Laid Off During an Economic Downturn? How To Restore Your Career

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The virus tossed millions of Americans onto the unemployment rolls almost immediately. Others were laid off later into the crisis and remain out of work today. Before the virus, a long work gap was a blemish on a resume. Today, it’s closer to the rule than the exception. So if you were laid off for a long spell and are now looking to get back in the game, don’t worry — but do plan, strategize and move forward with purpose. 

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Pro Advice on What To Do and What Not To Do

Joe Flanagan is the senior employment advisor at VelvetJobs, a career matchmaking site with more than 1 million curated jobs. Over the past year, he’s worked to help “countless” people find new positions after long periods of being laid off, and he came up with a list of do’s and don’ts along the way.

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  • Stay active: Whether it’s signing up for a new course or brushing up on existing skills, make an effort to stay committed and motivated about career enhancement. This will also demonstrate your strength and ability to make the most of all situations while job hunting.
  • Get your paperwork in order: Make sure you obtain all your documents, letters and employment details from your previous employer. If you are on good terms, ask for recommendation letters and references, as well.
  • Pay attention to the application process: Be sure to send your updated resume, alongside a personalized cover letter highlighting why you’re fit for the role. It can be tempting to send the same copy to everyone, but recruiters can usually pick up on it and might be put off by the lack of effort.
  • Get in touch with everyone in your network: In addition to updating your LinkedIn status, touch base personally with all your professional acquaintances to ask for referrals and recommendations.

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  • Try to hide the gap: Being honest about your job search is a better strategy than glossing over your career gap, which may raise suspicion.
  • Apply indiscriminately to all jobs, relevant or not: Being unemployed for long periods can be intimidating, but don’t apply indiscriminately to each and every job you come across. Stay focused and don’t get overwhelmed. 
  • Vent on social media: Do not malign your previous company on social media because your recent activity might be scrutinized when you’re looking for new work.
  • Limit yourself to job aggregators: You could learn about your next job from Instagram or TikTok, so don’t be rigid about where to look. 
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Tips: How To Find a New Job That Fits Your Life
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Use Your Weakness to Your Advantage

Flanagan’s do’s and don’ts remind you to never try to conceal the gap in your recent employment history. But there are plenty of experts who believe you should go one step further and promote the time you were laid off as a positive. 

“You can address the gap on your resume or on your cover letter,” said Sai Blackbyrn, career coach, CEO of Coach Foundation and owner of Coaches Support Group, the largest group for coaches on LinkedIn. “This is helpful especially if you were a part of a significant layoff or skipped working because of children. This helps the manager to understand that the candidate has not been laid off due to his or her performance at work. So giving knowledge about the absence with a context eliminates the idea of a gap as an issue in the mind of an HR officer.” 

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The Game Has Changed — Give Cold Networking a Second Chance

If your last job hunt was a while back, you might remember that your least favorite part was cold networking — contacting people you’ve never met with unsolicited invitations to connect. Don’t worry, that’s no longer the laborious fishing expedition it so often was before the pandemic.

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“With everyone home, remote, and ready for connection, you may be surprised that you’ll get more positive responses from cold networking emails right now than you might have before,” said Ashley Stahl, a SoFi career expert. “I recommend setting aside time every day to come up with a dream list of people to network with, and start sending those cold emails to initiate a connecting conversation on Zoom or by phone. Always remember to ask how you can support them as well so that you remain a giver in your network. Think about what roles align with your core skill set and what you can bring to the table, and don’t be afraid to get creative and think about different types of roles that can help you grow.”

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Highlight Time Off That Was Well-Spent

Did you do anything positive or helpful in your community during your time away from work? Employers are almost certain to give preference to candidates who used their time off productively. 

“Ensure your resume is up to date,” said Amanda Ponzar, chief communications and strategy officer for CHC: Creating Healthier Communities. “Include volunteer work and other experiences with your work-related skills. Many people do consulting, volunteering, pro bono work, freelance work, etc., during periods when they are between jobs. Consider starting volunteering if you aren’t already. Helping a nonprofit, faith-based group, or your children’s school can build your connections and give you recent work experience.”

Also, just be ready to talk about your time away from work in an honest and open way — the conversation doesn’t have to be a big deal.

“Many employers understand the dramatic shifts in the COVID economy or the need to take a break for personal reasons, whether health or family,” Ponzar said. “Just be prepared with a brief, honest answer, focusing on your readiness for a new role.”

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Last updated: Aug. 5, 2021

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.
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