Landing a Job After a Long Layoff

July 15, 2013

Landing a Job After a Long Layoff

In this economy, layoffs are an unfortunate reality. In some regions, however, work is increasingly scarce – leaving engineers with unattractive gaps in their employment history. How does a long layoff affect your chances of landing the next job and what can you do to better the odds?

To help you land a job after a long layoff, EngineerJobs reached out to John Steele, Managing Director of MRI Manserv AG. He offered pragmatic advice for surviving employment gaps and securing a new job.


How Do Employment Gaps Affect Your Chances?

In many fields, candidates with gaps in their employment history are greeted with frank skepticism. Were they unable to work due to a medical condition, or ongoing personal complications? Is there something previous employers discovered about the candidate that disqualified them? “If a person is inactive for a long period of time, the transition back to employment can be more difficult,” Steele says. “For the hiring manager, the risk of the hire not working out is higher.” With a crowded field of prospective hires, it might not be worth a hiring manager’s time to rule out the most negative possibilities.

Unfortunately, this can rule out many otherwise promising engineers who fall victim to harsh, regional economic climates. “Southern Europe has an overabundance of engineers due to the economic crisis in Spain, Italy and Greece,” Steele points out. International financial crises can create toxic employment environments, where even well-qualified, perfectly suitable candidates are tarred with long employment gaps following a layoff.

For engineers, there’s an additional aspect to consider: they may fall out of step with core technologies or developments which occurred in their absence.  “If the technology has moved on from the candidate’s current skill set, then there is little to ‘sell’ to a company,” Steele says. “The longer the absence, the greater the difficulty.”

“It is important that an out-of-work engineer ensures his knowledge is kept up-to-date,” Steel says,”and, if possible, is even extended through further studies.”


What Mitigating Factors Do Hiring Managers Consider?

Having a long layoff in your employment history isn’t a sentence of obsolescence. There are mitigating factors an engineer can present for a hiring manager to weigh against their employment gap. “Mitigating factors that may have prevented the candidate from relocating for a job, such as special requirements for handicapped children, sick or elderly parents, generally are accepted,” Steele says.

The most important thing is to avoid any temptation to cover up your record. While lying on an application is ordinarily unthinkable, a candidate can grow desperate as the gap between jobs grows. It’s never a good idea, regardless – when the deception is uncovered, there will be consequences.

Steele agrees. “First, candidates should be honest about the length of time they have been laid off, the reasons for the layoff, and their attempts to find another job,” he says. If you were selected for layoff among your peers for a specific reason, such as a poor fit with the company’s culture, you should find an honest and tactful way to express this to your interviewer. Casting blame on external factors will reflect poorly if they discover the real reason while researching your background; failure to acknowledge an issue almost guarantees it will happen again.

Hiring managers aren’t unaware of the broader economic picture, however, and understand that some layoffs are beyond an engineer’s control. “A hiring manager is more likely to accept a long period of unemployment if many were laid off,” Steele says. “There is a difference if a single individual is laid off, versus many individuals due to a plant closure.”


Using Your Layoff Wisely

Avoid the temptation to level up in WoW and take long-overdue vacations. The best thing you can do with downtime between positions is continue to develop and refine your skills.

“It is important for candidates to show they remained active during the layoff,” Steele advises. Pursuing advanced coursework in your field or furthering your technical training can turn an employment gap from a detriment to an asset. Stay current with developments in your field, especially where they might impact the operations of the company to which you’re applying. Being able to ask focused questions about industry conditions or a company’s use of new tools and technologies does a lot to put hiring managers at ease.

Using your downtime to the betterment of others is a definite plus, as well. “If they did any voluntary work while laid off, they should talk about that,” Steele says, “and the reason they chose that particular voluntary task.” A few months offering your time and talents to organizations such as Engineers Without Borders or local civic groups reflects well on you as both an engineer and a human being.

“Finding a job is competitive,” Steele concludes, especially if you’re burdened with employment gaps after a long layoff. “The trick is to generate a positive signal that stands out from the rest of the pack.”


8 Tips to Landing a Job After a Long Layoff

  1. Stay up-to-date in your field.
  2. Launch a proactive job search. “Go to work” every morning as you would if you still held your old job; with the focus spent on searching, applying for jobs, and…
  3. Networking. Reach out to former colleagues, people in your social circles, as well as through LinkedIn (Related: How to Optimize your LinkedIn Profile) and with recruiters.
  4. Practice your story.  Focus on being factual and concise; e.g. “my previous employer moved away from the product line I had been working on,” or “the company underwent restructuring.” The more concise and polished your statement, the easier it will be to repeat confidently in an interview. (Related Post: Explaining Your Layoff to a Job Recruiter)
  5. Consider volunteer work, especially if it is related to your engineering discipline or will increase your management experience.
  6. Be honest. Expect that any inconsistency between your resume, your interview, and what your previous employer says will be discovered.  The best way to overcome anything negative in your work history is to get out in front of it.
  7. Remain positive. Attitude is contagious and hiring managers are as human as anyone else; make it as easy as possible for them to say “yes.”
  8. Most importantly – don’t give up. The phone won’t ring without your continued efforts.

How did you use your downtime between engineering positions? What do you attribute your success to when you found your next position? Share your tips and tricks for bouncing back on Twitter @EngineerJobs, or start the conversation below.