Interview tips for the long-term unemployed

Post-It note to 'Find job'An estimated 23.815 million men and women across the EU’s 28 countries were unemployed in January 2015 (source: European Commission), with long-term unemployment one of the main concerns of policymakers. The most recent EU figures on long-term unemployment (from 2013) show that 5.1% of the labour force had been unemployed for more than one year; and more than half of these (2.9%) had been unemployed for more than two years – a rising trend from the previous year.

As policymakers try to get people back into employment at a macro level, we look at some practical advice for jobseekers when faced with those awkward interview questions about that gap on your CV.

How can I explain long-term unemployment in a proactive way?

If you’ve been out of work for more than six months, potential hirers will start asking some tough questions. How can you approach that in an interview?

Even if you’ve been out of work through no fault of your own, hiring managers will expect you to hold yourself accountable for this gap. If you can’t do this, you risk being seen as a flawed candidate who can’t see what the problem is, or someone who blames others for your own setbacks.

Work on articulating one or two solid reasons that will help address the perceived problem and allay an employer’s fears.

Is mentioning the down economy a good reason?

Yes – but you can’t use the poor state of the economy as your sole excuse. It doesn’t make you look unlucky, but rather as someone who feels victimised and helpless.

A more legitimate reason for being unemployed for a long period is a combination of the current economy and mistakes you made in the job search process. Owning this will show professionalism and the ability to learn from mistakes – which shows proactivity. Demonstrating accountability is the the most important thing in these situations.

How can I assure the interviewer that I’m not out of touch with my industry?

Do regular research. Read trade journals and join online groups representing your field. Your top priority is to reassure potential hirers that you haven’t dropped the ball while you’ve been job-seeking, and can explain the current challenges, changes and trends in your area of work. This will show your commitment to your field and your desire to stay in it.

Volunteer work and freelancing are ideal ways to demonstrate to hirers that you are committed to and actively making an effort to keep your skills current. Most importantly, these efforts demonstrate that you understand the value of giving your time and energy as an ongoing way to grow your skills and contribute to your field.

Also consider using your time out to skill up through training courses and practical e-learning options in your field. Many are low-cost, or if cost is an issue, why not design your own learning programme to keep you on track.

How important is my own personal confidence for a comeback from long-term unemployment?

Many people have lost their job through no fault of their own, yet they experience a crisis of confidence in their abilities. Trying to hide your fear; or worse, not dealing with it, will show in your body language and facial expressions. Even if you think you’re doing a great job masking it, hiring managers are likely to see through you anyway.

Again, the best advice for building your confidence is to be active and involved in your chosen field – even if it’s unpaid for a while. Stay in touch with your network online to help stay on top of the trends. Volunteer work is valid. It will do more to keep you in the groove while you’re searching than just about anything else.

Another option is to book time with an experienced career coach – he or she can help you work through your feelings and get you to a place where you can talk about your unemployment objectively. Alternatively, find a mentor who can give you support and guidance on your journey back to work.

Any other tips on getting back into work?

Try to avoid spending too much time with other people in the same situation. As much as possible, try to spend time with people actively working in our field. This doesn’t have to be in person, of course (they’re working!). But online networking is important. Join groups related to your field on LinkedIn, Google and other networks. For example, if you work in content strategy, read and participate in the Google Content Strategy or Content Strategy Europe group, and in LinkedIn groups such as Content Strategy, Branded Content Strategy and Firehead’s own Content Strategy Bitesize.

To meet face to face, try to attend as many content events as you can in your area. There are many MeetUp groups and, of course, conferences and other events.

Try to arrange informational interviews with people who are in jobs you aspire to, to get a finger on the pulse of hiring practices. (See also our job interview series where we talk to digital workers and take a look behind the scenes of various roles.)

Face and address the potential barriers that are stopping you getting back to work, and you’ll give yourself a more positive focus and purpose that will build confidence as you progress.

Image: (CC) Flazingo.com via Flickr

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