Job Search

Job Search Tips for Furloughed Professionals


The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has caused thousands of employees to be furloughed from their jobs. A term once reserved for seasonal or union work, furloughing has been happening across all industries and at all levels in the current economic climate. Furloughed senior-level professionals should be using their time to strategically advance their goals and their careers, and that includes searching for a job.

Why should you be job searching at this time? Simply because of the uncertainty of the current situation. Your company may fully expect to call you back to work when the coronavirus crisis is over. But at this point, many sectors and businesses cannot accurately forecast when they will be able to recall employees, if ever.

They also may not be able to accurately forecast their own long-term economic health and viability. Some sectors, such as travel, may have to ultimately retrench far more than they expected when the coronavirus crisis began. If you are in an industry or company that has to eventually downsize more than initially expected, your job may change or be eliminated long term, even if the company did not plan to do that when you were first furloughed.

What is a Furlough?

Before we discuss how to job search when you’re furloughed, though, let’s be clear about what a furlough is. A furlough is a temporary unpaid leave of absence from a job. It is mandatory: if you are furloughed by Company X, you cannot continue doing work for Company X.

business person contemplating pay cutA furlough is not a layoff. Companies do not expect to call laid-off employees back to work. Layoffs are often done to restructure and eliminate positions. In a furlough, though, your company does expect to call you back to work. Remember though, this is an intention not a promise.

Furloughs are undertaken when companies don’t have enough cash coming in to pay employees because of some economic event, but they do want to retain employees and their positions.

Most companies who furlough continue employee benefits such as health insurance. Not all do, however, so it’s a good idea to confirm whether or not your company is extending your benefits throughout the furlough period.

Job Searching During a Furlough

It’s okay to job search during a furlough! Your company might want you back, but frankly, the inherent uncertainty in furloughs is also widely understood. Senior-level job searches are also multi-month processes, often with several interviews. Waiting three to six months and then getting the word from your company that they won’t be calling you back is not ideal.

So what is the best plan for conducting a job search during a furlough? You should strategize how to use your strengths and capabilities, update your resume, and network extensively.

Strategize How To Use Your Strengths and Capabilities

Use your furlough time to think deeply about your career and overall goals going forward. The pandemic may exert long term and wide-ranging effects on some industries. Some, such as commercial real estate, may permanently contract as businesses embrace virtual work more broadly. Others, such as healthcare, may benefit from new opportunities. Think about your personal goals in light of the likely effects on your sector and company, too. Have you been thinking about new challenges or transformations in your own life?

If you expect your industry to contract, it might be time to think about leveraging your experience in a new field. Focus on strengths and capabilities that can cross industries, such as spearheading change initiatives, managing and training new employees, or fostering cost controls.

Update Your Resume

Once you’ve decided upon your new goals and direction, update your resume accordingly. As you job search, you may need to tailor your resume for each potential job more extensively than you did before. Consider formats that emphasize skills over chronological paths, such as functional or combination resumes.

Be sure, of course, to highlight your value as a senior-level executive, by emphasizing your benefits to the bottom line in past positions, using specific facts and figures. Despite the coronavirus, companies will still be looking for what you can do to strengthen and further their business.

Network Extensively

More jobs are found through networking than by responding to job postings at all times, especially for senior-level professionals. That’s especially true in times like these. Take two steps in networking. First, get in touch with your existing network. Reach out for Zoom chats or virtual coffee hours. Let your network know you are furloughed and job searching.

Second, grow your network with Zoom chats and virtual coffee hours. Consider getting in touch with professionals you’ve long admired for informational interviews, mentorship, and advice. Join new professional associations.

Throughout your networking, remember to offer support, information, and advice to your network as well as seeking it. Reciprocity is key to successful networking.

Should You Ask Your Current Team for References?

As you job search, the question of asking your current supervisors and other team members for references might arise. The short answer is: don’t.

The reason? The same as in any job search. Some team members might be supportive. But others may not be. You run the risk of your current company viewing you as potentially disengaged from your job. They may see you as having one foot out the door, and thus be inclined to pass you over for strong assignments or promotions (or being called back!). Don’t run that risk.

How to Communicate the Furlough to Potential Employers

How should you address the issue of the furlough in your job search materials, such as your resume and cover letter, and in interviews?

discussing resumeRemember, it’s always easier to find a new position if you currently have one. You have a job, you just aren’t currently being paid. Mentioning a furlough can therefore work to your benefit, because it indicates your desirability to your current employer and is a clear simple reason why you’re looking for a new position.

But, if it comes up, your mention should be brief. Emphasize that you are looking for a new position to share your strengths and bring the benefits of your capabilities to the company. Foreground your potential contribution to a new company in all your communications.

People who have been furloughed should think strategically about their situation, because the ability of companies to call employees back is not completely certain. Job search productively by showcasing your strengths and capabilities, updating your resume, and using the time to network robustly.

Furloughed and job searching? Check out which companies are hiring now!


About the Author

Rita Williams is a freelance writer on a wide range of topics, including careers, human resources trends and personal finance. She works with both job-seekers and companies to educate and inform them about best practices – and shows humor and understanding while doing it.