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Unemployed for Too Long? Here's Why.

Dear Stephen,

I left my dealer sales management job because it wasn't right for me. My previous experience was in a sales role at a manufacturer. Here is my problem: I've been looking for new work for six months. Yes, you read that right, six months! All I hear and read about is that candidates (employed or unemployed) are in demand and that companies can’t hire fast enough. That has not been my experience. It makes me feel terrible about myself and embarrassed with my friends and family that it’s taking me so long to return to work.

I’m getting plenty of interviews with companies; that is not the problem. More often than not, I barely get past the second stage. Typically, I have an HR interview and maybe an interview with a local manager. Then that’s it - I’m out.

I’m open to both sales and sales management positions, and I feel like I have a good attitude and realistic monetary expectations. I am interviewing with dealers and manufacturers, but I prefer a manufacturer. I get very little concrete feedback after being rejected as to why someone is passing on me. Some of these jobs are from headhunters, but most are from my own initiatives. If I hear any feedback, I hear that the position has been “put on hold” or that they’re going “in a different direction” on the hire… only for me to find out a month later on LinkedIn that they’ve hired someone else. In other words, I’m beginning to think they don’t like me.

I know you don’t know me, but thinking broadly, with your expertise in the workplace and hiring – what are some of the things that people may be doing wrong in today’s fast-paced hiring market?


What Am I Doing Wrong

Dear What Am I Doing,

It’s true. This is one of the lowest unemployment rates in many years. And when someone loses their job, typically, the turnaround is less than ninety days in sales positions in our industry. Good candidates are hard to find, and your employment or unemployment status has little relevance to companies wanting to hire. I hate to embarrass you further, but you’re right., it shouldn’t take as long as it seems to take you to find a new job.

That being said, you’re not hopeless. You need to work on some aspects of your candidate profile. Even being unemployed has no negative connotation to someone hiring you these days, especially in sales. Therefore, you have no excuse. You only need to follow my instructions.

Without knowing anything about you, and as you said, thinking in broad strokes, here are a couple of consistent issues that I see with people who are unemployed for longer than most:

1. Unrealistic salary expectations. Or oversharing your salary history.

Think of it this way – if you’re unemployed, your current income is zero. Yet, many candidates tend to reflect on their salary history as justification for what they should be making in their next job. So, if you’re interviewing somewhere and the prospective employer asks you your salary expectations, your answer should be, “What have you budgeted for this position?” Or even better – answer: “I’m unemployed, so I’m making zero right now. And my salary history is not as important as your budget for this position.” Leave it at that.

2. Are you explaining or, worse, complaining too much as to why you are unemployed? Or why you’ve been unemployed for so long…

Nothing can bring down the temperature of an interview like a candidate explaining why they lost their last job in minutiae. Going into details about a previous boss or supervisor in a negative way is very unattractive to a potential employer. While you are whining about the personality faults or management shortcomings of your previous boss, the interviewer is thinking “if I hire him, he’ll say the same things about me”. Don’t fall into “the blame game.” Candidates don’t realize that most employers interviewing you will expect only a cursory answer today as to why you are unemployed. Do not get defensive. Do not spill your guts about your employment history or why you are unemployed. Don’t do that.

3. You’re out of touch with the person or company you’re interviewing by not doing your homework.

For crying out loud, be sure you’ve Googled the company you might be working for. Read the LinkedIn page of the person you’re interviewing with and know who some of their big clients are. Understand the vibe of the place you’re interviewing at, including knowing how to dress for the interview! Literally ask someone who knows somebody who works there, “How do they dress?” This is not my genius idea; it’s common sense. Details: see if you went to the same college as the person you are interviewing with. Or anyone who works there, literally. This all helps. And guess what if none of this works, you just have bad chemistry with them, and it’s not meant for you.

4. You’re not as great as you think you are. And do you know your own reputation in the marketplace?

Maybe you’re not as good at sales or sales management as you think! And maybe you don’t understand your own reputation in the marketplace. Let’s face it: we all have a reputation in the marketplace. For instance, people tell me I’m verbose and too direct. I’ve even been told I’m polarizing. Understanding that about myself helps me better deal with people, whether I’m soliciting them for business or even just in terms of human relations.

If you think you’re perfect, chances are you’re not. Do you talk too much? Are you a good listener? Do you have weird idiosyncrasies that people notice you’re ignoring? Would people call you a job hopper? Or have you done something unethical at a previous job that you think people haven’t found out about… guess what? We all know about it.

Hopefully, my four suggestions will help you understand why you may not be finding your next job or position.

By the way, item #4, your reputation in the marketplace, is typically hurting candidates the most without them knowing it. Or let me be direct, “It’s your reputation, stupid!” Changing your reputation or people’s perception of you in the marketplace is possible. Yes, you can change yourself through your actions, so start working on it because chances are that is what is holding you back from a new job. Good luck out there.