Why It’s Okay to Be Unemployed

  • Posted by: Chaloner

This week’s blog post is written by Chaloner’s Georgia Aarons. Georgia joined the NY Chaloner office earlier this year. She started her career recruiting for investment banks and Fortune 500 companies before working in London for a PR agency. A graduate of Columbia and Cambridge, Georgia also has a passion for writing and strategic communications. Her recent publications include “Digital Strategies for Powerful Corporate Communications” as well as the editing of the most widely used corporate communications textbook in American Business Schools, “Corporate Communication.”

As recruiters, we strive to develop transparent relationships with our candidates. But every now and then, candidates fear that divulging the truth will hurt their candidacy with our clients. One of the main issues candidates shy from discussing is unemployment. But believe it or not, we all navigate transitions in our careers— ask the world’s most successful entrepreneurs what their aha moment was, and they’ll often tell you it followed a departure or transition in their career history. What’s important is to focus on is how you position yourself and describe your exit. This week, I want to share some tips and pointers on describing career gaps so that they don’t count against you, and explain why it’s critical to be honest about employment status.

Do I have to tell a hiring manager or recruiter if I’m currently unemployed?
It’s going to come out at some point, especially in background checks, so it’s important to be honest right off the bat. I recently had an experience with a candidate who didn’t tell me until after he had met with a client that he was in fact no longer at his place of employment. This raised serious questions around his lack of judgment. If he had told me to begin with I still would have presented him—we work with candidates who are transitioning to and from roles all the time— but it was his fear of disclosing his employment status that actually hurt him.

How do I talk about unemployment in interviews?
When talking about unemployment, focus on the positive. Don’t linger on the reasons for your departure and try not to say anything negative about your former hiring manager or company! Being gracious and tactful goes a long way, and communicates to potential employers that you’ll be respectful of the company you work for, no matter what. There’s usually not much to be gained by speaking poorly of a departure; it’s better to just rise above!

How do I explain a multi-year gap?
Again, it’s okay to be honest. If you were out for health or family-related reasons that you feel comfortable discussing, it’s perfectly alright to say so. If you took time out to focus on an entrepreneurial business—even if it ultimately didn’t succeed—you were building valuable business experience. Ultimately, you’re going to want to focus on how enthusiastic you are about getting back to a full- time role.

How do I explain shorter gaps?
It’s generally understood that a solid job search takes a few months to complete, and it’s okay to say that you were focused on finding the right opportunity. If you took time out to focus on personal development, be it travel or education and that’s important to you, then chances are you want to go to a company whose culture supports that belief system. Articulate what your goal was for taking a break (or, if it wasn’t a choice, within that break) and trust that it will be a positive part of your candidacy.

Within the hiring process, it’s important to remember that you have some control over how your story and experience are interpreted. You can present your career, breaks and all, positively and honestly. It’s not only how you spend your time, but the way you present it, that makes you an impressive candidate!