Black Hole Alert

A., a systems programmer in his 30s, was fired in the summer of 2004 as his hi-tech employer restructured. He was a highly esteemed employee, if no reincarnation of Einstein.

He was highly surprised to be shown the door just as other hi-tech companies were starting to recover and his first reaction was shock. His second was depression, not a bad one but enough to stop him going right out and looking for work. He went to India for a long time and when he came back, he found himself stuck at home.

After a year A. started seriously looking for work and was shocked again to find himself persona non grata. Potential employers weren't interested in a candidate with a gaping great hole of a year in his resume.

"The most illogical thing a person who was fired, or who resigned, can do is spend a long time at home lounging," warns Eran Elray, chief executive of the SPL software house, which has 270 employees. Too protracted a detachment from the workplace causes damage that can be hard to reverse.

"A person who sits at home for a year or two loses touch with day to day developments in technology," Elray explains. Also, the longer a person is out of the loop, the harder it is for him or her to overcome his mental barriers and ride again.

Settling for less

Unlike many employers, Elray himself doesn't mind hiring people who've been out of work for a long time, even two years. "The problem isn't with me, it's with these candidates," he says. "Many have trouble reconnecting with reality. They expect to get an equivalent or even a better job than the one they had in the place they left. They can't accept job less power-oriented.

"If a person was a senior systems analyst before, and sat at home for two years, can't settle for a job as a mere programmer and start again, just for the sake of a new job. He had reached Olympus and he's afraid of being reduced to a low-self image."

If a person fell off the horse (or was tossed) - he or she should get right back on. Try to find a job as fast as possible, even at the cost of taking a job that doesn't quite meet expectations. The mere fact of working creates opportunities for challenge and advancement.

Elray also counsels spouses to actively spur their mates into finding work: they have crucial influence, he says.

Soaps critic isn't a career

Edna Barak, an enterprise and employment psychologist, says that surveys done in Israel and the west show the longer a person is unemployed, the harder it is to fit into the workplace when finding one. One reason is that a person sitting at home for a long time develops lazy habits that distance him from the hurly-burly of work even more. Another reason is, as said, that they lose touch with advances in their field. That is critical in technology, biotechnology, finances and more.

A common excuse is a desire to exploit unemployment benefits to the max, Barak says: but people forget that it takes time to find a new job. Unskilled labor takes about four months but for management, it's a year on average. The general average is six months. Laying about watching Dynasty reruns won't cut it.

After months of lounging about annoying the family because he isn't bringing home bread, suddenly the unemployed wakes up and "seriously" tries to find work. But how he's stressed, frustrated and maybe even feels like a failure, Barak warns.

Nor do prospective employers welcome people with black holes in their resume: "What was he up to in that time? Taking drugs? Sitting in jail?" she points out. "Maybe he was looking for work and getting rejected."

And, she says, don't quit until you have something else lined up.

Fill the hole

Zvi Rule, a senior organizational adviser and member of the Israeli Enterprise Development association, has an original suggestion: don't sit at home flipping channels and feeling sorry for yourself. Use your time for something positive that will look good in that resume.

He has four ideas to start with: retraining; further academic studies; something wild like rafting in Nepal; or becoming an adviser in the area of your expertise.