How to get a job when you’ve been unemployed for a whole year

Simon Mortlock

Banks made a lot of their layoffs way back in Q4 2008 and Q1 2009, but the job market only really picked up late last year. This means there are people, quite a few people, who have now been looking for work for a whole year (or more).

In many cases, the stigma of a year’s unemployment could be stifling their job searches, and leaving them with much explaining to do during interviews, especially in a sector as unforgiving as financial services.

If you are among the many approaching this unhappy anniversary, here are a few tips that might help you turn the tide.

Prepare well for the “why were you retrenched?” question

Interviewers will hammer you on why you were laid off. Don’t give them an inch. Hit back calmly and confidently. Show a positive attitude, as opposed to dwelling on the negatives.

“It’s essential to articulate the reasons why you were retrenched or found it difficult to secure a new role in 2009, clearly showing an understanding of global markets, economics and organisational change,” says Sara Gibb, manager of finance and banking contract, Robert Walters.

Let your CV do the talking

You can minimise some of your interview agony by careful crafting the way your CV describes your previous role (and thus your redundancy). “Make sure your resume highlights accomplishments and achievements, not just responsibilities,” advises Lee Thomas from Manpower Professional.

An achievements-focused CV, says Jane McNeill, senior regional director of Hays banking, “will help to overcome any assumption that you were let go for underperformance, and it will also help an employer clearly see how you could add value to their organisation.”

Don’t ever, ever lose touch with the financial markets

Browsing the AFR might not be your idea of summer fun, but it has to be done. “Keep on top of local and international market changes and developments through reading relevant publications, studying websites and networking within your industry and field of expertise. This shows you have a proactive approach and will provide you with up to date information to discuss at interviews,” says Gibb.

Develop a routine to maintain your motivation

Maintaining your motivation while unemployed (and minimising the emotional toll) can be helped by approaching your job hunt as you would a job.

“For example: start your search at the same time each day; have set objectives you need to work towards (such as researching and proactively contacting a certain number of organisations daily); take breaks at set times; and reflect positively on what you have achieved,” says McNeill.

Sharpen up your skills

Your skills base is always your key selling point in the job market, so make sure you continue to develop it via short-term courses. “Time away from full-time employment could be a good time to study or improve your skill set. There are a lot of very inexpensive or free online courses, which will increase your opportunity to be employed, and show people that you’re keen to develop and use the downturn wisely,” comments Thomas.

Get some career coaching

Confidence is key to securing interviews. “The market is always on the lookout for quality people and it's important to not let bad experiences be disheartening. Seek counsel or career coaching to help instil confidence. The best way to get an interview is to pick up the phone and simply ask for one. Don't wait to be contacted,” says Thomas.

Don’t give contracting the cold shoulder

It might be your best (only?) way back into the world of work. “Temporary assignments provide you with recent experience you can then discuss in job interviews. They are also often preferred options for employers at the moment, and they can provide you with a broader depth of experience and skills development,” says McNeill.

Are your references really where you think they are?

You’ve aced an interview, so don’t fall at the last hurdle. Ensure your references are pre-prepared and up to date, particularly at the start of a new year. Your referees may have moved jobs themselves in 2009, so their contact details and/or availability may have changed. “It's also essential that you gain a previous employer’s permission before providing their details as a reference contact,” says Gibb.

And finally….do you really need to be a banker?

If you’re a banker, your skills are transferable, especially now that the real economy is recovering in Asia. “People from a banking background could, for example, apply their skills and experience in the housing market, other financial institutions, or finance teams,” says Thomas.


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