work-history-300x199When the recession began, the question that popped up repeatedly was, “Can I find a job in this economy?” Then, for those fortunate enough to be offered a position, the question often became, “Should I take a job even if it’s a step down from my last role?”

Both of these questions weighed heavily on workers, not just because they were worried about making enough money to cover their bills — though they surely were — but also because these quandaries could damage their long-term career goals. Job seekers want to make a strong first impression with employers, and a résumé with an employment gap or a work history that shows a step back isn’t going to do that. Or at least that’s what most job seekers fear.

A new CareerBuilder survey found that 85 percent of employers consider themselves more understanding of gaps in job applicants’ work history since the recession. Also promising is that 94 percent of employers say they wouldn’t think less of candidates who, during the recession, took lower positions than their previous ones.

Making the best of the situation
No matter how positive your attitude, you know that being unemployed is frustrating. When you can’t find the job you want, or any job at all, you feel discouraged. Employers know that. When you’re writing a cover letter or going in for an interview, they don’t expect you to pretend unemployment has been a walk in the park. But they don’t want you to complain, either. As clichéd as it sounds, this is when they want to see that you’ve made the most of a bad situation.

What do employers want to see?

Surveyed employers cited the following activities as the best ways for job candidates to expand and strengthen their skills:

  • Take a temporary or contract position – 79 percent.
  • Take a class – 61 percent.
  • Volunteer – 60 percent.
  • Start your own business – 28 percent.
  • Start a professional blog – 11 percent.

The common thread among each of these suggestions is initiative from the job seeker. The economy might prevent you from having your ideal job, but you can still find a way to stay current with industry trends and keep your skills up-to-date.

Job seekers are often prepared for tricky interview questions, but one not-so-tricky one they sometimes forget to prepare for is, “What have you been doing since your last job?” Employers don’t want to hear you say, “Nothing.” Look at their list of recommendations and figure out what steps you can take so that your résumé answers that question for them.