Recruiter Tips for Making a Job Comeback

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Anyone who’s been out of work for several months, or even a couple years, knows they run the risk of a prospective employer dismissing them as “long-term unemployed” and placing their resume at the bottom of the pile. Despite that challenge, it’s possible to beat the odds.

Matt Brosseau of Chicago staffing firm Instant Technology has been able to help a few candidates who’ve been out of work for what, at least in tech time, is eons. “It can be hard,” he said in an interview, “and it depends on the technology that they’re working with. We’re in one of the rare industries where all of the standards and protocols can shift… even in a year or two.”

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Since technologies evolve rapidly, Brosseau stressed that it’s critical for tech workers to maintain their skill set: Taking online courses, continuing to code, completing certifications, or engaging in outside projects should constitute a foundation for anyone’s “time off.” Working your old network, and seeking ways to add to it, is crucial; being open to lowering your employment sights a bit (however difficult that may be) could improve your prospects as well.

Retrain and Network

Some time ago, Brosseau worked with a front-end Web developer who had taken two years off when his child was born. It was obviously a worthy, albeit risky choice. The developer had not only moved out of the industry when several new technologies were becoming standard, he decided to return when the economy was still limping. He had no clue about Ruby, for example, although it had become a widely accepted language during his absence.

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The developer quickly found out that, despite interviewing well and having an admirable resume, he wasn’t going anywhere career-wise. Brosseau convinced him to enroll in an entry-level Ruby class at Chicago’s Starter League, and also directed him toward available government financial assistance to help pay for the program.

“It not only introduced him to the technology but to several key players in the area,” Brosseau recalled. “The Starter League has its own network of professionals. He was able to meet people and got a referral that ended up helping him get a job as a Web developer with Ruby.” While the position wasn’t at the high level he might have expected if he hadn’t chosen to stay at home with his baby, it was comparable to the job he had left two years before.

Certify and Accept Short-Term Employment

Another Brosseau client was a downsized network engineer who had been out of work for a little less than a year. Hardware and software doesn’t shift quite as fast in this area of the tech industry, so specializing was his key to finding employment. He obtained a Cisco security certification, which allowed the recruiter to place him in a 6-month contract opportunity. “He did a good job and was a benefit to their team,” Brosseau said, “and they hired him full-time as a network administrator and engineer.”

Sneak In at Mid-Level

If you’re overqualified and older, it can be very difficult to break back into full-time employment. Brosseau recommends going back for training, with an eye toward picking up a current or emerging secondary skill set. “It can allow a senior level candidate the ability to sneak back in at a mid-level range,” he said. “Even though you’d have the higher-level general skill set, specializing in something relatively new opens doors.”

He also noted that it’s possible to attract hiring personnel in this scenario: If you want back in, and accept the fact you won’t assume your previous career level at the outset, emphasizing your desire to take your recently acquired skill into the workforce shows commitment and an ability to stay up-to-date. If you leverage any applicable earlier experience to match the position’s other requirements, you’ll make for an even closer fit.

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7 Responses to “Recruiter Tips for Making a Job Comeback”

  1. Tom Bruner

    I think the most disconcerting thing is the inability for recruiters to grasp the reality on the ground of being an older tech worker who was contracting at the time of the crash in 2008. Yeah, it’s been nothing short of extremely tough to find meaningful employment. I went through nine months of looking for work, as a former contract worker, which meant no unemployment (you can’t lay yourself off). After finding a gig with a small start-up, it looked promising for a while. It didn’t take, and I now find myself out of work for 2 years. I applied directly and through recruiters and frankly, the entire process has left a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

    “Are you employed?”

    Okay, now there’s a loaded question. First I’ve had to explain that while I “own” a business, I was contracting, not trying to start my own development company.

    “What have you been doing?”

    Short term stuff, whatever I could find.

    You can hear their disdain through the phone and see it in their faces, they don’t like the answer. Well here’s a tip, neither do I. They also quickly forget that I’m not going to lie in an interview, I don’t get any sort of unemployment, the bills still come every month and I’d like to eat and keep a roof over my head.

    I’ve gone to a number of networking events and have met quite a few recent grads and younger tech workers and am flabbergasted by how many are working on a shiny new app that has virtually zero significance. What it shows me is we are on the verge of another dot.gone event. In the 90’s, when these folks were still infants, there was a rush that anything with a website was perceived as wildly valuable. Then we quickly saw that oops, no, it isn’t. I see us going through this again with mobile apps and social media.

    The other thing I’ve noticed is while they can code the latest library from memory, many of them don’t have the first clue about how to actually solve a business problem. With the advent of SaaS, and remote IT staffers, people are working in a vacuum. They’ve never been on a factory or warehouse floor, haven’t had to deal with disgruntled workers and technophobes. They’ve never had to deal with any of the real world issues that revolve around “getting freight off a dock”, which is the actual job at hand.

    The one thing I keep finding in interviews is that there are plenty of tech people in the room or on the call, but no business stake holders. I don’t get it. Technology for the sake of technology. “Do you have any questions?” Yes, what business problem are you trying to solve? …crickets… All of this would also help explain the overwhelming percentage of IT initiatives that fail.

    These are my experiences, this is what I’ve seen and this is my take on all of it. Frankly, I’ve had it. I’m still looking but in the meantime have started a new small business building boutique guitar effects in my garage and selling them on eBay. It won’t show up on my resume, but, you know, I gotta eat.

  2. Alan Grimes

    Hello, I was ejector seated from my last job, more than 2 and a half years ago. I am really outraged at this point by recruiters who walk past a row of extremely intelligent programmers reduced to begging on the side of the road on the way to give a speech about how difficult is to find good tallent. Being without money to pay for any kind of training, and not even knowing what stupid “skill” will be on recruiter’s must have list a week from now, I’m really screwed. HERE’S A CLUE: ALL PROGRAMMING IS DONE IN LANGUAGES THAT CAN TRACE THEIR ROOTS BACK 40 YEARS!!! In many cases the tool has gotten ahead of the problem. How about hiring people who can solve your problems and not worry about what tool they use?

    This entire civilization deal is not really working for me right now. How about automatically putting otherwise healthy humans who REALLY NEED A JOB on the top of the pile without any further questions?

  3. Articles like this one prove there is no shortage of STEM talent. If there were an ACTUAL shortage companies would be lining up to hire long term unemployed with lucrative compensation packages, not telling people to “take more classes” and then reject them for lacking recent real world work experience.

    In an actual shortage companies would be lining up to hire anything with a pulse and offer lucrative compensation packages that would make a fortune 500 CEO cry with jealousy. Campuses would be filled with recruiters salivating at the opportunity to talk to even the most mediocre of students. Post-doc’s and indeed higher degrees wouldn’t exist for anyone but the most hard core academics. And…wait for it…companies would be willing to do ON THE JOB TRAINING. Kids, ask your parents about that one.

    Here’s a tip – when you see a field which claims to have a shortage look a little closer./ You’ll probalby find its complete cr@p as the STEM shortage has proven to be.

    • I agree with you 100%, I have not read any article yet to resolve this problem. Being unemployed the advise I get is to volunteer my services . I wish my bill collectors would volunteer there goods and services.

  4. G. Greenia

    I am a technician that has been out of work for over a year. One recruiter I spoke with recently expressed dismay at this period of unemployment, and specifically asked what I had been doing for the past year. I would have liked to have told him that, as long as I haven’t been incarcerated, it’s really none of his business. Everything that appears on my resume is there to demonstrate my skills and experience. Any other topics are better addressed face-to-face in a job interview.
    I understand that the above article is aimed at recruiters. As far as I can tell, recruiters are more interested in moving people from one job to another than helping the unemployed.

  5. Plenty of unsurprising bitterness here. Some thoughts from a mid-50’s IT/MBA who has been on all sides of the table, and is now a COO hiring IT talent.

    Don’t wait for a 1990’s style W2 job. Sign up on one of the bazillion inexpensive (but amazingly capable) web / cloud platforms out there. Design and build something of value. Can you solve one of those “business problems” you saw earlier in your career? Do it. Show you did it in months yourself, and it didn’t take the huge team you used 20 years ago. Show prospective clients / employers that you’re set to revolutionize their business..

    Who knows – maybe your solution becomes a business itself.

    When hiring, I find technologists often don’t listen to OUR actual problems. Too many are stuck in old approaches and anecdotes. Yep, programming languages have common roots, but methods and techniques have changed. Mainframe and client/server systems have given way to cloud, browser, mobile, T-SQL, triggers, etc. If you don’t know the difference between subroutines and class libraries then don’t browse the web until you’ve developed a modern system.

    Be realistic about your pay and value creation opportunities. Nobody (except newbies) is getting paid at the “high water mark” of their career, and you’ll tick off your interviewer if you suggest otherwise, because they aren’t either. Realize that developers are just PART of the team that generates value. They aren’t considered Princes or Princesses, and the premium pay IT enjoyed for many years is gone. Every time a developer asserts something like “you can pay me this because I’m worth it” you lose out.

    It really comes down to generating a lot more value than you cost.

  6. Lawrence Weinzimer

    Repackage, reinvent, refocus, re-engage others are not just theoretical construct-precepts. These are practices. Yet, never go for that any ‘port in a storm’ mentality.
    Try to keep moving – howsoever.