By Perminus Wainaina
Joyce (not her real name), had been working for five years when she decided to start a family. She then decided to quit her job with the hope of ultimately returning to the workforce, when her baby was old enough to go to school.
When Joyce was ready to return to work, she discovered it was not as easy as she had thought it would be. She has sent numerous CVs and although she is qualified for the roles, she has not received any interview invites.
With her qualifications, she does not understand why she does not seem to be a suitable candidate for the roles she applies for.
Have you seen a job posting before that declared, along with a need to have a degree and experience with the role, that candidates must be employed? Have you applied for jobs without any success due to the employment gap that is evident in your CV?
Candidates who have been out of a job for a long time can attest to the discrimination that exists whenever they try applying for jobs. As qualified for the position as they may be, there is always the unemployment gap problem.
Unlike Joyce, you may have been fired, retrenched, left work to go abroad or to even start your business among other reasons. The truth is, the employment gap is what employers see.
Here are some of the reasons many employers are reluctant to hire you if you are not working:
1. The reason behind leaving your last job
When you have not been employed too long, employers tend to make their own conclusions. This is hard to explain on paper especially if it was not in the news, like the closure of BetIn and Sportpesa, which has left many unemployed.
Some employers will, therefore, conclude that you were fired, or you quit without reason or maybe you just couldn’t do the job. The problem is you may never know because you might not even get to the interview to explain yourself.
2. A belief that employed candidates are better skilled and of more value
One question you can always expect in a job interview is what value you will bring to the company. Employers are usually looking for the best candidates to fill a position. Many believe that if you are currently employed, you will be of more value to them.
With revised changes in various fields such as the Labor Laws for HR professionals and even i-Tax for accountants, it may be harder for you, as an unemployed candidate to be up to date with these skills.
With this, employers could end up picking candidates who have been employed in the recent past.
3. There will be no need to train employed candidates
In many cases, employers look to hire only experienced candidates. This is because they don’t want the hustle of having to train people on the job. In the same way, if you have been unemployed for a long time, employers believe you will have a hard time adjusting on the job.
They are afraid that they will waste valuable time waiting for you to adjust.
How do you then transition back to employment?
1. Don’t show you’ve been idle
One of the most important things you can do to boost your chances on the jobs market after a long spell away is to update your skills.
Enrol in courses that can boost your career options and not only will it be beneficial for you in your career, but it will also be beneficial for yourself, in lifting your confidence and morale.
The extra training will help convince a potential employer that you have the drive and commitment to succeed, as well as having tangible and relevant skills.
Volunteering work can also help fill gaps in your CV. Focus on volunteering in a job that is related to the field of work you are pursuing.
For example, if your field is marketing, try to help an NGO with their marketing materials, strategies, planning, or process.
You will be able to impress a future employer with the skills you will have acquired.
2. Assess Your Career Wants & Needs
A professional recently contacted me seeking career coaching services. Her issue, as she put it, was she was seeking to make a career change.
“When I stepped in to help the HR team at my place of work for almost a year, I contemplated changing my career to HR. When my contract ended, I did not renew it because I felt I needed a change,” she said in part.
Don’t dive into searching on job posting websites. Instead, take time to consider what you want: What type of job will be fulfilling and gratifying? Do you want to go back to a role like the one you had before you left the workforce, or do you want to try something a bit different? Consider what you’d like to get out of a job, and why you are interested in working again. Keep your needs in mind, too: whether it’s salary requirements, flexible working hours, or anything else. Make a list of the “must-haves” for your next job.
3. Explain your career gap without getting into too much detail
You will most likely be required to explain your long break within your cover letter and during the interview as well. Whatever your reason for being away, try to distil it down to something brief—and then return the conversation to the work you did before your time away. Your work experience remains relevant, even if some time has passed since you gained that experience.
If you took time off to raise children or care for a sick loved one, you can say, “I’ve spent time caring for a sick relative,” or “It was important for me to be home with my child until nursery school.”
4. Have your papers in order
It’s quite common for you to believe that a gap in your CV will ruin your career.
However, instead of seeing it as a handicap, see it as something positive that can differentiate you from other candidates.
Add all the new skills you may have developed during your break, and explain how these can relate to the job you’re now applying for. For example, did you take a course specializing in digital marketing? Did you do volunteer work and develop your leadership skills, which will help you to lead a team more effectively?
Seek to also get a recommendation letter from every place you volunteer, as well as certificates from the training you have attended.
Points to note
- Your CV: During your time away, try and add all new skills you have developed, training you many have taken and volunteer work done. This will boost your time away.
- Salary negotiation: Some employers may offer you a lower pay, and you might have to take it as you transition back to employment. This should however not discourage you.
Remember that not everyone will buy your explanation.
My advice to you would be this: What determines whether you’ll be employed is your attitude and ultimately how you package yourself.
Perminus Wainaina is the CEO and Managing Partner at Corporate Staffing Services, a leading HR consultancy firm based in Westlands. Through personalized Career coaching he assists mid-level and senior professionals get solutions to complex and challenging career issues that they are facing.