruitment agencies, having seen what is on both sides of the fence – I can promise you it does not hurt anyone’s chances of finding employment by meeting with a recruiting/staffing firm. In fact, I highly recommend registering with several. Only downside is we don’t often get to pick our headhunter, and despite there being some great ones, there are also some definite lemons out there that can leave a bad taste in your mouth.

  9. Recruiters = Front desk

    I can’t agree any more on whar were posted earlier. The biggest dilemma is that those recruiters play the role of angels coming down from the sky and show the job seeker that they will create a new life for them. They are basically act like broker who themselves are searching for a someone who by a mistake may be and in a open “friendly” discussion announced that there might be a job opening in that “x” company. They, the recruiters consider “may” as an opportunity for them to knock all companies and inform them that they have talanted people who can improve the status of their companies!!

    I too feel sorry for the all experienced job seekers…

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