As tempting as it may be to “take time off” before your job search, I don’t typically recommend it. When the weather is bad for commuting or perfect for beaching, if you’ve received a generous severance package or might be hoping to do a little travel, in this candidate-driven market, the temptation to take time for yourself will be strong, but I encourage you to resist.
It would be like having the opportunity to sell your house at the height of the market but not doing so because you want a little break. No one knows what the real-estate market is going to look like in six months. Everyone who wanted your house will have already found another one. How much will you kick yourself if you can’t move your property or can, but at 20% less than you wanted.
Taking a few months off from your job search may not seem like it can make that big of a difference over the course of a career, but let me pull the curtain back on the mind of hiring managers. If a manager is presented two resumes of similarly qualified candidates, but one has been unemployed for three months, three things come to mind:
1. Will they be rusty?
2. Why wouldn’t I hire the person whose experience is more recent?
3. In a market like this where unemployment is so low, why isn’t this person working? Is something wrong with him or her?
I’m not saying you should take just any role you come across during your job search, this is your life and your career we are talking about. I am saying to start looking right away. I interviewed with at least a dozen companies and got offers from all but one (still bitter about that even though I didn’t want the job anyway). You can always turn a job down, just make sure it is your choice.
Another way to stay competitive is to consider a contract position, a position that pays a little less than what you’d like, or even something to the left of center than what you have traditionally. All of these options are better than not working at all. The benefits you’ll get – such as staying in work mode, keeping your skills sharp and maintaining a competitive advantage – are well worth it. Plus, continuing the theme of ‘what are they thinking’, hiring managers appreciate people who are out there hustling versus those submitting resumes in their PJ’s from the couch.
Volunteering and doing board work are other positive ways to stay sharp, active and involved, and are worlds apart from doing nothing. Also, consider taking classes and getting more involved in your children’s activities. These are all reasonable steps while conducting a career search. Be sure to put these happenings on your resume or in your cover letter; the hiring managers won’t know about your involvement unless you tell them. Without that you may never get to answer the question, “so what have you been doing since you were laid off?”
Remember, just like at work where the busy people always get more projects, employed people find work. Most hiring managers will look more seriously at a candidate who has been proactive, working and keeping a stream of income over someone who hasn’t, whether it was their choice or not.
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