According to a bleakly titled first-quarter article in the New York Times (“Unemployed? You Might Never Work Again”), a recent study by economists at Princeton University shows that the long-term unemployed find it much more difficult to get work than do the short-term unemployed. According to the paper, job-seekers become less successful over time, in part because “employers discriminate against the long-term unemployed, based on the (rational or irrational) expectation that there is a productivity-related reason that accounts for their long jobless spell.” Remedying this would require a revision of federal monetary policy; in other words, an unlikely scenario.
So what should you do if you’ve been out of work for six months or longer? Traditional job-search advice says to “talk-around” your employment gaps to the extend possible. But I’m not certain this is the best course of action. To combat employers’ assumptions, it might be wise for the long-term unemployed to nip any potential bias at the get-go.
For example, your cover letter could assert: “I was laid off from Company X in February 2013 because of reduced funding and a resulting work slow-down. However, my performance at Company X during my three-year tenure there was exceptional. In my mid- and end-of-year performance ratings I was placed consistently in the top 5%. I also received performance-based bonuses in two of the three years in which I was eligible. Were you to speak to my supervisor at Company X, I’m certain she would tell you that my layoff was not at all a reflection on my productivity and that the company would have kept me on had it been financially feasible.”
“I am employable” is the thrust of this message “despite what you may think of my being out-of-work for the last 16 months”. Of course, staying professionally involved during your unemployment (by getting involved with relevant professional associations; taking on one-off projects; completing relevant coursework; etc.) can also go a long way to “fill the gap,” and are all attractive selling points when explaining how you’ve been spending your time to a prospective employer.
This risk is that you draw attention to your gap in work history, and it makes matters worse. But the problem isn’t your gap per say, it’s what your target employer is thinking about you as a result of it. That said: taking steps to defuse potential discrimination against your long-term unemployment is a risk worth taking.