Hello, I am 56 years old and have been taking care of my mother who is 94 for the past six years. She has many doctors’ appointments, some only days apart. I haven’t been legally employed in this time, but I keep my skills up to par by doing “side jobs” now and then. By trade I’m an Industrial Spray Painter, working over the years for military contractors, sub-contractors, and factories.
Recently I’ve tried to reenter my field, trying to find a second or third shift position. This way I will still be able to help my mother out and work in the evening or overnight. Unfortunately, due to my time off I can’t get past the HR department. I believe that I’m being dismissed immediately due to the six year gap. If I could talk personally with the foreman or plant manager and take the spray and written test that is generally given to be considered for hire, I know I could win them over with my talent and knowledge of the field. But you have to deal with someone in HR that knows little to nothing about a person’s talent. They only look at the date of your last employer and write you off.
I’m always open to suggestions…
You may do better with your “good ol’ boys” network than with HR managers. According to Jobvite, 4 in 10 job seekers have found their best job through personal connections. On the other side of the desk, 64% of recruiters say they find the highest quality candidates through referrals, so a savvy HR professional would be thankful to hear about you from a company employee.
Contact former supervisors and coworkers, even the clerks at the paint store to see if they’ve heard of any job openings that might be a fit for you. Ask if they know any plant managers or foremen at the companies for which you’d like to work.
After exhausting your personal contacts, log on to LinkedIn to see if you can connect to the right people. It’s like that 90s Kevin Bacon game, “six degrees of separation.” Check out my primer, Lessons on LinkedIn, to get started. Be sure to click on the “Jobs” tab and enter keywords related to your experience. Save the search and set up alerts to let you know when new jobs open up.
While scrutinizing LinkedIn profiles, pay attention to any industry associations to which your connections belong. Consider joining and attending meetings and turn your networking know-how into introductions, appointments, or key contact emails – and follow through.
Do some homework to research and identify the top 10 businesses in your area likely to hire someone in your field. Check each of their company websites see if they have a “Careers” page. If not, even better! They may be a smaller company without a human resources department. Put them on your target list. A charming phone call to the receptionist could yield the hiring manager’s name – and more, depending on the chattiness of the gatekeeper.
Working with (not against) HR
There is a danger when trying to circumvent the system put in place to maximize an HR manager’s time and resources. While a creative, unconventional, or disruptive approach may work, there is a very real possibility it will backfire. You could be seen as someone who can’t or won’t follow directions or an obnoxious boor who doesn’t respect these professionals’ time (NOT great qualities in any employee).
When submitting a résumé online, be sure to take advantage of adding a cover letter if the option exists. Mention the elephant in the room – your six-year gap. Explain (without going into too much detail) that you have been caregiving for the past few years while keeping your skills current and are eager to reenter the workforce full-time. While references are often requested at the interview stage, preemptively include a glowing reference letter from a past employer or a testimonial letter from one of your freelance clients.
I saw this fitting description on a chat board: “HR screeners are rather like the wait staff in a restaurant. They’ve been given an order by the hiring manager and usually lack the flexibility to substitute one ingredient for another.” If a search term doesn’t match exactly, sometimes the screener (which may be a computer) will reject that application. Be sure to tailor your résumé using keywords found in the job listing.
Experiment with a functional format for your résumé, which may help focus the attention on your skills and away from your gap in employment.
Readers: Have you successfully done an end run around HR to secure a job? Tell us your story!