Unemployment bias is real. If you’ve been out of work for more than six months – like one of the 1.6 million long-term unemployed in the US – there’s a real chance that potential employers are wary of hiring you just because you haven’t held a job in a while. The long-term unemployed are up to 45% less likely to get an interview than people who have recently lost their jobs or are still employed.

Large gaps between jobs can make employers wary for three main reasons:

  • They mistakenly believe that if you were someone worth hiring, you would’ve been hired by now.
  • They fear that you lost your job because you weren’t a good employee.
  • They worry that your skillset may have gone stale.

So how can you get around a resume hole?

Put Your Cover Letter to Good Use

If you were laid off during a reduction-in-force or lost your job due to forces outside your control (the company went under, your plant shut down, your workplace was severely damaged in a fire or flood), use your cover letter to explain this. Your cover letter is the perfect place to talk about how you’ve maintained your skill set since becoming unemployed and why you’re a great fit for the open position. Stay positive and focus on your accomplishments!

Request a Reference Letter

If you’re on good terms with the manager at your last job, get a reference letter from them. They can help showcase your talents and value as an employee to potential employers. Reference letters are especially helpful if you’ve been let go during a reduction-in-force (RIF). A letter from your last boss will  reiterate that your unemployment is not your fault while highlighting your worth at the same time.

Take Steps to Prevent Skill Loss

The best thing you can do when you are unemployed is to try and be proactive about perceived skill erosion. You can stay on top of this by taking classes online or at a local community college. Getting a certificate will show potential employers that you are invested in your future and your abilities. You can pick up an odd job here and there to help cover the tuition costs. You can even use these little gigs to pad your resume if you need to.

Give Back to Get Ahead

Get involved in your community! Volunteering and community programs are great things to take part in while unemployed for many reasons. First, it’s a way to give yourself routine and a sense of accomplishment to keep those job hunt blues at bay. Second, this is great information to include on your resume (it’s even better if you can become a committee chair or leader within an organization). Finally, volunteering is a wonderful way to network. 85% of people get jobs through someone they know, so cast your net far and wide. Those who you volunteer with will be able to tout your best qualities to people they know who are hiring. Employers can get a sense of your work ethic and integrity when you have ample volunteering experience.

Remember, Honesty is the Best Policy

Be truthful about why you’ve been unemployed:

  • If you took time off between jobs to travel, say so! Talk about the experience you had, how it impacted you, and what you can bring to the table because of your new world view. Better yet, start a blog about your travels!
  • If you left voluntarily, talk about why you felt your last job wasn’t a good fit or why you needed a change of pace – and why this new company would be the right change for you.
  • If you were laid off and you’re asked about it by an interviewer, be open about discussing why your position (or perhaps the entire department) was cut. Was your job outsourced? Could the company not appropriately manage its finances? If you can muster it, try to put a positive spin on the situation. You can talk about what you’ve learned from the experience – demonstrating to your interviewer your resilience (a much sought-after trait in today’s job market).
  • If you were fired (gulp) for performance issues, it can be tricky to repackage that as a good thing to potential employers. First of all, avoid saying “fired”, as the phrasing is literally inflammatory and will make hiring managers wary. Use “let go” or “terminated”. Second, don’t avoid the question and definitely don’t lie about it. Instead, chose to be vague about the exact details related to your performance. Talk about what you learned at your last job and don’t throw your previous employer under the bus (no matter how much you want to).  Keep it brief and hopefully the interview can move on to why you’re really qualified for this position quickly.

Recognize Caregiving is a Full-Time Job

Maybe you left work to start your family or to take care of a sick loved one. There’s nothing wrong with putting family first. It’s one of the top reasons why people have large gaps on their resume. 9% of people who leave their jobs do so to take on a caregiving role.  It’s best to be upfront about the fact that you stepped out of the work force for family reasons in your cover letter, and perhaps even listing it with your previous work experience. If you’ve been acting as a care-taker for an ailing relative, don’t shy away from listing it as an occupation on your resume. Being a live-in caregiver is a lot of work; it requires excellent attention to detail, time management, and people skills. Hiring managers are human, and if they have a better idea about the circumstances surrounding the hole in your employment, they are more likely to be sympathetic.

Job hunting is hard, and being unemployed for a long period of time can really take its toll. While a gap in employment can seem insurmountable, it’s not a gaping chasm that will swallow you whole. Find ways to use your time while looking for work to add to your resume, and you’ll be well on your way to gainful employment.