How Long Is Too Long to Be Unemployed?


employment historyEveryone says that finding a job when unemployed is more difficult than finding one from the security of your current position, but there’s little concrete evidence to prove it.

Until now.

The American Economic Review published a study by Swedish economists Stefan Eriksson and Dan-Olof Rooth that gives some weight to the job-hunting wisdom. The Wall Street Journal reports that the researchers applied for more than 3,500 jobs using almost 8,500 fake resumes listing different states of employment, from currently employed to many months out of work.

The study found that according to the resumes, being unemployed for six months or less did not affect chances of an interview, especially for low-skilled jobs. In fact, for jobs that don’t require a college degree, a brief stint of unemployment might have even been an advantage, presumably because the applicant could start work immediately.

But if you’ve been unemployed a long time, look out: The study also found that interview requests for medium or low-skilled job applicants who had nine months or more of unemployment on their resumes declined by 20%. Resumes submitted for high-skilled jobs didn’t show the same pattern, though, possibly indicating that companies with more extensive recruiting processes don’t depend so heavily on the contents of a resume.

What If You’re a 9 Month-er?

If you’ve been out of work for the better part of a year, you’re not alone. Over three million Americans have been out of the workforce for more than a year—and this number doesn’t even account for those discouraged workers who have given up.

RELATED: 4 Inappropriate Interview Questions–and How to Answer Them

Landing that first job after a long stint of joblessness proves to be the toughest hurdle, however. Resumes in the study that showed previous, but not current, long-term unemployment had no trouble landing an interview. In fact, they received the same responses as those that never hit the nine-month mark. The study’s authors say that based on their findings, following one year out of a job with one year of work is enough to counteract the ill effects of the unemployed period.

That said, landing that first job after time out of work isn’t always easy. For help getting on the right track, check out our secrets to hiding resume flaws and our guide to jump-starting your job hunt.

  • Anonymous

    This article doesn’t help you if you are already at this point. How about some more helpful articles. This is just depressing.

    • sandra

      Focus on what you do have. Are you homeless? Do you have a family? Are you married? I’m single and I have a mother. If I was married, who knows? I may be unhappily in a relationship. I used to think all married women were happy women with husbands that made at least $50K a year. I learned I was wrong in my 30s. It is up to you to pick out what you do have – even if that is a truck with no gas in it and you have a drivers licence – but you can’t drive it since you don’t have gas money. Or if you have a dog and you have money to feed your dog, but you only have foodstamps for yourself. Think of the person without running water. You got to keep on seeing what you do have. I have glasses. There used to be a time when I needed glasses and it was very hard for me to drive without them. You have to be your own best advocate. You know what you have. Find it and expand on it. What you focus on expands naturally.

  • sandra

    I’d say being unemployed for 4 years a long time. I’d say 1 year to 2 years is about average. The world we live in is not the same as it was before 2008. And it sure is not what it was when I graduated high school in 1993. It was so easy to find a job in the 1990s. Walk into any company and drop off your resume or fax it OR come in to fill out a paper application.

    …… I’ve talked to many people since 2011 and I’ve meet one person that was unemployed for 6 or 7 years and that was in the summer of 2014. I was unemployed for 4 years and during part of that time I did tutoring and earned about $60 -$80 a week. I tutored for a good 8 months like this. Tutoring was good in 2008. Of course I don’t put that on my resume since I don’t want to be a tutor. I just did it on my own since I needed some kind of income. ……….Then my unemployment ended in 2010 and I wasn’t tutoring in 2010. So I started up again in 2011. I was making less in tutoring in 2011 due to so many schools partnering with non-profits that don’t charge parents. Then I found a seasonal job in late 2011. It was like breathing life into my blood and bones. I felt alive to have a status as a w-2 worker. It felt great. ………….
    ……….Now as of Sprint 2015 I’ve been unemployed for only 4 months and I get interviews at the rate of about 1 every week expect for Feb 2015. No interviews that month. I consider myself very blessed since I am getting interviews. Some people don’t get any interviews so my resume IS being seen by people!

    …….Due to my MBA I think some hiring managers look at it like a negative thing…..I think they say “An MBA costs more and we can’t afford an MBA working here” I think they may see “over-qualified” when they see “MBA” on a resume. But my question to employers is this: What kind of person do you want working for you? A person that wants to quit in a few months or do you want someone that will stay with your company and desires to be a manager of your company and work there for at least 5 years?

    ……..I take walks 5 -6 days a week and it seems to help. But I don’t hang out at libraries – I have a computer/internet at home. As long as I focus on what I DO have, I’m good. It is hard to keep your head up when unemployed, but I was unemployed for 4 years. So I know I can survive 4 months of unemployment. And I’m not collecting any unemployment benefits. And I do have an LinkedIn profile that is 100% complete with picture since 94% of recruiters check LinkedIn. I stay busy when unemployed. Focusing on what I don’t have makes me depressed so I stay clear of that kind of thinking. Sandra G.