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Question: Least damaging long-term: Unemployment gap or underemployment?

People wait in line to attend a Long Island job fair on May 2, 2013 in Uniondale, N.Y.

I recently found out that the company I work for is going out of business and my job will be ending in a little over a month. I work as a IT Analyst and have have been looking for a job that is a step up a little while but have not had any success yet. I can afford to go with out a job for a short while, and have some connections that may be able to get me a job at a much lower level then I am at currently. What would the least damaging in the long term -- an unemployment gap in my resume or being underemployed for a period of time, and is it unrealistic to look for a job that is a step up after losing a job?

Response:

This is a great question, and it affects a lot of people in this market.

We've talked to a lot of career counselors about this over the years, and they've told us that while most peoples' resumes can handle an "unemployment gap", there is a point at which that gap can become too wide. The size of that gap -- i.e. the length of time you remain unemployed -- depends on a number of factors, including your age, the scarcity of talent in the pool in which you swim, and the state of health of your industry. Determining how long you can remain unemployed is more art that science, but career counselors recommend that while you're looking for work,  you should also find ways to fill out your resume. That means doing part-time work, volunteering and taking on projects that will keep your skills ticking over and develop new ones. You do this firstly to keep you current, secondly to show prospective employers that you have a good work ethic, and thirdly to keep yourself sane. 

A period of unemployment is also an opportunity to reassess your skills and your place in the world. If you're unemployed for a while, then you might want to think about retraining and changing career. If you decide to stay in the same field, then you may indeed be forced to take a "step down" in order to remain in the industry. If that's the situation, then make every effeort to find out what the company needs beyond that position, then get some special training that will allow you to add value there. That, combined with your experience, may help you get back to where you want to be.

Good luck! And let us know how it goes.

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