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My partner was laid off during the peak of the recession (2011) from his job as a technical illustrator. He is currently 50 years old, and still looking for a job in that field. He's literally been applying for jobs every week for 4 years. (If it was me, I would have given up by now, but he doesn't feel like he has the skills or aptitude to work in another field.)

He has only had a few (3-4) interviews in that time, and obviously none of have been successful. He has another interview next week -- for a position doing exactly what he used to do - in fact for a different department of the same large organization he used to work for. He's VERY qualified for this position. BUT...4 years. I'm still surprised he even got the interview.

I think a few things have played into this whole situation:

  1. When he got laid off, NO ONE was hiring for another year or so; and then it picked up rather slowly.

  2. After that year, give or take, he became part of a group that's essentially untouchable - the long-term unemployed. There are very few companies who will even look at the resume of someone who's been unemployed a long time, and even fewer who will take them seriously.

  3. Age discrimination is an illegal but unfortunately very real thing.

  4. Playing into that, graphics and related skills are no longer niche. Everyone has a copy of Photoshop and has created a website, etc. For understandable reasons, most employers would rather hire someone young/inexperienced with - they assume - lower salary requirements. (My partner would take pretty much any salary; but the conversation never gets that far.)

Obviously, I would love nothing more than for my partner to get a job offer and return to work. He's suffering from severe depression, and we're both under a lot of financial stress, as a result of his under-employment**. He's also deeply in debt now to boot. It really feels to me like there's no way out of this hole.

Anyway, my questions are:

  1. What is the best way for him to explain his long employment gap? I really have no idea, but want to give him some good guidance before his interview next week. (I've googled this question, and most people asking it are referring to gaps between 1-2 years. I've yet to see anyone address a gap this long, except for mothers re-entering the workforce.)

  2. What other interview or job searching tips do you have for someone in his position?

Thanks in advance. :)

** He has been working part-time for about 3 years as a checker at a grocery store. It's very unskilled and unrelated to his field; and he doesn't list it on his resume (maybe he should?) but he always lists it on applications that ask for a job history. He does have business cards as a freelancer, and freelance artist is listed on his resume; but to be honest, he hasn't had any freelance jobs since he was laid off. I'm not really sure it makes sense to have that on there, since he won't have anything to show if he gets asked about it.

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    Have you thought about, that he might be doing some major mistakes in his application documents? As @JoeStrazzere mentioned, four interviews in four years is very little if he was sending 60-70 applications every year. Maybe he is demanding too high salary? Maybe application letters look very unprofessional? Also, I experienced from my own company, that if an applicant sounds like somebody who is desperated to find a job, they will automatically refuse him. – Acroneos May 21 '15 at 12:22
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    @Acroneos why in the world would a company turn away someone who has the prerequisite skills who's desperate? That sounds like the jackpot when it comes to salary negotiation. – zfrisch May 21 '15 at 16:40
  • I have to be honest Isabel, I'm flabbergasted that he would be so stubborn as to not even bother trying to find a job in a different, though possibly related, field. In your post you clearly realize that his employment is becoming harder and harder to sell because of how simplified the tasks of technical illustration have become and yet you carried on. I'm guessing(hoping) he stayed up-to-date with techniques and programs, but even more importantly, I hope he has an up-to-date portfolio. If he doesn't there's no way I'd ever consider hiring him. – zfrisch May 21 '15 at 16:50
  • @zfrisch I have no idea, but this is exactly what I experienced. Guy was very skilled and experienced, but from abroad and for some reason longer on search for a job. His application documents are sounding like he was doing anything just to get a job right now, and this is why my supervisors said - this man sounds very desperate, he will make a bad employee. – Acroneos May 22 '15 at 4:38
  • @zfrisch - I guess I wasn't very clear. He's been applying to non-graphics jobs as well, mostly office admin stuff I think, also customer service, and once as a gallery manager. Other things too, I'm sure, but I don't track his applications or anything. He's currently trying to become more proficient in office software so that he can do some admin temp work. He accepted a job as a postal carrier earlier this year; but for health reasons (mine and his), he wasn't able to stay with it very long. He's going to have to find something sedentary. – Isabel May 22 '15 at 15:12
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Check your assumptions

He's VERY qualified for this position

Is he? I'm skeptical.

I see nowhere in your post indicating your partner has been working on any sort of relevant work for four years. Has he been doing anything to grow his skills? Build a portfolio?

It sounds like, "lost job and then stopped doing relevant work and hasn't done anything relevant for four years."

Playing into that, graphics and related skills are no longer niche. Everyone has a copy of Photoshop and has created a website, etc.

This is an important realization that should drive your partner to action. He needs to be equally competent in all those skills. He needs to accept that, while he might have a lot of experience, there are other people who are equally as valuable if not more valuable to companies with more relevant and recent job experience.

He's literally been applying for jobs every week for 4 years.

... ok, maybe at some point in the past 3.75 years someone should have mentioned that when something doesn't work, don't just dig in and try harder, figure out what is not working and why. It's unfortunate this is the situation because following the below steps could have avoided a lot of stress/anxiety over the last 4 years.

Blindly spamming resumes/applications is nearly never going to get you a job unless you are in a field which is in high demand.

Do something... different

What other interview or job searching tips do you have for someone in his position?

He needs to do a few things.

  1. Spend more of his time building his professional skills. He needs to have a relevant portfolio showing his recent abilities. Something from four years ago is going to be a "meh" if I'm looking to hire. So you did stuff 4 years ago... can you now?
  2. Network personally. If he has been doing things for most of his working life he has either 1) a professional network of people who know his abilities or 2) is not as competent as he thinks. The most reliable way to get a job is through someone you know. Not spamming out resumes.
  3. Network professionally. There are all sorts of organizations doing things related to what your partner does. Find some. Get involved with them. Meet people. Even if they are "not good enough" it is far better for your partner to have a mediocre job in the field rather than an unrelated job.
  4. Do volunteer work. Following up on the first point, you need to build a portfolio. Your partner can probably identify poorly done things. An easy way is to find websites related to your partner's background. Put together a proposal and possibly even examples of how your partner can help and then contact them, offering to improve their communication. This will help the company in answering, "will this person actually add value?"
  5. Have someone other than both of you review job applications/resume/etc. Once you find something of interest, don't just follow the same process which has resulted in hundreds of rejections. Have someone else, preferably someone who will say "this needs fixing" to review your materials. For every application include an example of work which directly will relate to the company you apply to.
  6. Practice interviewing. Seriously. Practice interviewing. Get a video camera/smartphone. Find someone (even easier if you did the above!) and have them interview your partner. Even better if they are from the field. Record the interview, then have a conversation about the interview while watching the recording. This will be hard and painful. That is good. You want to identify your weaknesses. Apparently, resumes/interviewing are weaknesses at this point. So you need to spend time practicing.

It's going to be incredibly difficult at this point because morale is at zero. But you have to be optimistic, deliberate, and determined.

No one wants to give a job to a desperate person. They want to give a job to someone who will add value to their company. If all they read/see is the first then

The employment gap

What is the best way for him to explain his long employment gap?

The best way to explain it at this point is to demonstrate to potential future employers that it doesn't matter.

Don't make excuses. Show how you will deliver results. No one is going to just give an offer to someone who is in their 50s and hasn't done anything in the field for years. Don't expect this.

They will offer a job to someone who will bring them value.

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    I completely agree with this answer. When he starts doing stuff in his free time he will have something to fill that gap with. – Mr Me May 21 '15 at 14:08
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    It also strikes me that this is a field where he could possibly freelance. That is a good way to get back into the work force. – HLGEM Oct 12 '15 at 19:15
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Explaining a long unemployment gap is at best a defensive endeavor - Okay, he was not in the Big House at the time but what has he done since that would be a value to a prospective employer? Regrettably, sending out resumes every week over four years does not add value to a prospective employer. A prospective employer would be more concerned that he has lost his touch, he is rusty and his skills have stagnated. Employers don't hire those whose skills have stagnated when someone else can offer up to date skills, especially at a lower cost to those employers.

What is it about your partner's value proposition that is so compelling that a prospective employer's feels a compelling urge to pick up the phone and speak with your partner? If the blunt answer is "None", there you go.

Your partner needs to review the job market, work out the prospective employer's needs and tailor his resume to show that his credentials - work experience, skills set and education - meet those employer needs. Then he needs to write cover letters in which he explains what he can do for the prospective employer i.e. what his value proposition is.

People grow over time, even if unemployed. Speaking for myself, every period of unemployment has been a period where I expanded and strengthened my skills set. I hate unemployment periods because I usually work twice as hard - and I don't get paid for it. In comparison, full employment is comparatively a vacation to me. The question is, what has your partner done during these four years to offer a compelling value proposition? If the answer is "nothing", then you have your answer as to why your partner hasn't been working in his field for four years.

Even if a prospective employer offers something that matches exactly what your partner had been doing four years ago, that prospective employer still wants up to date skills that they can work with.

Your partner's value proposition has to be compelling enough to overcome any objection regarding unemployment gap or age. The fact is, your partner's value proposition is not compelling. He needs to work out what he has to do to make it compelling and he has to make it happen. It's either that or status quo.

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I believe if asked to explain the gap, an honest and sincere response may go a long way. However, i would rehearse and try to perfect the response in advance.

If the explanation is short and meaningful at the same time, it shouldn't be a problem, as long as the competency of the candidate is not questionable.

  • This is how to reply, not what, which seems much more important to me. – Jan Doggen May 21 '15 at 10:30

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