Job searching on LinkedIn when you’re unemployed requires a little more thought. Never fear! You actually can make your Linked Profile answer all the big questions for you, helping you move from job application to interview sooner. With some honest and creative wording, you can paint a picture of an experienced, unstoppable candidate.
Should I Say “Unemployed?”
While you don’t want to hide any facts about you work history, you also needn’t shout “unemployed,” which can be a potential turn-off. By ending your last position with the actual date you ended employment (instead of leaving it as “2004-Present”), recruiters and hiring managers will get the idea.
The only time you should mention your résumé gaps is when you briefly explain the absence (instead of leaving it as a glaring question), and then begin to let the reader know how you continued to develop your skills in the meantime. Try not to dwell on your current job status; positivity and confidence—not arrogance—go a long way.
Fill out Your Summary
Believe it or not, many LinkedIn users don’t even fill out the summary box. When a user first signs up for LinkedIn, the set-up wizard walks them through each section. The summary box is one of the most daunting. “What exactly do I put here?” is a common question, so users may skip it with the intention of coming back later, only to never update it. The Summary is even more intimidating if you’re unemployed.
The good news is you can more openly request connections for a job opportunity, something currently employed people have to be cautious with. You can also use this opportunity to explain any major career change you plan. Overall, you want to use the Summary section to hammer home your Professional Brand—what you want to be known for.
It can help to list a call to action at the end of your summary asking for contact by listing your personal e-mail or even your phone number.
Update Your Headline
By default, LinkedIn includes your current or last job title and company. However, if you’re unemployed, you want to use this space to subtly indicate you’re on the market. By listing your top skills and experiences rather than a job title, you advertise yourself as open to be approached for a job opportunity while also being able to define your professional history.
Some people choose to list their ideal title preceded by the word “Seeking” to indicate the position they expect to be able to fill, e.g., “Seeking Position as Lead Graphic Artist.” However, this can be a risky option if it comes across to some recruiters as too “desperate.”
Research Job Postings
Think realistically about what positions you qualify for presently. Use all of the major job posting websites to search for these positions, and read them carefully. The very people who are searching for candidates on LinkedIn usually write these postings.
You can also look for positions a step or two above on your career ladder to help you plan your ideal career trajectory. For example, if you know that the position above you requires a particular certification, you can begin learning how to acquire that skill or experience.
Keyword Your Skills
Once you’ve found some sample job postings, you should be able to pick up on some patterns. Look for the most often repeated words: these are the same keywords the recruiters will use to find qualified candidates on LinkedIn.
You want to integrate these keywords in your profile, but avoid the more generic ones: motivated, passionate, creative, etc. Stick with skills that apply specifically to your field.
Recommendations & Endorsements
Now is the time to reach out to past coworkers, bosses, clients, etc., to help you build up the validity of your profile.
Recommendations are a general review of your professional reputation. For example, the person may write that you were always a pleasure to work with, finished in a timely manner and provided quality work that exceed their expectations.
Endorsements are tied to a specific skill. You want to receive endorsements for your top 5 career-defining skills.
Apply through LinkedIn Jobs
Many users are shy about applying for jobs through LinkedIn Jobs directly. It can be intimidating because you have all of your information right there, meaning you may get rejected faster than when applying in person or through other online job sites. However, this also means you can more quickly get to the hirer that says “Yes.”
You may even want to consider using a free trial and a few months worth of subscription fees (at $20 per month) to use the “Featured Applicant” function. This highlights your name in a different color, expands your photo and pushes your application to the top of the list (instead of leaving it in the chronological order of submissions). With the paid Job Seeker plan, you’ll also get a breakdown of how you compare to other applicants, with LinkedIn even telling you, “You’re in the top X percent of applicants for this job.” If the number is low, you may find you need to focus your sights on a more appropriate position.
Keep Earning Experiences
Many people try to think of ways to cover up the gaps in their work history. The truth is, you can fill this time with meaningful activity that can all but erase the stigma of being laid off or even fired. Here are just a few ways:
You can look for more formal volunteer positions through websites like VolunteerMatch. The closer to your career path, the better the match, though in some cases showing a willingness to try something new and expand your skill set is also a positive. Make sure to list these experiences under the separate Volunteers tab on your LinkedIn Profile.
Freelancing & Consulting:
You may want to begin finding this type of work by announcing your services on your LinkedIn feed. Reach out to past colleagues and clients and let them know you are available for their future needs. From there, you can list yourself on various freelancing websites.
The object here is not usually to make the same amount of money as you did in your steady job. However, the money can help while the experience certainly does. Recruiters and hiring managers like to see someone committed to their field even in times of difficulty.
It’s also possible for these types of short-term, contract jobs to turn into something full-time. Use these opportunities as a sort of interview or foot in the door. If you do an excellent job, you may build referrals or get taken on by the company itself.
If you can, look for classes at a local college or university. Sometimes community centers offer multi-week programs to learn a specific skill.
If the investment is difficult, you can look up free online classes offered through well-respected websites like Khan Academy, Coursera, and edX. Even Harvard makes some of its classes available for free, which can be another great resource. Just make sure you’re honest—don’t say you attended Harvard!
Turn Negatives into Positives
Attitude is everything. It’s surprising how many profiles scream desperate, angry or jaded when they can easily garner more potential with a simple dose of positivity.
Don’t fall for the temptation to hide failure. Let’s say you struck out and started your own business, but you had trouble keeping it afloat. Explain how you diagnosed your business’s pitfalls and how you would change your approach in retrospect. The important thing here is to demonstrate lessons learned. Remember, even the founder of LinkedIn failed the first time he created a web company. What ultimately made him successful was recognizing where he made mistakes and knowing how to avoid them next time. Your real world lessons may actually be a huge asset to a company.
When discussing how you found yourself unemployed, stick to the facts. Be careful to not reveal sensitive financial information about a company if you were laid off; just mention that your department was downsized or restructured.
Avoid the “Jack of All Trades” Pitfall
Oftentimes, unemployed LinkedIn users attempt to expand their professional appeal. They try to list every skill they can, hoping something is useful to somebody out there. The intention of being a “jack of all trades” sounds good, but there are a few reasons it doesn’t typically work as intended.
One, people assume that someone with too broad of a skill set is just mediocre in each category. It’s better to instead project expertise in a smaller number of areas, even if the targeted audience becomes smaller.
The next problem for a recruiter is that lingering question of, “What if they find something better?” You may have one area of skill that suits their open position, but the recruiter or hiring manager may wonder if it’s not your most passionate or skilled area, meaning you may move along the first chance you get.
Instead, define your professional brand & stick to it. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Know what type of position you are best suited for and build your profile around that.
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