Avoiding Long-Term Unemployment

By Joe Stein

Avoiding Long-Term Unemployment

A couple of years ago in these pages, I wrote about what a Job Seeker could do to overcome their long-term unemployment.  Since then, the economy may have improved, but if so, only marginally.  The issue of people being long-term unemployed is as serious as ever.

Amazingly, the federal unemployment numbers revealed that around 40% of the unemployed would be considered long-term. This means they have been out of work more than twenty-seven weeks. For example, in Buffalo-Niagara Falls, the long-term unemployed by percentage is 44.3% with 29.5% being out for over one year. This does not account for all the people who have “given up” and withdrawn from the labor market, and therefore are not counted by the government as unemployed.

These statistics reflect how important it is when unemployed to find new employment as quickly as possible.  I know that may seem completely obvious, but I encounter people all the time that appear to be holding out for something better than what the market has in front of them at the moment.  The statistics show that, in this economy, the longer a person is unemployed, the harder it will probably be to find a new job.

Why is avoiding long-term unemployment so important?  Besides the obvious of a much needed paycheck, it can be an important piece of your job search strategy.  There have been quite a few news reports regarding job advertisements explicitly stating that the unemployed will not be considered. Even Congress has discussed getting involved and banning this as a method of discrimination.  The reality is that this type of overt exclusion is rare, most likely eliminating the long-term unemployed by Hiring Managers occurs much more discretely.

• Some employers avoid those who have been unemployed for an extended period of time due to concerns that the absence may be an indication of your quality.  There may also be a perception that perhaps you have not been doing all that you needed to do to regain employment.

• In some instances, your knowledge may erode if you are out an extended period of time.  This is especially true in areas such as Information Technology, machine operating, and equipment repair.  A person in this situation will need to stress how he or she was able to keep their skill set current during the employment gap.

• Hiring Managers may wonder what you have been doing during this time.  This may seem absurd to someone who has been unemployed, but there may be some thought that the unemployment was a form of a “vacation”, especially with the extended jobless benefits that have been made available.  You can help resolve this misperception by filling the gap in employment not only with additional training as noted above, but also with volunteer work.

• A Hiring Manager may have the perception that you will be bitter due to your long-term unemployment.  The thought being that the economy and your personal situation has made you negative and/or bitter.  You can help address this by stressing how ready you are to positively make a contribution to the company.  I recommend that you also never become negative regarding your former employer, or even the economy as a whole.

The following are some items to consider that may help assist you in avoiding long-term unemployment.  The focus of this list will be geared toward regaining employment as soon as possible.  For a variety of reasons, this can be a winning strategy.

• Know Your Situation – Be keenly aware of your current employer’s financial situation and where you stand politically in the organization.  If you feel there is risk, then determine (on your terms) whether you should leave prior to being told your position has been eliminated.  Do not become paralyzed by complacency or your desire to avoid change.  If you need to move on in your career, do it prior to being forced into the decision.

• Perpetual Search – In today’s economy, you should be in a perpetual job search mode. This may not mean that you are actively completing applications or submitting Resumes, but it does mean to be aware of opportunities that arise in your field.  You should be constantly networking to build up your contacts for leads, referrals, and references.

• Be Prepared – Avoid any delays and have your Cover Letter Template and Resume always ready to go.  Complete these documents prior to needing them, and review them every couple of months to determine if updating is needed.  The last thing you want to do if starting unemployment is to wait a few weeks to create these documents, or to rush forward with items that are below your standard.

• Start Immediately – If you find yourself unemployed, think very carefully about whether you want to take any time off, for any reason, before starting your job search.  This includes vacations, time to recharge your batteries, or spending the summer with your kids. All may be very valid reasons, but may negatively impact your ability to land a position once you decide to start your search.

• Realistic Expectations – Start your search by being acutely self-aware of your skills, education, and experience and how it relates to the job market.  So many times, people “pass” on opportunities in front of them because it is below the level where they were last at, only to find out over time that it was going to be their best offer.  Don’t forget that you can always accept the position, and then (over time) re-enter the job market with the benefit of being currently employed.

Long-term unemployment is a real issue, both for the impacted individuals and the U.S. economy as a whole.  While there are ways to overcome this situation, the most obvious one is to attempt to avoid the situation altogether.  If you are in a situation where you are concerned about your current job status or beginning unemployment, then take steps to improve your chances of landing a position quickly.

As always, best of luck in your job search!