In the first month of unemployment, you hit the ground running, turning in application after application. As time has gone on without a job offer, you may be asking yourself, “Is there something wrong with me?”
Don’t lose confidence. Amy Lindgren, president and founder of Prototype Career Service, says it’s never too late for the long-term unemployed to revamp their resume strategy. It takes courage to confront your situation head-on.
Job seekers wondering how to write a resume after long-term unemployment should start thinking about their resume as a story-telling tool. “We’re finding everything we can do within a structure and format to create an experience for the reader,” Lindgren says.
Thinking about your resume as a story rather than a list or dry informational document opens up a world of possibilities. Here’s how to write a resume after long-term unemployment and land the job you’ve always wanted:
1. Include a Headline
Since recruiters only spend an average of six seconds reviewing a resume, it’s important to lead with the most impressive parts of your story. In long-term unemployment, your work history section, though important, shouldn’t necessarily be front and center. You don't need the very first thing that they hear about you to be that you've been out of work for five years, Lindgren says.To divert attention away from your dates of employment, she suggests including a headline at the top of your resume. A resume headline is a short phrase that says why you’d be a great hire. Underneath that, you can include a profile, which is a brief paragraph or bullet-point list showcasing your relevant skills.
Here’s an example of a headline with a short phrase:
Highly-trained carpenter with 7+ years’ experience in framing, new construction, and
2. Highlight Your Skills
Next, you want to call attention to your skillset. You can use the left-hand margin to list important skills. Instead of using a non-descript header like “Skills,” you may want to write “Carpentry Skills.”
Subtle touches like this, “create a drumbeat as the reader goes through the document as they see the thing they most need and want,” according to Lindgren. You want the most important information, which the hiring manager uses to decide if they’d like to bring you in for an interview, in the top third of the resume.
3. Join a Trade Group or Professional Organization
Lindgren stresses the importance of staying connected with your professional network by joining a trade group or professional organization, as it is another current item you can include on your resume.
“It gives the employer confidence that you’re halfway vetted by others in the field and you aren’t simply floating out there,” she says.
4. Include Professional-Level Training, Forums and Seminars
If you’re looking to boost your credentials—and have extra space on your resume—you should include relevant training sessions, forums, and seminars you attended as a professional. Lindgren suggests simply listing the sessions, including the title.
You may want to call them out in a discrete section entitled Professional Development or combine it with your education section. Whatever you do, don’t include the year if it’ll make your training appear out-of-date.
5. Lead with Freelance Experience
If you’ve recently done any contract or consulting work that relates directly to what you’d like to do next, you should lead with it under the Work Experience section of your resume. Regarding freelance employment dates, Lindgren suggests going as far back as you can while remaining honest. For example, if you started working on freelance construction projects on occasion from 2012 to 2019 with no clients in 2014 and 2016, you should nonetheless include the entire date range under your work history.
When it’s less relevant or impressive, you should relegate freelance experience to an Additional Experience category. There, it’ll be somewhat diminished but still discoverable should the employer be interested. “You don’t want to lead Work Experience with something that is clearly small by comparison, as it’ll kind of look like a slide down,” Lindgren says.
6. Use the Present Tense Rather Than Past Tense
You want to create a feeling of immediacy in the hiring manager who reads your resume. That’s why it’s important to “send the subtle message of current” in your Work Experience section, Lindgren says.
Your bullet points, for example, should begin with, “Leading a team of a six…” instead of “led a team of six.” By putting each point in the present tense, your reader will get the sense that you’re active. It’s a subtle-yet-effective way of indicating that your past experience is something you’re currently capable of.
7. Write Your Resume with an ATS in Mind
Some applicants, Lindgren says, may not be well-suited for getting through applicant tracking systems, a type of automated software frequently used by recruiters to narrow the field.
To make your resume more ATS-friendly, study each job ad and make a list of the most relevant skills and experience outlines in the ad. Then, lightly tweak your resume each time you apply to add those keywords to your document. This will improve your chances of getting your resume in front of a human recruiter.
8. Reach Out Directly to Recruiters
Nothing beats human-to-human contact. In addition to networking, Lindgren suggests sending your resume directly to companies you’d like to work for—even if they aren’t currently hiring.
This style of direct-contact job search may improve your chance of getting your resume noticed and could give you the opportunity to tell and shape your story, which could be beneficial for someone in long-term unemployment.
“They'll have a narrative that will be able to accompany the bullet points of the resume,” she says.
Such a strategy offers an opportunity to rethink your resume layout as well. “If you’ve been out of work for a while, you need every advantage you can possibly get, so you should be mindful of how the human eye will read your resume,” Lindgren says.
For example, consider whether each job under Work Experience should lead with the title or company. If your titles were impressive but the companies relatively unknown, start with the title (and make the font bold). If the companies were well-known and the titles unremarkable, lead with the company name.
Again, if you’re wondering how to write a resume after long-term unemployment, don’t fret. There are hundreds of thousands of others who’ve been in your boat.
In addition to the tips above, you can begin your resume revamp with LiveCareer’s Resume Builder. Before you dive in, you may want to check out some award-winning resume designs, as well as an overview on how to write a resume.
There’s no shame in unemployment. If you keep putting yourself out there and finely-tune your application materials, you’ll eventually find a great job.