Mounting a job search when you're unemployed
may leave you feeling like you can't compete with your gainfully
employed peers. This just isn't true. Transform your resume
from holding you back to propelling your success.
Get Busy During Your Unemployment
If you can't think of a single resume-worthy
activity or pursuit to show how you've used your time off,
then you need to get busy.
"I coach my clients that unemployment is
not vacation time," says Kathy Sweeney, president of resume-writing
firm The Write Resume. "If they haven't been involved in some
sort of activity, I implore them to investigate options to
gain further experience."
Many activities can provide compelling
resume content. For example, volunteering; tutoring; coaching
sports; learning a new computer program; studying a foreign
language; or pursuing temporary, freelance or contract work
can show current experience on the resume.
For example, a stay-at-home parent can
highlight her accomplishments as a volunteer like this: "Won
board approval to establish a community parent/child playgroup
at the town hall. Led grassroots group to raise $47,500 annually
and opened new revenue stream for county."
Sweeney tells her clients "that experience
is experience, regardless of whether it is paid or volunteer.
If a client is enrolled in school, for example, I will make
that a full-time job on the resume. I'll include information
on the certificate or degree program as well as any quantifiable
results, such as grades or instructor praise."
Assess the Gap
"The best way to address an employment
gap depends on how long you've been out of work," says Teena
Rose. Unemployed for a year or less? Then your best strategy
may be to say nothing.
"Shorter time frames of up to a year or
so aren't absolute necessities to explain on a resume," says
Rose, noting that she advises her clients with less than 12
months of unemployment to resist the temptation to overexpound.
"Hiring managers understand job candidates will have date
gaps from time to time, especially when factoring in the jobs
lost during this recent recession," she says.
Longer employment gaps can be trickier,
and this is where your resume could use some well-crafted
words to show how you've filled that gap. Here's some advice
on what you can include to show you've been productive.
Emphasize How, Not Why
"Hiring managers are more interested in
knowing how you used your time away from the workforce as
opposed to why you were unemployed," says Anne-Marie Ditta.
Instead of focusing on the layoff, company closure, job termination,
caregiver responsibilities or other circumstances that led
to unemployment, Ditta recommends you spotlight how this time
off allowed you to acquire new skills, deepen existing industry
knowledge or cultivate your contacts.
Ditta emphasizes the importance of showcasing
what you accomplished during your unemployment, just as you
would for paid employment. "'Devoted four years to managing
a large estate and complex/difficult medical decisions while
caring for terminally ill parent' will be better-received
by an employer than 'took time off to care for a sick relative,'"
Avoid These Resume Mistakes:
* Never Exaggerate Dates on Your Resume
to Extend the Duration of Your Last Job
Stretching dates to cover a gap is lying
on a resume, and that is never a good option," Ditta warns.
* Don't Feel Forced to Use a Traditional
A purely chronological resume may not be
the best option for those who have been unemployed for a number
of years. Instead, explore the advantages of a combination
resume, Rose suggests. This type of resume allows you to emphasize
key skills while downplaying employment gaps.
* Don't Sell Yourself Short:
"The most common mistake I see unemployed
professionals make on their resumes is minimizing their contributions,"
Ditta says. "I've worked with clients who have raised significant
amounts of money for nonprofit organizations, for example,
but when asked about this, they reply that they were only
a volunteer. The fact is that they achieved it, and therefore,
they should take credit for it.
* Remain Proactive
"When it comes to covering resume gaps
created by unemployment, it's best to be proactive rather
than reactive," Rose says.
By focusing on what you've achieved during
this challenging period, you will demonstrate to employers
your can-do attitude, resourcefulness and ability to drive