Recruiting experts have some words of comfort to offer out-of-work salespeople: Salespeople are being hired back after the recession, even if only selectively. Better yet, employers are not always in a hurry to veto an applicant based on current employment status.
It's a vicious cycle: getting laid off in a recession and then job hunting in a dismal economy in vain; and the longer you look, the harder it gets.
Never has that bleak narrative had as much resonance as it has this year -- an all-time record number of more than 7 million Americans were out of a job for 27 weeks or longer by April, according to data from a BLS survey.
"In today's economy, even a top sales rep can be unemployed for six months or more," said Cari Kraft, president of Jacobs Management Group Inc., a Philadelphia, Pa.-based search firm for medical sales representatives. "In the last year, we've had major pharmaceutical companies lay off in one fell swoop. There is definitely a willingness [among employers] to overlook blemishes within particular time periods."
Separating Yourself from the Pack
Amid recent reports of the rising odds against the long-term unemployed, with some employers going so far as to explicitly discourage unemployed candidates from applying, sales recruiters say there are still ways to get noticed.
"For salespeople, it's inherent in their jobs to pitch things," said Moira Donahue, managing director at Clarity, a New York-based boutique staffing agency. "So when employers see that a salesperson is unemployed, that they've failed to sell themselves, it begs the question of why. But there are many qualified candidates who've been laid off and have had a long wait and it's not a representation of their ability. Some skills may be a little rusty, but that's it."
Dive Into Your Area of Expertise
Besides keeping skills sharp by taking up temp positions or internships, recruiters advise candidates to get more actively involved in their areas of practice. "If a candidate has been unemployed, employers want to know what they've been doing in that time," said Kraft "Get involved in industry-related activities -- if you're an orthopedic salesperson, get involved in the industry trade group. Become active in the board."
Other ways to sharpen a resume would be to refine the language in your summary to indicate strong knowledge and engagement in the field, industry experts say.
"In a way, when your application is passed over, there's an implication that there's something wrong in your resume," said Drew Stevens, president of Stevens Consulting group, a St. Louis, Mo.-based sales leadership development practice. "Put in the buzzwords for your industry or company. Agitate that potential employer. It's a manufacturing firm, mention your experience in an 'IFO environment,' for example."
Demonstrate That Your Head Is in the Game
Adding specific details, including names of customers whose accounts you've handled, signals you as someone who is still plugged in. "It's not necessarily that firms aren't hiring – I have clients who are commercial mortgage lenders who I know have a dire need for professional salespeople," said Stevens. "But it's more that organizations are starting to 'smarten-up.' They're not looking for a run-of-the mill salesperson. They're looking for the right person to do a particular job."
References Are Key
Recruiters also advise that applicants get their references in order as these become more important in vouching for your abilities the longer you're out of a job.
"Get strong references from your boss, your boss's boss and even your peers," said Kraft. "It makes a huge difference when you can have someone say, "I know this person's resume has some hiccups on it, but I also know why it happened, and it's not because they didn't excel at their job.'"
Recruiters say that the problem of dwindling opportunities for the long-term unemployed may not necessarily be only because of their loss of contacts but also because of the change in the structure and pay schemes of sales jobs.
"Part of the problem is that a lot of these jobs are commission-based," said Donahue, addressing the trend of companies looking to expand their business post-recession but without anchoring themselves down with the expenses of high base salaries. "And people are either not willing to or can't afford to take that risk, especially those out of a job for a long time."
Write to Sindhu Sundar