In Part 1 last week, I highlighted recent studies that show we have a growing problem in the United States with both long-term adult unemployment (and potential employer discrimination against the long-term unemployed). Also that we have a growing problem with youth unemployment.
I’ve been unemployed for an extended period–7 months–in 2009. Part of that time was by choice (I chose to focus on studying for a professional certification), but at least 4 months of that time was active job search. I know how frustrating and desperate it can start to feel; what will people think when they see this employment gap on my resume? At what point do I cease to become relevant to prospective employers? Is moving out of state to an undesirable location in order to find work my only option? I was lucky–through my network I learned of an opportunity with a phenomenal organization, was able to apply my unique abilities, and worked for two of the most world-class leaders of my career. I was also extremely fortunate in that I had a lot of support from my personal and professional networks and had been very fiscally conservative (I thankfully avoided buying a house in 2006–not for lack of trying) so I wasn’t in dire straits financially.
I think about that period as I work to grow my network and skills in the hope that I don’t ever have to go through that again.
So what can we as employers do about this? One, don’t automatically disqualify someone just because they’ve been out of work for a period of time. Each resume is a unique story about someone–and it speaks to more than their career, as your personal and professional lives cannot be fully divorced. If a recruiter sees someone with great experience who has a long break in service on their resume–reach out and ask why.
Regarding youth unemployment? My advice is to get involved. Find a local program that works with high school non-completers or at-risk high school youth and see how you can help. I spent the better part of a decade working with such a program on a volunteer basis; we provided high school dropouts with essential skills, GED completion, and–if they met specific benchmarks–the opportunity to be sponsored into a technical/vocational training program at a local community college. There are programs like this in many communities; find one and volunteer. If you’re an employer, research how you can get involved in providing critical on the job training or co-op work experience for youth.
What if you’re a job seeker who is among the long-term unemployed? As I said above, I’ve been there. It’s easy to become discouraged–I know. Especially when relationship, family, financial, or other pressures start weighing on you. But you cannot lose sight of the end goal. You cannot withdraw into yourself. You must maintain focus and a daily routine. Exercise (walking doesn’t cost anything!). Eat right. Get out of the house 5 days a week. Go to a work search center and talk with other job seekers. Use the free resources available to you.
Most of all–you cannot give up on yourself.