General Question

Strauss's avatar

How do I explain 2+ years of unemployment on a resume?

Asked by Strauss (23653points) December 23rd, 2009

I just finished a temporary (3-month) job that paid under-the-table. I have been unemployed since November of ‘07, with the exception of a few temporary assignments. I am updating my resume/CV, and I am anticipating that HR managers who see such a long period of inactivity will be more inclined to pass me over for someone who has been working. Is this an unfounded fear, given the economy, or do I need to come up with some explanation in a cover letter?

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67 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

Self-employed.

erichw1504's avatar

Well, maybe you could explain what you did during those 2+ years of unemployment that was productive. You did do something productive, right? Don’t know what else you could say about that.

Strauss's avatar

How about “stay-at-home Dad”?

CMaz's avatar

embellish.

Jeruba's avatar

Volunteer work? education? personal project (e.g., writing a novel)?

[Edit] Another possibility: one woman whom I interviewed for an editorial position said that she and her husband took turns supporting the two of them and giving the other time off to pursue their own interests, and it was her turn to work. We all liked her, she was smart, and she passed our skills test, so we hired her. Proved to be a good choice, Eighteen years later, the company is gone, but we are still friends.

JLeslie's avatar

I have complained about this before. I hate the expectation in America (not sure if you are in America) that you have to work every where from 22 until you die or retire, whichever comes first. Just talk about whatever you have been doing, and try to get the conversation back to your experience and skills that will contribute to the job opening.

Val123's avatar

“My husband works so I’ve been doing volunteer work (True about the husband, big fat lie about the volunteer work. I’ve been wisdming and fluthering!) However, I really want to get back to work! I’ve worked really hard all of my life and it just feels strange to not be employed.”

Pandora's avatar

@Yetanotheruser I agree. Women don’t get penalized too much for it. So why should men. Actually men would probably get better reception with it because they consider this, Especially if its a woman in the HR department. However it won’t work if there is no wife or kids.

JLeslie's avatar

One good thing is a lot of Americans are out of work from lay-offs right now (well not good, but you know what I mean) so it is probably less on the minds of HR people to ask questions related to time unemployed.

Val123's avatar

Well…what HAVE you been doing, anyway? Noting that you’ve been taking temp jobs isn’t a bad thing. But how have you been supporting yourself?

Val123's avatar

And no…don’t say a word in the cover letter. That sounds…defensive and will raise a flag. If it’s a concern to them, they’ll pick it up from your resume.

john65pennington's avatar

In todays economy, it should not be difficult to explain where you have been for the past two years, unless you were in prison. be honest with your answer, as your prospective employer will check this out. if you could not find a job, be honest and state this. most employers understand todays employment situation. the key here is to be honest. john

scifisuz's avatar

getting training (preferably work-related) – education/degree – travel – sabbatical – self-employed – wrote a book – consulting – home-based business – family business

Grisaille's avatar

@Jeruba Can you hire me?

:P

Strauss's avatar

@Val123 I have been spending a lot of time on the job search, and up until recently, I was getting unemployment. The stay-at-home dad aspect isn’t too much of a reach, because last year I was a really active volunteer at my 9 year old’s school. I’ve also been catching up on home repairs and gardening. And since my wife works and I have been out, I have been doing most of the housework as well.

Pretty_Lilly's avatar

You were in prison/you were working as a free lance Pimp/Madame ,,,,,,; P J/K
If you don’t mind BS’g them ,you were taking care of a sick family member and you would rather not go into details. {then you won’t have to come up with more lies}

dpworkin's avatar

Drunk tank? TB? Sex-offender violating parole? Thailand on a hooker cruise? Rehab? AIDS? Drunk driving, suspended license? Temping at The Bunny Ranch? Studying for GED? Coke mule?

Val123's avatar

How did you do that? I thought it only lasted 6 months? Anyway, so the real question is, how do you justify subsisting on unemployment for two years? What kind of work are we talking about? Are you specialized in something? If you are looking for a specific position it’s easier to justify not having been able to find one. If you’re looking for general work, that’s a little different.

Strauss's avatar

@Val123 In CO, it lasts for the benefit year, and then you may qualify for another benefit year.

Val123's avatar

@Yetanotheruser Dang, man! When I received unemployment in 96 it was for six months….

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Coma
Working on the novel
Self-employed
Worked for the CIA; can’t divulge without security clearance (If the interviewer HAS the necessary security clearance, then you don’t have a high enough security clearance to divulge)
Witness Protection
Kidnapped by Colombian insurgents—“you must have seen this, it made all the papers” (the interviewer won’t want to admit that he’s unaware)

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

You got lost on your way to work…

Val123's avatar

Working various temporary assignment via [insert name of temp agency here.] Honestly…this is a tough one!

Strauss's avatar

I just heard an announce that the Sec of the Treasury (Geitner) expects there to be more jobs by spring!

Jeruba's avatar

@Grisaille, sorry, darlin’, but I’m retired, and editors are losing their jobs. Writing jobs are going to India (and the Philippines) at an astonishing rate, and for some mysterious reason that does not translate to hiring more U.S.-based editors.

Grisaille's avatar

tell me about it.

work is hell for the freelancer. I’m sure you know this.

occ's avatar

I agree that you can leave it off of the cover letter, but you should be prepared with your answer in case you get called for an interview, because it is very likely to come up. “Stay at home Dad” is a great reason – so is the word “consultant” if there is any way to explain some of your temporary assignments or part time gigs as consulting (depends on your field of employment).

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Tell the interviewer you worked for the government, but you had no idea what your job was, why you were hired, or what you were supposed to do.

Val123's avatar

@Grisaille I think one of the biggest problems with being unemployed for two years, is the issue of how you supported yourself….he hasn’t said if he’s married and his wife works. If so he can just say that he took those two years off to be a Dad, but he did do occasional temp work.

Val123's avatar

@Grisaille If he wasn’t working, how did he pay his bills?

Grisaille's avatar

I never said he should say he was unempl… what? The more I try to understand what you’re responding to, the more confused I get.

daemonelson's avatar

I suggest emphasising your qualifications and past work. Possibly make something up for the gap in between (if you didn’t do anything, that is).

Val123's avatar

OK. Say you’re interviewing someone, reading his resume and you see a gap of two years where he isn’t working. My first thought would be to ask, “How did you support yourself?” Well, if his only answer was, “I received unemployment,” My next question would be, “Have you been actively looking for work in all of this time?” And privately I’d be thinking….no way could it really take someone two full years to find work, so he must have been playing the unemployment system (which is easy to do.) That would not leave a good taste in my mouth!….....Wait! Who the hell am I talking to? I’m looking back and Grisalle, you didn’t say anything that relates to my posts! Fact, I can’t see any response that relates to my ‘splaintions! LOL! Sorry!

Jude's avatar

@Val123 My head hurts. :/

Grisaille's avatar

‘magine how I felt.

Val123's avatar

ROFL! I’m sorry ju guys Boy do I feel sheepish BUT! Through my blathering you can see the crux of the problem in the question!

JLeslie's avatar

I dont see how it is anybodies business how someone pays their bills. I think that is very private; none of anyone’s business. I’m just wondering if I said, “I lived off of savings and travelled the world for a year.” Would that be ok? Or, does that look bad to an employer? Or, what if I lived with my mom for a couple of years. Or, took care of my children. Why does it matter? If I have the skill level and want to get back to work that seems like it should be good enough.

Also, I agree with @Val123 that you should not mention it at all on the cover letter.The cover letter is to talk about why you want the job and how your skill set will contribute to the company.

Val123's avatar

@JLeslie Well, it probably wouldn’t be a legal question to actually ask in an interview, but honestly, if the guy had no obvious means of support fr two years, you’d have to wonder….was he engaging in illegal activities to support himself? What’s the story with the fact that he apparently didn’t HAVE to work for two years when there was no one supporting him….? When I interview I always get asked, in a round about way…“You haven’t worked for two years?” I say “No, my husband has a good job, I just want to get back to work!” That causes them to nod, because yeah….makes you wonder.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Yetanotheruser, let’s start with the truth (since no one here is apparently hiring, anyway): Where were you and what were you doing for the time lapse that you’re trying to account for?

Maybe all we need to do is find the right ‘spin’ for you so that that you can tell the truth (which is important), with the right bias (which is up to you) and hide anything that’s not important for the interviewer to know (which is really nothing more than “makeup for your resume”).

How about it?

Val123's avatar

@CyanoticWasp There ya go! Ask the hard, straight up question so we can…..put the right spin on the truth…which is important.

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t think the prospective employer gives a fig how he paid his bills. What they want to know is if he’s employable. Is there something about him that warns everybody else off hiring him? If so (trying to think like a hiring manager or HR rep), maybe they shouldn’t hire him either.

If he’s too angry or bitter about being unemployed, he’ll have a bad attitude. If he’s too hungry, he’ll lie about his qualifications and take a job he isn’t fit for. If he’s overqualified, he’ll leave as soon as there’s a better opportunity. If there’s something about him that looks like a problem to others, we’d be stupid to hire him even if we can’t see the problem. Maybe his last company did the right thing to let him go.

Being unemployed is a stigma that tends to keep you unemployed. That’s how I think it looks from the hiring side. Granted, right now everybody without a job has a good reason. It’s still a hurdle. So if you can give a good account of your hiatus, it is a big advantage, as far as I can see.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

The only thing I’m getting to is… employers do want to have those gaps between jobs explained. A month… two months… six months to find a job isn’t unreasonable or unexpected these days. A two year gap, and a lot of people start wondering, “Was this guy in prison somewhere? Is he thinking he can hide this from me? Do I even want to chance it or not?”

So maybe if we know what the gap is about we can help to spin it in a positive way—without having to hide or lie about it—and there’s nothing wrong with “marketing” that explanation.

TLRobinson's avatar

With the economy in it’s current and recent past experience, being transparent with your “struggle” to obtain GAMEFUL employment has been a challenge, if not nearly impossible.

As a recruiting leader, we understand the challenges of employment seeking. A “filler” isn’t necessary. Gaps aren’t exusable but explainable.

Fear will be your biggest obsticle; remove that and you’ll find your job. Good luck!!

Val123's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Exactly. Has he been in prison? Has the prison system been paying his bills? As someone who has been poor, and had to rely only on myself in the past, if I was hiring I’d seriously wonder…...how has he been paying the bills for the last two years? It sort of may not be anyone’s business @Jeruba but….it is a big question…...because he’s been paying his bills somehow for the last two years but…how? Unemployment? An inheritance? A wife or husband? What’s up with that?

Val123's avatar

@TLRobinson Did you mean “GAINFUL” employment?

Strauss's avatar

Well, here’s the real skinny…

My last day of work for my last full time, permanent employer was 10/31/07. Shortly after that, I had a friend who hired me as a 1099 (legitimate, not under-the-table) contractor for some demolition work. It was a short term agreement, and lasted for about 6 weeks. I started my job search in earnest in January 2008. I landed a temp contract with one agency which started toward the end of January, and that lasted ‘til the end of March of that year. Then that April, I had another temp contract, with another agency. That lasted until July. Then I hit the dry spell. I couldn’t find anything for a full year. I also found that the old “pounding the pavement” method of job search usually ended up in a referral to the employer’s website, and I had to learn new job search skills at age 60. My wife has a decent paying job, and with my unemployment to supplement, we were able to keep from either starving or foreclosure. During the last school year (‘08—‘09) I continued my job search, and also was able to spend a lot of time as a volunteer at my daughter’s school. I also spent time at home, working on home improvement projects and gardening projects.

I want to be truthful, because if I am not, and I get the job, it is likely to come back and bite me in the butt. What do y’all think the right spin would be?

Jeruba's avatar

What is your line of work? What were you doing before 10/31/07, and what kind of work are you looking for? And is it relevant why you left your last full-time position?

JLeslie's avatar

I think @CyanoticWasp gave some of the best advice, you just need to spin it. Why can’t you say you were a self-contractor all of this time? You can give 2 references during the time for the specific jobs you did. Is that stretching the truth too much for comfort? You can admit that there has not been any opportunities in several months and you need to secure a full time job.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Thanks, @JLeslie. That’s right. It’s not lying at all to say that you were self-employed and short-term temping for the period in question. So the contracting wasn’t successful—that’s no big deal. The interviewer is going to get a sense of that anyway because you’re applying for a job with wages. And there’s no shame in temping, either; I got one of my best jobs ever that way. I would be totally up front about all of this, without going into specifics about “how bad the economy is” or “how awful my sales ability must be” etc. You were contracting and temping wherever you could in [whatever field], but business didn’t pan out the way you had hoped—and you had a dry spell, too. (Especially since no one expects you to be long-term successful by temping.) End of story. You don’t even have to ‘spin’ this; it’s totally honest and legitimate.

Val123's avatar

Ok! Got ya.
First: What was your reason for leaving the job in 07?
November 07 to Jan 08: Private contractor (Doing what?) References available (and of course, only give the good sounding references)

anguilla's avatar

Before I got my current job, I was unemployed for 18 months. I was honest and said that I had tried more than 60 different companies in my job search. That was enough to show that I had been seriously looking for work. That was also true. Never lie. It’s unbelievably easy to get caught.

Strauss's avatar

I just realized I posted this job description on another thread:

“My current occupation is ‘jobsearcher’. It’s a difficult occupation in this financial environment. Wifey is employed full time, so I have become homemaker, handyman, fixer-upper, household manager, innkeeper, gardener, landscaper, and child-care coordinator.”

I think I’ll modify it for my resume.

Strauss's avatar

I think I’ll call the position “Domestic Logistics Consultant”.

fathippo's avatar

I agree with @CyanoticWasp, in that my immediate thought was coma.

Strauss's avatar

It’s all academic now! I have a job, and it starts on 3/10/10! Hooray!!!

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Congratulations. Does this mean we won’t be seeing so much of you here day after day? (Time to quit the job, in that case.)

Val123's avatar

@Yetanotheruser ME TOO!! ME TOO!” I start tomorrow, the 8th!!!!

Strauss's avatar

@CyanoticWasp You know you can’t get rid of me that easily! I start on the afternoon (swing) shift and I will be fluthering in the morning. Or late at night, when the chat room gets interesting.

@Val123 Congo Rats!

Val123's avatar

@Yetanotheruser Congo rats to you too! I felt like such a cad, when I realized I had posted only that I got a job too and didn’t congo rats you. :( What’s the job??

Strauss's avatar

I’ll be a special projects tech for a major security/alarm company.

Val123's avatar

Sounds very interesting and challenging! Good for you. :) I’m teaching at an adult HS degree completion center. I have a degree in education, and I’m so thrilled that, after 15 years, I finally get to use my diploma for what it was intended (which was not simply to look good on a resume.) Maybe now I can finally pay back the student loans I took out to get it.

Strauss's avatar

@Val123 Good on you! Sounds like a great opportunity to do some good. It seems to me that for the most part, adult learners are more motivated than high-school aged students.

Val123's avatar

@Yetanotheruser That’s what I’m hoping. However, she did forewarn me that we’ll have some actual High School aged kids who’ve dropped out at 16 or 17, but by law still have to be in school…..and they don’t want to be in school, which is why they dropped out. But, challenges are always good.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Val123 I marvel at your optimism (and wish you the best), because challenges are not always good. But I hope you make this a good one.

Val123's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Well…I’d really rather have a challenge than have a dull, boring job! Something to keep me on my toes. :) I have a good idea what I’m walking into, insofar as “problem” kids. I’ve dealt with them many times in the past.

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