A staggering 57.4 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic wreaked havoc on the job market beginning in mid-March. Although the economy continues to gain jobs and the unemployment rate has been falling each month, millions of workers are still out of work due to a layoff or furlough.
The good news is there’s plenty of work out there to be had. But if you’re out of a job right now and searching for employment, how do you explain your current employment situation to prospective employers? Will you be penalized for being unemployed?
Fortunately, the silver lining to being one of many millions in the same boat is that hiring managers are acutely aware of everything that’s going on. They’re navigating a global health crisis, too, and are likely to understand the context of your unemployment.
That being said, it’s always beneficial to approach the subject with candor and honesty when you’re applying and interviewing for a new job. We asked our FlexJobs Career Coaching team how they’d recommend explaining why you’re looking for a job during the pandemic, and here’s what they said!
How to Explain Your Pandemic Employment Situation
Searching and applying for a job during the pandemic when you’ve been out of work for a while may feel like an uphill battle, but it’s important to stay positive, explains Career Coach Betsy Andrews. “Though this is a tough time, employers are going to be more interested in a candidate who handles situations outside of their control gracefully rather than venting.”
How you present yourself on both your application materials and in your interview may differ slightly depending on the specifics of your situation. Whether you’ve been laid off, furloughed, or are just proactively looking for a new position due to uncertainty in your industry or with your company, check out these tips for presenting your very best self.
A recent survey from Cornell University indicates that a second wave of layoffs is underway. While 37% of all respondents had been laid off or furloughed at least once since March, 31% of those who had been put back on payrolls were laid off a second time—and 26% of workers who were able to return to work were told they may lose their jobs again. This means that, again, hiring managers have plenty of context in which to consider your unemployment, so don’t worry about your time off. However, it is important to erase any lingering doubt about your job performance by addressing the situation.
On your resume and cover letter, make it clear to employers that your layoff was not due to performance issues. Using lines like these can clarify that your job loss was entirely pandemic-related:
- One of multiple people laid off due to global pandemic; consistently exceeded expectations and received outstanding performance reviews
- Part of a multi-department layoff related to the pandemic; maintained solid performance throughout employment and was repeatedly recognized for contributions to the marketing team
During an interview, when asked what happened with your last employer, Andrews suggests to, “answer truthfully and then transition into highlighting one or more accomplishments, such as:
Like many organizations, my former employer was impacted by COVID-19 and had to lay off/furlough multiple employees. However, during my time with the organization I received recognition often because of my proactiveness in recognizing and rectifying issues impeding processes, which increased efficiencies and company revenues. As an example, xyz (relay a specific situation).”
If you’ve been laid off for more than a month, “be sure to give them information on what you have been doing during your time out of the workplace,” explains Andrews. Showing how you pursued additional certifications or relevant training, volunteered, or were actively involved in building a professional network will all help to put a positive spin on your unemployment.
Unlike a layoff, workers who are furloughed are considered to be “temporarily” unemployed, meaning they are expected to return to their jobs at some point. You may be able to keep your health insurance and other benefits while furloughed but, unless it’s a short-term furlough, you likely won’t be getting paid for quite a while.
In July, 56.4% of unemployed workers were on furlough and expecting to return to their jobs (down from 78.3% in April). So, while it’s great news that more than 8 million furloughed employees have been able to transition back into their positions, that won’t be the case for everyone.
If your furlough looks like it has no end in sight and you’re ready to jump on a job search, you’ll need to explain to employers that you’re looking for something long-term, and that you’re not just trying to bridge the gap.
“If you were furloughed, you’ll want to be very clear in your job search materials that you’re looking for a full-time permanent role, rather than something that will be temporary until your old job is reinstated,” says Career Development Manager Brie Weiler Reynolds.
“In cover letters, write about your excitement for moving to a new company in a new role and your interest in where the potential role will go in the long-term,” suggests Reynolds. “In your resume, you might add a line in a Career Break section that mentions your furlough and that you are actively seeking long-term, full-time work with an employer where you can grow and contribute well into the future.”
Proactive Job Seeker
Even if you haven’t been laid off, you may be in an industry or company with a future that feels uncertain and want to prepare for the possibility of a layoff. If business has slowed down significantly, coworkers have been laid off or furloughed, or your workload has decreased, it may be a sign that it’s time to start looking for a new job.
If this is the case and you aren’t unemployed, you don’t have to worry about explaining a gap in employment in your application materials. You will, however, want to be upfront and honest with hiring managers during an interview, explains Career Coach Cidnye Work, and say something to the effect of:
My industry or organization has been severely impacted because of the pandemic and we are continuing to face a lot of uncertainty as to when things may recover or get back to normal. With that said, I have taken this time to reexamine my career values and priorities and have started to seek other potential industries or roles that suit my career goals and aspirations and it seems like this role/company could be a great fit for me and my skill set.
“Most employers will respect this answer and are aware that other industries aren’t able to provide jobs for people right now,” says Work. “They will appreciate that you are still being proactive and staying career oriented and driven, even in these tough times. It also demonstrates that you are flexible and adaptable and willing to approach work with a growth mindset.”
Chart Your Own Path
No matter what your employment situation during the pandemic, you can take control of your journey, build career resilience, and find the ideal job for your very own here and now.
Knowing how to stay positive and proactively explain your current circumstances to prospective employers can make all the difference in your job search. For more advice and inspiration, learn how our career coaching services can boost your job search.
Not a member yet? If you’re ready to connect with new opportunities, consider joining FlexJobs today. FlexJobs members get full access to our flexible job postings every day, which include fully remote and partially remote flexible jobs. Take the tour to learn more!
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