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Out of Work, but Not Out of Luck

It’s funny, but some people think that in order to get a job, you have to already have a job. Perhaps this used to be the case in the old days, when jobs were plentiful and buffalo roamed the plains, but these are tough times — for job hunters and for buffalo hunters — and even the best of us can find ourselves without gainful employment.

Outside of the fact that you have nothing to do and nowhere to be, unemployment can be pretty sweet. But eventually, even the most hard-working nonworker has seen every episode of “Law & Order” at least twice and decides to turn off the TV and get a job.

This is where the problem of unemployment resurfaces. How do you explain to your new boss that there’s nothing wrong with a person who hasn’t had an old boss for one, two, five or 10 years?

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This is the question that was recently asked of Eilene Zimmerman, the totally-employed moderator of the “Career Couch” column of The New York Times.

In the words of the questioner, “Even though many people lost jobs during the recession for reasons unrelated to performance, you fear that your long-term unemployment is sometimes equated with desperation and a lack of competency.” This may not be a concern for you. After all, even when you were working, everyone suspected that you had a lack of competency.

One way to change perceptions, reports Zimmerman, is to change your way of networking with former co-workers and friends. According to Lavie Margolin, a career coach, “You don’t want them to feel sorry for you or to see you as defeated.” The solution is to “make sure you have something to offer them, whether its sharing an article in a trade publication, talking about an industry blog, or mentioning a professional opportunity they may not know about.”

I have a better idea. Why not offer your networked contacts the opportunity to lend you money? The more gelt you can guilt out of them with your pathetic life story, the less they’ll feel sorry for you; I guarantee it. And since you will owe them money, your network will work doubly hard to help you get a job. Because they love you and respect you, and they want to get paid back.

Author and career expert, Lawrence Shatkin, tells Zimmerman that it’s important to keep up with what’s happening in your industry. Fortunately, you already know what is happening — good people are getting fired. Shatkin suggests you take a visible, volunteer position in an industry association. This may not be the best idea. If you screw up your volunteer position the way you screwed up your paid position, you may have to change industries altogether. FYI, the business humor column writing industry is quite forgiving.

Starting your own consulting firm is the suggestion of Julie Redfield, a talent management expert at — who would have guessed it? — a consulting firm. This could work. It could also fill quite a few holes in your resume. Simply explain to potential employers that it is a total coincidence that the large, wildly successful consulting firm at which you’ve been working just happens to be located at your home address. And don’t worry about anyone accusing you of telling lies. You’re a consultant! Everyone expects you to lie.

Speaking of your resume, Elena Bajic, the CEO of a recruitment service, recommends that you change “work experience” to the more generic “experience.” That way you can include all the life lessons you have learned, in and out of the work force. It makes sense. Who’s to say that the survival skills you learned in kindergarten would not serve you well at the high-powered, high-paid position for which you’re applying? Hiring managers at top-tier firms such as Goldman Sachs and Google know that it’s important to put away your blocks at the end of the day.

With your new resume, it’s likely that you will start to get job interviews. Again, this is a time for cautious, crafty behavior. You don’t want to “fudge the truth” in explaining why you’ve been on the beach longer than Robinson Crusoe. Instead, use the completely honest explanation that you were too smart and too beautiful for your previous employers. The hiring manager will know immediately that you are a paranoid, borderline psychotic with delusions of grandeur, and as you may have noticed, that’s exactly the kind of person who always gets hired.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com.

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