Job hunting when you’re out of work is often a stressful, high-stakes quest, but it gets even harder if your spell of unemployment lasts for six months or longer.
Between March and September 2020, the ranks of Canadians who’ve been jobless for more than six months have more than doubled, economists Tammy Schirle and Mikal Skuterud write in a new analysis of labour market data.
The surge in long-term joblessness has now far surpassed what Canada experienced during the downturn triggered by the 2008 financial crisis, when the measure peaked at 37 per cent above its pre-recession level. The joblessness metric includes workers who may not be currently looking for a new job because they’re waiting to be recalled by employers or facing challenges that prevent employment, such as a lack of childcare for working parents during the pandemic.
The increase in the number of Canadians facing prolonged joblessness is “exceptional” write Schirle, a professor of economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, and Skuterud, who teaches at the University of Waterloo.
The development is worrisome because research suggests that “the longer workers are jobless, the less likely they are to make successful transitions back to employment.”
The risk is that long-term joblessness becomes self-perpetuating as workers’ skills atrophy and resume gaps deter hiring managers.
In a 2013 study, for example, Canadian and U.S. economists found that the likelihood of receiving a callback from potential employers decreases substantially for resumes that show a job applicant has been out of work for more than six months.
There is also evidence an extended period of unemployment can take a heavy and lasting toll on workers’ earnings, Schirle and Skuterud write.
How to mask gaps in your resume
If it’s been a while since your last job, you may need a “functional” resume, says professional resume writer Wendy Enelow.
Unlike most resumes, which list employers chronologically, functional resumes start by highlighting skills, explains Enelow, who has authored several books on resume writing including Modernize Your Resume, Get Noticed Get Hired.
Even traditional resumes these days often open with a short section at the top summarizing a candidate’s standout traits, she says. In a functional resume, that section becomes the core of the document.
Enelow isn’t talking about starting your resume with a block of text. Instead, she suggests breaking up information in a series of subheads highlighting your key skills.
For each skill, you should have either a brief write-up or three to five bullet points listing examples of significant professional achievements, Enelow says.
For someone looking for a job in sales, for example, one skill heading could be “sales and revenue growth,” Enelow says. The bullet-point examples may be something like: “increased annual sales by 127 per cent for Canada’s largest consumer products manufacturer;” and “expanded market share by 34 per cent for the world’s number one financial services company.”
The beauty of framing your resume this way is you can pick examples from anywhere in your career, Enelow says.
In the second half of your resume, you should still list your employers in chronological order but you don’t have to include dates, which would bring attention to your jobless spell.
“We’re not fooling anybody. Obviously, there’s a reason you haven’t included dates,” she says. “But hopefully we’ve included enough really good info that it will still encourage the prospective employer to reach out.”
Still, it’s best to opt for a traditional resume whenever possible. If your last job ended in the current calendar year, Enelow recommends sticking to the classic resume layout and omitting months when indicating your employment start and end dates. For anyone who’s been working for several years, that’s common practice anyways, she notes.
Another way to mask a significant gap in your resume is taking on freelancing, consulting or even volunteering projects that use, at least in part, your professional skills. Listing those activities will show an employer that you remained engaged and proactive, she says.
“You always want to paint the picture that you want someone to see while remaining in the realm of reality,” Enelow says.
Young people may also have a better ability to recover from a longer period of joblessness, especially if they seek out more education or on-the-job training, Schirle and Skuterud write.
Another mitigating factor for out-of-work Canadians may be the severity of the current job-market disruptions.
“Once the health crisis has passed and recruitment ramps up, employers may rely less on the length of joblessness as a signal of a job applicant’s suitability, given the exceptional circumstances workers are currently facing in the labour market,” they write.