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The unemployed candidate’s challenges

Q: I’m an experienced consulting professional in software development with some pretty specific expertise. I’ve been unemployed for over a year now, but have been resourceful and developed many short-term consulting and contract development ‘gigs’ in that time. I am, however, continuing to job-hunt and cultivate my professional network and often speak with recruiters. Recently I inquired about an advertised position, and was invited by the recruiter to send along my resume because he had another, unadvertised job that might be a fit. I did, without having the benefit of even knowing the job title or description. I was shocked at his response: “Thanks, but my client prefers candidates who are currently employed full-time.”

Now, the obvious reaction is that I need to re-write my resume to do a better job of indicating that I’ve been working for myself, but my question is simply, is this reaction by a recruiter healthy? In a job market where one worker in 10 is currently unemployed and many more may be under-employed (like myself), should companies dismiss a job seeker because he’s a job seeker!?

A: Your experience is not that unusual in our current job market. I hear this too frequently. Frankly, it is very unfortunate. In this job market, there are many, many talented candidates looking for new opportunities. A period of unemployment should not be a red flag (or a reason to dismiss a candidate based on a period of unemployment alone). Should a period of unemployment raise a yellow flag? Absolutely. The recruiter should probe and inquire about any gaps in employment. Sometimes though there are valid reasons. And a recession is often one of them.

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You did learn some valuable information during this interaction with this recruiter. You do need to re-evaluate your resume and ensure that with one read (because that is all you and others are going to get now), that the reader understands that you have been working in either a contract or consulting capacity. One tip – try to avoid using months when you are writing your resume. Using the months (vs. years) seems to accentuate gaps within an employment history.

Recruiters are fighting tough times too. They are struggling to get paid for placements when companies are watchful about every expense. They want to place candidates and hopefully win more opportunities with their clients. In this market, recruiters are more reluctant to enter a confrontational dialogue with their clients. In better times, perhaps this recruiter would challenge their client’s request a bit more by saying, “I understand your concern about interviewing an unemployed candidate. But I have talked to Jim. He was part of a massive layoff and the company moved from Massachusetts to California. Jim has never been unemployed prior to this short stint. I think he is a strong candidate and worthy of your time. He also has the CBSI certification, a ‘hard to find’ requirement for this role. Let’s start with a telephone interview to determine if you think he is a strong candidate. Do you have time on Tuesday?”

I encourage you to continue to be resilient. You have been smart and resourceful thus far in landing short-term roles during this time. I encourage you to review your consulting roles. Are there full-time opportunities at these companies that might be available in 2010? If a company can test your skills, work habits and overall fit with the company for a period of time, this is often an effective way to transition into a regular full-time role.

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