Why does “unemployed” sound like a bad word?

Seriously, why does that term have such a negative connotation? I mean, isn’t the whole goal of working your ass off your entire life to reach the ultimate stage of “unemployment”. Yeah, at that point it’s called “retirement” but isn’t it the same thing? Oh I’m sure the stigma attached to it is the fact that retirement tends to be voluntary, on “your” terms, whereas unemployment isn’t always on your terms. However, since this term has come up in discussions with colleagues and since I’ve recently become voluntarily “unemployed”, I figured I’d take a moment to expound on the topic.

I think it’s time we called a collective bullshit on how we view this thing we refer to as “unemployment”. I have friends and colleagues that are afraid of how the gap in their employment history will be addressed or perceived at their next interview — to which I say “Who really cares?”. Regardless of how you separated from your last job, employment gaps and your “unemployment” are a false proxy of the person you are and what you can contribute or accomplish. If a hiring manager is that hung up on an employment gap, then that tells you how shallow their thought process is and you probably don’t want to work for them anyway. When I hired staff in the past, I had both my boss and an HR person comment negatively on employment gaps some of the candidates had. Guess what? I ignored that crap and hired some damn talented people!

There are plenty of professions where employment gaps are the norm and never questioned and we should take a page from their playbooks. For instance if you’re an actor, a programmer, a graphic designer, a tile setter — does anyone really give a shit about how long it was between jobs? Hell no, they’re more interested in your portfolio or body of work and who those clients were. It’s time for corporate America to get over its ego on this subject.

Maybe when I have a little more time and another iced coffee I’ll address the touchy subject of job-hopping, but in the meantime here’s my list of options should someone ask you about the gap in your employment history or a period of “unemployment” with a look of disdain:

  1. Politely explain that you weren’t unemployed, you simply weren’t employed by a specific company/organization and were doing some self-funded, small-scale projects or local pro-bono work.
  2. You took a sabbatical, so you could test your quantitative parimutuel wagering theories at the local horse track and get some much needed rest.
  3. Slap them upside the head to knock them off their high horse and get their attention, then ask them what the hell that has to do with anything. Next question.

</end rant>

— thanks for reading,

— Bryan

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