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Don’t Become Unhireable

The Wall Street Journal recently published an interesting article about the curious fact that companies are rejecting millions of résumés at the same time they have a big shortage of workers.

Basically, all applications are scanned by computers today, which automatically reject many applicants who might actually be qualified.

I remember an article some a few years, which unfortunately I can’t locate, in which an HR director, so frustrated with his team’s inability to fill positions, tried an experiment in which he posted an opening for his own job. He applied for it and didn’t even get an interview.

As this article shows, there are things that can happen to you that will render you effectively unhireable because of the way automated screening works.

One of the biggest is a gap in your résumé of a year or more. The WSJ article says a six month gap often leads to rejection, though they seem to be emphasizing positions that don’t require a college degree. Better safe than sorry here.

The consequences of a significant employment gap cannot be understated. I know two former colleagues from Accenture who ended up in this situation. They had both been at the senior manager level and had real skills but a year out of the job market made it impossible for them to even get an interview.

One person was laid off. He had a lot of savings and took some time off, then was excessively picky about a new job. In fact, he turned down at least one really good offer. He did not realize that once his employment gap hit a certain length – I think it’s one year in most cases – no one would interview him.

This guy found that he couldn’t even get a call back or interview for any position, not even on a help desk. This dragged on for quite some time and his future looked very grim. Finally in desperation, he basically lied and made up a job. He was quickly hired and rebooted his career just fine, performing well at multiple subsequent jobs. (This shows you how crazy these systems are).

Another person decided to boostrap his own startup. In retrospect, it was a big mistake. In fact, based on my own experience bootstrapping a web application, I would say bootstrapping is generally a bad idea unless you are doing it as a side gig until it reaches sustainable profitability.

When this person decided to shut down his endeavor, he discovered that nobody considered that real work. Again, he became essentially unhireable. He did some blue collar labor in fact before basically begging a former colleague for a job that came through and got him back in business.

Based on these data points, I would say that the consequences of having a one year gap in your employment could be dire, especially if you are not very early in your career.

Again, I don’t tell people what to do in most cases, but you should be extremely aware of what could happen to you if you allow yourself to end up with an employment gap on your résumé.

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