While economic recovery indicators like a declining unemployment rate are often celebrated, they don’t show the whole picture.
For many long-term unemployed, finding a job becomes a bleaker prospect the longer they’re out of work. A September 2014 report from the Brookings Institution found that people who are long-term unemployed (defined as being without a job for six months or more), have a 20% to 40% lower probability of being employed one to two years in the future.
But as the economy adds more jobs, that means more opportunities for employment. If you’ve been out of the office for more than six months, you should make some tweaks to your resume to increase your chances.
Instead of trying to hide a big gap on your resume, explain it, says veteran human resources director Daniel Quillen, author of The Perfect Resume. Either in your resume or on your cover letter, address the fact that you’ve had a large employment gap and give it some context. This is especially helpful if you left the workforce to care for children or if you were part of a large layoff.
“That’s important because it helps me understand that he or she wasn’t laid off for performance. If they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or they were one of the last ones in, so they were the first ones out, that knowledge helps me erase that gap as an issue,” Quillen says.
If you’ve been out of work for a while, create a small business, suggests management consultant John Paul Engel, founder of Knowledge Capital Consulting. Determine which of your skills and expertise are salable to others and market yourself for hire. You may do consulting or sales work as an independent contractor, for example.
“You have to be truthful about the work you’re doing, but this can help bridge a gap and bring in some income,” he says.
Traditional resume formats that present your experience based on the chronological order of your jobs can shine a white-hot spotlight on the gaps. Quillen suggests a hybrid resume that ditches clunky objective statements and, instead, includes an upfront summary of the job you’re seeking with some bullet points that highlight key strengths and accomplishments.
“You might have nine or 10 bullet points that really summarize who you are and what your strengths are–I’m an HR professional and looking to do X, Y, and Z, and here are my strengths–so that it takes up about the top third of the resume, then the rest is chronological,” he suggests.
Engel says you should scour your resume for opportunities to “eliminate the risk of hiring you.” Each segment of your resume should focus on the results you’ve achieved for your employer. Too many resumes focus on tasks, he says. To stand out, focus on the results you generated.
List contract, temporary or even volunteer work to show that you’ve remained active in a work environment. Also, use your time off to improve your skills, learn new technology, or get an industry certification and document it on your resume–even if your effort is still a work-in-progress, suggests career coach and resume writer Cheryl E. Palmer.
“Certifications have become very common in many fields. Being able to show that you have recent training in your field can definitely be a plus. It demonstrates that you are staying current,” Palmer says.
Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all resumes. Customizing your resume is as easy as highlighting sections and changing them, but few people create tailored resumes for the jobs they’re pursuing, he says. If you’re going after a job in sales, think about that company and that specific job and highlight areas of your past experience that are most relevant, maybe reordering bullet points or skills presentation to make you the most perfect candidate you can be, he says. A caveat: Multiple versions and making changes means you need to relentlessly proofread your resume. Grammatical errors and typos can get you nixed pretty quickly, Quillen adds.
Once you have a good resume, send it to everyone you know who might be in a position to pass it along, Quillen says. You might think that everyone knows what you do or that you’re out of work, but that’s often not the case or they may not think of referring you, he adds. Later, if a contact uncovers a lead, you can send an updated, customized resume. But get the word out by distributing your resume. You never know from where a great job lead can come, Quillen says.