All other things being equal, most people would prefer to still have a job while looking for their next job for reasons of financial security, as well as for a perceived stronger negotiating position with potential employers.*
However, being unemployed is not the kiss of death that many people think. If you are conducting a job search and are unemployed, keep the following in mind.
Focus on Your Competencies
Your competencies are what you bring to the table. You will be in a stronger position if you focus on these rather than starting each meeting with an explanation of why you’re not working.
Create a Solid Availability or an Exit Statement
Be able to describe in an honest but concise way why you are not working or why you left your last position. Then refocus the conversation on your qualifications and the potential opportunity. When it comes to these statements, shorter is better. For example:
- “I loved my six years at my last company. I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work as a humanitarian and volunteer for six months — a cause that means a lot to me — so I took it. Now that I’ve completed that project, I’m ready to explore my next opportunity!”
- “We had a merger and there were several rounds of layoffs — I was ultimately part of the 10% of the workforce that was let go. Since we’re in the same industry, I’ve always been familiar with your firm. Given my previous role, I’m confident that I could make an immediate contribution at your firm.”
Don’t Present Yourself as a Victim
Generally speaking, people like to be around winners. A winner can be someone who’s had great successes or it can be someone who has been resilient and has dealt well with the situations he or she has experienced. If you have experienced a negative episode in your career, think about what you’ve learned or gained from the experience, and practice talking about that. For example:
- “The last three months of our start-up were quite a tumultuous period, but I learned a huge amount about how to deal with high-pressure situations, keep my team’s morale up, and manage the Board.”
- “There are few openings in this industry, but I’ve developed some great leads and I feel good about how my search is going.”
Establish Your Bottom Line
Being unemployed while looking for a job will only put you in a weaker position if you let it! You can signal to potential employers that despite not being employed at the moment, you expect to be paid a competitive salary. You can (and should!) do this in a way that does not come across as arrogant or entitled.
For example, conveying that you are willing to be patient for the right opportunity signals to the employer that you are not desperate to take the first low-ball offers that were below market rates or were unappealing in some other way. In these cases, job-seekers viewed their next best alternative — which was having time to look for a better opportunity with better pay — as more valuable than the offer presented to them. We recognize that this is not easy — it takes practice.