Executives who’ve been out of work for more than a year and are looking for jobs face two big challenges: They’re competing with employed professionals, as well as applicants who’ve been out of work for less time.
But a year is not an unusually long time to be out of work for execs. The average length of unemployment for them is nine to 12 months. It takes executives longer, on average, because they often have non-compete clauses in their severance agreements preventing them from working for a competitor for a year; there are fewer executive jobs than non-exec jobs and employers vet these candidates slowly because they’re costly.
Here are eight job search tips to speed up the landing time for long-term unemployed executives:
1. Give yourself benchmark targets to reach.
Unemployed professionals need to evaluate their job searches at regular intervals: three months, six months, nine months, etc. At each milestone, they need to ask themselves the following questions to help diagnose potential problems with their search or barriers preventing them from securing interviews and offers:
- What’s going well in my job search?
- What isn’t going well and needs changing?
- Am I getting responses to my résumé?
- Am I getting first interviews but not second interviews?
- Am I making it to the final rounds of interviews but not getting offers?
2. Simplify your job-search documents so employers can find you.
Always use the same naming format structure — first and last name —for your resumé, LinkedIn profile and email address. If your personal email address is something like firstname.lastname@example.org, create a new account for your job search, such as BobSmith@gmail.com. That way, employers an quickly find communications from you in their email inboxes.
Also, when you update and save your résumé and cover letters, follow this same format naming structure, instead of “coverletter_4_xyz_company.” Then, HR personnel, hiring managers and recruiters will find your documents in their system more quickly and easily.
3. Keep active and network through volunteering or contract work.
Many employers consider job seekers who’ve been unemployed for a long time as spoiled goods who’ve lost their competitive edge. That’s why it’s smart to keep having some kind of work — it could be a consulting gig, a contract position or a good volunteering assignment at a nonprofit.
Working in some way demonstrates to employers that you’re active and provides a current narrative when you’re asked during job interviews what you’ve been doing while unemployed. In addition, it might provide some income to ease the burden of having to take that first job offer. Always add interim work to your resumé — even if it’s unpaid.
4. Brag a bit to show you’re in demand.
If you’ve been a serious candidate for a few jobs and have received offers that for some reason didn’t come to fruition, subtly communicate this to potential employers. Hiring managers like it when candidates they’re considering are sought after.
An ideal time to mention these offers is when the interviewer asks if you have anything going on. Then, casually mention that you’ve been on some interviews and have had a few offers you unfortunately had to decline. Be honest, and explain why you didn’t accept the positions (they were out of state…you didn’t think they were the best fit…), since it’s often a “small world” in which you’re interviewing.
5. Whatever you do, don’t let them see you sweat.
Never give the impression to prospective employers (or to people in your network) that you’re desperate for a job. Desperation is never an attractive trait. When an employer calls and asks: “Can you come for an interview on Friday?” don’t say, “Sure, what time? The whole week’s open.”
6. Reconsider your options.
Early on during a search, job seekers tend to be selective about the position they want and its location. But if you’ve been out of work for awhile, you should ask yourself every few months if it’s time to expand or change your interests.
The single most effective thing you can do to increase the number of job opportunities is to broaden your geographic parameters. Executives engaged in national searches tend to land jobs faster than those looking regionally. Also, consider alternate job titles or roles you’d be willing to take, maybe even an entirely new career path.
7. Be prepared to answer tough interview questions.
Hiring managers tend to be rougher on candidates who’ve been out of work for a year or more. You might be probed on the circumstances surrounding your departure from your last job, for example.
So before your next interview, prepare an honest, non-aggressive answer to the question, “Why did you leave your last job?” such as: “a merger or acquisition eliminated my position” or “a new CEO came on board and brought in a new management team” or “the company closed my office and my family and I were unable to relocate.”
Never offer an answer expressing anger or spite, such as “They hired a new CEO and I didn’t like him.” You need to frame your departure from your last job in the best possible light. The response should convey that you’re competent, have a strong work history and integrity and are a solid leader.
8. Remember that almost good enough can turn out to be good.
Some job seekers hold out for the perfect position, which only prolongs unemployment. Never forget that no job is perfect and a job you’ve been offered may well be a good next step.
Howard Seidel, Ed.D., J.D., is a Partner at Essex Partners, with over 15 years experience as a career and executive coach. Previously, he was vice president of Career Partners International - Chicago, consulting on career transitions with senior executives.