Gaps in Work History – What have you done for YOU lately?

“So tell me what have you been doing since you left your last position?” That can be such a daunting question during an interview. Please, please, please do not answer, “Looking for a job.” If you have answered in this way I am sending you a mental head slap! How you answer this question is important. Of course, that is, if you get to the interview.

When a potential employer is reading your resume and cover letter, if they see gaps, they are asking the question: what have you been doing. Are you adequately explaining gaps or even acknowledging them? Putting your head in the sand does not make an uncomfortable situation go away – I’ve tried, it doesn’t work.

I recently saw something on CareerBuilder the other day that stated over half of the countries unemployed have been without a job for 27 weeks or more. While six months may not seem like a long amount of time during this economy, what about those who have been looking for 12 or more months? No matter what the time period, this is a challenge and there are two things that can help you.

First and foremost: Invest in yourself. I’ve said it before and I will say it many more times: if you are in transition you are now officially in the business of sales. Your company is you, your product is you and your market is the employment world. Welcome aboard! Welcome to one of the most difficult jobs you will ever have full of frustration, doubt, insecurity, rejection, unknown – and that’s just a Monday!

So how does one invest in oneself and how much is this going to cost me you ask? Well, first, shame on you – that is the wrong attitude. Do not approach this as a negative; investing in oneself is a positive thing! The cost can vary monetarily but there is a heavy price of your time, effort and mental energy. You cannot slack on this, you must commit!

1. Take classes. Your public library has a plethora of classes available (I love that word plethora and am so excited that I can use it!); WorkOne Centers offer classes; there are community colleges, online resources: just look around you and you will see the availability. You may not be able to go back to get a college degree at this time but that does not mean you cannot take a class to help expand your skills. This can cost money, but you are worth the investment!
2. Network. Look in your community paper to see what networking groups are meeting and when and get your caboose there. Practice, learn, try – the more people that know you and what you can do the greater the chance they know someone or a friend of a friend that might be able to help. This can be low or no cost, do your homework and get moving.

3. Ask. If you are looking to get into a new industry, do your homework, research companies and reach out to ask for informational interviews. Generally I find people do what to help others, but how can anyone help you if you do not ask? This is free!

4. Volunteer. You can think of this as paying it forward, putting others before yourself or an opportunity to meet new people with whom you have something in common. You will be expanding your horizons and network, giving back to your community and building information to be able to put on your resume. This is free but the rewards are priceless.

5. Hire a professional. Sometimes you must realize there is only so much that you can do on your own and even that might not be working. There are professionals in all areas that can help you: life coaches, career counselors, etiquette consultants – you name it there are resources available to you. Yes, this costs money but again, aren’t you worth the investment?

5a. Go to a professional. Utilize the services of professionals that can assist you in your job search – staffing firms or recruiters. Many do not charge the employees but rather the employers so this is another free option in terms of money. But be forewarned – you must be worth the investment for them to try to sell you so I suggest you employ one or many of the above options.

Now, let me back up and say first that I completely understand the anger and frustration of losing a job and job searching. At some point it is akin to the five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression then Acceptance. You are allowed to feel any or all of these emotions and it is perfectly normal.  Keep in mind; however, there is a difference between allowing oneself to feel these emotions and being trapped by them.

Before you can invest in yourself you must believe in yourself and the benefits of taking action. To be blunt – stop fighting everything in your world! I once knew a gentleman that was in transition for well over a year. He would show up at networking events, seminars and workshops and had quite the reputation. And not the reputation that one would like to have.

I was giving a workshop once on resumes and throughout the entire workshop he was very negative and challenging. Not to me personally, but to most things that any of the presenters said. He would say things like, “I tried that once, it didn’t work,” or “I personally do not think that employers care about that.” Negativity oozed from his pores and others around him started to roll their eyes. You see, every positive thought or suggestion that was given to him he rejected. Every suggestion on investing in himself was met with volatile denial, “I can’t afford to do that, I don’t have time. I don’t’ want to – I just need a job!”

You cannot afford to invest in yourself, just by becoming involved in activities that are free? Seriously? Think about that thought for a minute. To me it says I can afford to be unemployed for as long as I want to poison my world with my negative attitude. Seriously.

Now, one might think he picked up on this clue as to why he was in transition so long, but unfortunately, he did not get the connection. He created such a physical wall around himself that others were no longer willing to assist him to the point that they turned the other direction when they saw him coming. Learn from this, please.

I have talked to several recruiters, HR professionals and managers who state that they understand that there will be a time between positions; however, if it is any length of time they want to see that the individual was proactive in investing in themselves. Yes, they literally use this phrase: “I want to see that they have invested in themselves.” Do you start to see the connection?

Investing in yourself in any of the above ways shows that you are proactive in your search, in yourself. My uncle, when he was a teenager, was told my grandfather to go get a job. He came home after about an hour and told his mother, “I walked up and down the street and no one offered me a job.” True story. Your next employer is not going to run out of their building and say, “Oh, thank goodness you walked by, you’re hired!” nor are they going to come knock on your door!

Investing in yourself also means opening your mind to other possibilities. You want to be doing X, but cannot obtain that position right now. Sometimes the best roads are the ones that are not a straight shot to where we think we want to go. My path has taken some crazy turns but as I look back, I see that every step was a step in the right direction. No matter what job I did or what the title was or duties performed, I learned something and I moved forward.

If you are not willing to invest in yourself, why would an employer want to? Keep an open mind; get off your duff; put the time, effort, energy and possibly money into the most important person in your company – you. Oliver Wendell Holmes said it best, “I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”

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