Has a prolonged recession softened hiring managers’ attitude to periods of unemployment and a gap in a CV? Perhaps not…
Almost exactly 4 years ago to the day in December 2008, I was walking through an eerily deserted Canary Wharf in London. It should have been one of the busiest shopping weeks of the year, but the full impact of the banking crisis was being felt and the shops were empty with up to 75% price cuts in many. The worst fears of the financial pundits were yet to materialise as many in non-related sectors were sucked in to one of the biggest economic downturns for 80 years, generating a massive global domino effect on employment.
Has the scale of this calamity changed the views of hiring managers to the plight of candidates who have been unemployed for a period? I talked to a group of people who share their perceptions 3-4 years down the line as they continue to deal with the fallout.
Michael - Arts graduate June 2009 U.K. ”Instead of a feeling of achievement and elation the whole class was anxious. All through our final year we had seen the economy tank and prospects looked grim. Only one of our class mates had a job and that was with his father’s advertising agency. I did 3 unpaid internships in a row in galleries and agencies supported by my parents. I finally got a job in a start-up but the conditions were border-line exploitive and the manager was a bully. I’m now working in a fast food restaurant as an Assistant Manager and although I’m acquiring great skills (I manage a team of 8 and deal with all the HR issues) I still get comments that it’s not a “proper job” when I go for interviews in my field and struggle to account for my “career” choices. Portfolio careers seem to be more talked about in the press than in the real world! So although I’m not unemployed – I may well have been. I don’t think there is that much sympathy. Work ethic doesn’t seem to count for much”.
Béatrice - Recruitment Manager France - ” I was delighted to get pregnant with my second child born in August 2008. When I returned from maternity leave in 2009 there had been a hiring freeze because of the crisis, the department cut by half and completely re-organised. My old job had been re-distributed with the only role remaining a junior administrative job. I accepted a redundancy offer and was unemployed for nearly 2 years. Explaining that period is very difficult in interviews even now, especially when it follows maternity leave. People in jobs forget really quickly that unemployment rose to 10% in France in that period and is still a huge problem.”
Ricardo - ex Marketing Director Italy - ” I had a successful career in marketing and brand management in fmcg sector. In February 2008 I was head hunted to lead a team in an SME company supplying the construction industry which gave me a place on the management committee. I started in June 2008 , but by April 2009 the marketing budget was slashed to zero as the order pipeline dried up and I was made redundant. Initially I tapped into my network and was able to go for interviews, but although I was shortlisted I was never selected. The feedback was that it was related to salary and that I was too expensive and over qualified. I tried down grading both my salary and CV – that didn’t work either. I slipped into depression and struggled to find the motivation to face the world. In 4 years the only work I have done is small consulting projects. I am divorced and wanted to stay in Italy to be near my children but am now internationally mobile. I seriously worry that I may never work in the corporate world again.”
My own observation is that “copy-paste” hiring is still generally the preferred selection process for many companies. In a supply led market the harsh reality is that most hiring managers have a huge choice of candidates and easier access to them. It’s not so much that they mind the gap – it’s really important what you do with that time and how it’s presented on all platforms.
What advice would you give?