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Did you just join the ranks of the unemployed? Maybe you’re asking the question “How Long Can I Stay Unemployed?” J.T. & Dale, professional development experts who give career advice in a nationally syndicated column, suggest beginning the job search immediately, even if you want to take some time off or feel you have several months of unemployment benefits and no need to rush. Many HR managers begin to wonder why you’ve been off so long if your sabbatical lasts more than four months, and are suspicious about why you’ve been ‘passed over’ for other jobs.

In fact, a survey of area HR managers on this very topic reinforces the advice in this column. If you have been out of work for an extended period of time, nine months or a year or more, they say red flags go up. Unless otherwise informed, they assume recent college graduates may be living off mom and dad; experienced workers off for an extended time are assumed to be on unemployment. And if you really want to be working and it’s been months or years, the HR managers say there is often a desperation quality that comes through in interviews and makes it even more difficult to be the candidate of choice in a hiring situation.

So if you’ve been out of work for any amount of time, rethink your strategy but don’t sit back and relax. For more advice from J.T. & Dale, read their column.