glad.jpgIt’s about 300 BC and a gladiator named Spartacus, or Sparty for short, is looking for a new gig because the arena in his town faced a fall off in attendance and had to cut back on staffing. Another gladiator known as Geta-man who lives in a nearby town still has his job but is looking for a new coliseum that offers better pay and benefits.

They both apply for a position at an arena in Rome and the hiring manager Tootus has a difficult decision to make. Both men have the same qualifications and kill-to-loss ratio, and they both passed the anti-personality tests with flying colors. In the end, Tootus decides to go with Geta-man because Sparty is unemployed. Even though he knows Sparty had no control over his employment circumstances, he just feels better with the guy who still has a job.

Since the beginning of time, people have been inclined to wonder, “why are you jobless?” I offer this example because the New York Times did a story this week about how employers are actively weeding out unemployed candidates and tons of media outlets picked up the story like is was something new. I did a column on this in February and a blog post over a year ago, and even then it wasn’t new.

It’s just one of the harsh realities of the job market, and I know most of you already knew this. One piece of career advice that almost everyone has heard before is “don’t quit your job until you have a job.” Why? It’s just easier to find a position when your employed.

I know, if you get laid off you can’t help it, but don’t expect to get equal treatment with the employed. There are states trying to fight this, including New Jersey, which recently passed a provision against the practice. But Jamie D. Prenkert, attorney and associate professor of business law at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, said with the exception of a few states that have added employment status to the list of protected classifications, employment laws do not make a preference for the currently employed or recently employed unlawful – unless that preference disproportionately affects one of the protected classifications, like age or race, which can become difficult to prove.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “It’s nearly impossible to prove disparate impact discrimination without access to applicant flow data or similar statistics and it’s difficult to gather such information when the long-term unemployed are not applying because these ads specifically exclude them.”

In the end, it’s a sword all you unemployed gladiators will have to bear.

So, I’m digging back into my advice bin and offering you this one key strategy: Don’t look so jobless.

I’m not saying you should lie, but if you mention your unemployment in a cover letter or resume you are nuts. Take that out now! I know you guys do that. I recently read a cover letter that included a few paragraphs on why the person was jobless. Forget that. No one wants to hear your sob story. Seriously, they’ll think less of you, or worse, pity you.

So, don’t mention it anywhere, and don’t bring it up in a phone interview.

You should say something like, “most recently I was the manager at Company X responsible for this and that.” If the interviewer asks you if you’re still doing a certain job, you should be honest. But then jump in with all the things you’ve been doing since you left Company X.

“I am taking a course in business management,” or “I’m getting my certification in several computer programs.”

You also may want to think about taking a job that is not in your direct field. Consider working for a retailer or a non profit that doesn’t pay tons. Or finally join the PTA at your kid’s school and become an active member, planning events, raising money, etc. You can spin any thing to fit the job you want.

Let’s say you want that job in marketing, you can say, “I’m working for a clothing shop and have been able to interact directly with customers and see what sells.” Or, offer to do work helping promote the retailer online or in the community. Bingo, you have a marketing job you can include on your resume. You don’t have to include that you hung shirts up and worked the register if these things don’t apply to the job you want.

The ad says you have to be employed. It doesn’t say by whom, or the type of job.

Come on, don’t let this stuff get you down. And don’t just sit home monitoring job boards for six months. That’s what hiring managers are most fearful of; that you’ve been cloistered for months, allowing yourself to get stale, angry and lethargic. You can babysit; sell cookies or crafts at a local fair; tutor a neighbor’s kid; even sell freaking lemonade on the corner. All these things constitute employment.

employment |emˈploimənt|
the condition of having paid work

You’re not unemployed. You’re doing tons of stuff until you find just the right gig.

And here’s a funny video about unemployed gladiators.

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