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Approaching a Recruiter after Being Out of Work for a Year

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You’ve been out of the market for over a year. How do you present yourself to a headhunter, or for that matter, a potential employer?

First, be honest about why you found yourself out of work in the first place. Explain the background behind your departure from your last job, and if you have good references at your former employer, offer them up to the recruiter. If you decided to take time off because of personal or family issues, be clear about these as well.

Second, be prepared to demonstrate that the time off has not been wasted. For example, if you’ve been trying to get work ever since your last job, offer a brief summary of the strategy you developed for landing new work, and the steps you have already taken to implement that strategy. The more you can show the recruiter that you know about the job market in specifics—who is hiring, who is laying off, and why—the more credible your strategy looks, and the more positive a recruiter will be about your candidacy.

On the other hand, you may have decided to take the opportunity to retool in some way. You might have gone through outplacement consulting, and used the opportunity to redefine your career goals. Or you might you have decided to do something outside of your career that you’ve always wanted to do—travel, write a book, work for a not-for-profit that you believe in, start a new business that didn’t quite work out. Don’t be afraid to come clean—recruiters should take this kind of response as a measure of maturity, or entrepreneurial spirit, or civic mindedness, that would make you a better hire than you would have been without these enriching experiences.

But the most important thing to do is to convey a sense of positive optimism and energy. If you’ve been frustrated for over a year in your job search, it is easy to slump into despondency. Find ways to reorient your mental attitude, for example, recalling successes you had in your previous work, or achievements that make you proud. If you don’t, the frustrations and negativity that you feel inside will usually become apparent to a recruiter, and that can be the biggest turn off of all.

–David Schwartz is CEO at search firm DN Schwarz & Co. He is a former director of recruitment at Goldman Sachs.

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