More than 90% of senior executives reported they would be concerned if a job candidate had long involuntary periods of unemployment according to a 2008 survey by placement firm OfficeTeam (Menlo Park, CA). Finding a new job fast, especially in a recession is no easy trick. So what can you do to prevent employment gaps appearing in your employment history?
Resist the temptation to “fudge” your dates of employment by adding a few months to your last job to make the gap disappear, advises Stephen Viscusi, author of the book “Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride Out the Rough Times and Come Out on Top at Work” (Collins Business, 2008). Potential employers often contact former employers to verify dates of employment. If that information doesn’t match what’s in your résumé, most employers will immediately eliminate you from consideration.
Instead, keep up your skills by taking some courses. For example, if you are an analytical chemist, you might take a short course in a new analytical technique growing in popularity. This could significantly strengthen your position in the job market. You could also take courses to strengthen some of your soft skills or shift your career in a new direction. Online business skills courses from ACS and Harvard Business Publishing can help you do this at www.acs.org/professionaldevelopment.
You could also do some volunteer work in your field. Consider reconnecting with a former research advisor and working in his laboratory. Even if you don’t get paid, you could still work part-time to stay active in the field. Recent graduates might contact former academic research advisors and get permission to take the lead on writing research papers on unreported aspects of their graduate or post-doctoral work. Another possibility is to write a review paper, perhaps with your former research advisor.
Both recent, and not-so-recent graduates, could do volunteer work for the American Chemical Society or other professional organizations. Such work can put you in contact with people who could help in your job hunt. In particular, organizing a symposium could help you contact leaders in your field.
Mid-career chemists with some name recognition in their field could work as consultants. However, this should consist of more than just getting some business cards printed. Potential employers may ask you for the names of some of your clients. If you are consulting, treat it like any other job and list projects and accomplishments on your résumé. A good way to support your part-time consulting is to present papers at conferences and attend local ACS meetings where you can network with potential consulting clients as well as people who could be helpful to your job hunt.
Write a blog that’s related to your field. You could use your blog to support your consulting work. During employment interviews you can point to this as an accomplishment.
A temporary staffing firm can help you find temporary assignments while you’re looking for a full-time job.
Don’t be afraid to include these activities in your résumé and cover letter. Such activities show you have drive, initiative and creativity.
To make these strategies work best, use these ideas as soon as you lose your job or even before.
Full-time science writer John Borchardt is an ACS Career Consultant and certified Workshop Presenter. As an industrial chemist he holds 30 U.S. patents and written more than 130 peer-reviewed technical articles.