What To Do If You’ve Been Unemployed for More Than a Year: 5 Ways To Get Your Career Back on Track

Shot of a young businessman looking thoughtful while using a digital tablet in a modern office.
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Despite all the headlines about how today’s tight labor market has employers handing over CEO pay packages to any applicant with a pulse, it’s not quite that easy — especially if you’re just now climbing back onto the horse after a year or more out of the game. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about where to begin after a long spell on the sidelines of the labor force, don’t worry — GOBankingRates asked the experts to point you in the right direction. 

Read: These 10 Career Fields Are Adding the Most WFH Jobs in 2021
Find Out: 22 Tips for Landing a Job During the Health Crisis

A Year Is a Long Time — Get Your Head in the Right Place First

Long periods out of work can be discouraging, demoralizing and depressing — not exactly a good mental space to be in when trying to impress potential employers. 

“It’s easy to feel down if you’ve been laid off or furloughed during the pandemic, but it’s important to avoid losing confidence,” said Jaime Berghout, director of communications at Atrium Staffing. “Being out of work can bring about negative feelings, which means maintaining a healthy perspective may require a concerted effort to look forward. No matter how great or small, keep planning and preparing for the work ahead. By setting short- and long-term goals, the personal and professional achievements you want to reach can help create the structure needed to realize progress and promote a positive mindset.” 

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Maintaining a positive mindset requires you to harvest wins wherever you can find them.

“Rather than focusing on the reasoning behind any professional pause, take pride in your new accomplishments and lean on your notable objectives and outcomes to overcome the perceived gaps in your work experience,” said Berghout. “By emphasizing your advancements on your resume and during your conversations, your story is one of professional development, not career setbacks.” 

Address Your Resume Gap Honestly

Hiring managers are, of course, going to ask about a long absence from the workforce. The last thing you want to do is try to conceal it or downplay it. 

“To overcome pandemic-related work gaps, you must maintain honesty when addressing it in interviews,” said David Bitton, co-founder and CMO of DoorLoop. “Make an effort to address the gap as soon as possible and to be truthful when questioned.”

But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn a negative into a positive. 

“Always focus on your unique strengths and the value you’d add as an employee,” said Jon Hill, CEO and chairman of The Energists, an executive search and recruiting firm in the energy industry. “This is true when you’re discussing your employment break, too. Rather than framing it as a negative or being apologetic about the gap in interviews, consider what new skills or experiences you’ve gained during that time that will make you more effective at your job, and focus on those as strengths when the question comes up.” 

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But Don’t Dwell on It

The elephant in the room has to be acknowledged, but it shouldn’t become the star of the show.

“Don’t over-explain your resume gap,” said Hill. “This is a common mistake for those returning to the workforce and is particularly not necessary in the current moment. Hiring managers are well aware of what’s been happening over the past 18 months, and even those who would normally see a gap as a red flag — and not all of them do — will understand this was a situation outside your control. You can explain further if you’re asked about the gap in the interview, but otherwise, you can acknowledge it with a single sentence in the cover letter and don’t need to make a point of it in the resume.”

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Bitton concurs.

“Most companies are well aware of how difficult the pandemic was for almost everyone, so they are more sympathetic to why there may be a pause in your employment as a result,” he said.

Related: 16 Real People Share How They Knew It Was Time To Pursue a New Dream

Make Finding a Job Your Full-Time Job

If you’re really ready to re-enter the workforce, don’t dabble — work hard at finding work.

“My best advice here is to treat your search like it’s a job,” said Hill. “One of the hardest parts of returning after a gap is breaking that inertia of being unemployed. It can be jarring to return to a working schedule, and imposing a schedule on yourself that puts you back in that frame of mind can be very helpful as you’re making this transition. This will also help to avoid feelings of hopelessness and frustration. If you’re putting in  the work consistently, it will yield results, even if it takes a bit longer than you’d hoped.”

Tips: Top Resume Mistakes That Hold Job-Seekers Back

Focus On the Fundamentals

Whether you’ve been out of work for a year or a week, the same basics always apply. Brush up on your job-hunt fundamentals with this checklist courtesy of Odalys Simmons, a virtual job connection team member with Goodwill Industries of Central Florida

  • Research the company: Job seekers should research the companies and positions that they are applying to and tailor their resumes with keywords from the job description. Researching the company and position in depth also helps the candidate prepare for interviews and answering challenging questions. This level of preparedness allows the employer to see candidates in the position and provides a better chance of a job offer.
  • Illustrate transferrable skills: If making a career change, evaluating transferrable skills (similar skills used in previous jobs) is an important step. These skills can be illustrated on a resume and emphasized during interviews.
  • Focus on your talents: It’s important to avoid expressing any resentfulness towards a former employer, especially how layoffs were handled. Focusing on the talent that they bring to a company and their accomplishments in their previous role is always best.
  • Update skills: Staying current in their career field and updating their skills gives job seekers an advantage in being selected for interviews and job offers. This also helps build the confidence to get out there and look for opportunities that would not have been considered in the past.
  • Network: Staying in touch and tapping into their network is a solid strategy for job seekers to find and connect to new career opportunities.
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Last updated: Sept. 17, 2021

    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 TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.

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