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Working Strategies: Application hesitation: Time to get off the sidelines

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If you’ve been out of the workforce for awhile — weeks, months, years — you’ve probably had good reason. You don’t need to justify that choice. But this is as good a time as any to give serious consideration to making a return.

Why? To be blunt, because now is almost certainly better timing than a year from now will be. The indicators of a tightening market have been hovering on the horizon for some time, ranging from increased business costs for employers to global inflation to the recent layoffs in the U.S. tech sector.

Amy Lindgren
Amy Lindgren

On the plus side, we still have low unemployment and robust hiring numbers — indicators that continue to confound economists, by the way. We’re in uncharted territory and that makes forecasting risky. And that brings us back to the simple thought that your career and household budget are too important to take risks with.

So … heigh-ho, heigh-ho? Yes, if you’ve been putting it off, or only dabbling at your job search, then it’s off to work you go. These five steps should make the process less daunting.

1. Get support. Depending on how long you’ve been away, job search may have changed. Even if you’re confident in the overall process, jumping in cold turkey can still be intimidating.

There are several ways to feel supported while you re-acclimate, but one of the best might be connecting up with your local workforce center. These state-run agencies use different names, but offer a similar range of helpful, no-cost services. You can find locations, as well as a plethora of other job search resources, at the Department of Labor’s flagship site, careeronestop.org.

Other options for support include friends and family, former co-workers, private job search counselors and local job support groups.

2. Create a job search plan. Yes, you could just noodle around on job boards and start sending resumes. Heck, that works often enough that you could let that be your plan, as long as you identify weekly goals so you can measure your progress.

A better approach? Intentional conversations with people in your network, attendance at events where your targeted employers are present, and other elements of the “hidden” job market.

Whichever processes you use, start with actual planning: When do you want to be employed by, in which field or job, at what salary level, etc.? What should your resume include, and who should be on your networking list?

As a bonus, the counselors you connect with when seeking support will be experienced in crafting job search plans, so you can request their help to get launched on this step.

3. Mind the gap. If you’ve been out of work only a year or less, your employment gap may not even come up for discussion with potential employers. But if it’s been longer than that, you’ll need an explanation.

Again, you don’t need to justify your absence from the workforce, or your return for that matter, but employers will want to understand the situation. A simple “I took some time away but now I’m ready to return” could be enough. Even so, if you’ve pursued personal projects, taken courses, been a caretaker to someone, etc., consider shaping the experience into a brief summary for your resume or to be shared in interviews.

4. Fill the gap. If you’re not quite ready to return to work, or you’re just starting on a search, now’s a good time to get involved in something you could add to your resume. The goal isn’t to fool employers (it won’t work), but to demonstrate that you’re back in the game and serious about starting the next chapter.

Classic gap-fillers include online classes, certification programs, part-time work, contract/overflow assignments, intensive volunteering (consistent, as opposed to occasional), or temp jobs.

5. Eliminate application hesitation. Your new attitude for job search? Choose well, but don’t be choosy. That is, craft an achievable job goal (choose well), then allow for a range of options to fulfill that goal (don’t be choosy).

There’s some psychology here: Recognize that hesitating to move forward on a particular opportunity could be less about the specifics of the opening and more about your discomfort in starting this new chapter.

Whether you’ve enjoyed being away from the workforce or you’ve been struggling, your current status is still more familiar than a new job will be. It’s human nature to avoid the unfamiliar, but that can lead to a cycle of being stuck. If this happens to you, loop back to Step 1. That’s what support is for.