mind the employment gap

Do you have a hole in your resume? Did you take a few years off to raise children, travel, make some life moves or simply wait for the right job?

Having a gap in your resume shouldn’t spell doom for your chances at landing a great job. There are several ways to fill the dreaded employment gap. We’ll go over them here and answer some frequently asked questions about resume gaps.

Why are gaps in employment bad? 

Employment gaps are not a deal breaker. They’re not even all that concerning when explained. However, when left unexplained, recruiters have no way of knowing the circumstances of your break and may, for the sake of time, and because they’re only human, assume the worst. What’s lurking in that gap?

Remember that it’s the recruiter’s job to find reliable, talented and knowledgeable candidates. They can avoid the risk of recruiting someone with stale industry knowledge or subpar work ethic by passing on applicants with unexplained resume gaps. Hiring managers also feel safer hiring candidates with linear, gapless, long-tenure career histories.

Let’s keep this risk aversion in mind when deciding how to explain gaps in employment.

Use resume gaps to tell your story

Rather than hide the gaps, fill them in and display them proudly.

There’s nothing wrong with taking time off from work, so long as you’ve been productive and grown your professional skills during your unemployment. Like it or not, productivity and growth are highly desirable resume attributes.

Lucky for us, growth—personal growth, that is—is a symptom of living. Even if you sat on the beach in Fiji for 8 months, you probably learned something. Perhaps you taught yourself to meditate and improve focus or spent the time creating a roadmap for your career. Here’s what a travel break may look like on a resume.

Sabbatical

June 2018-June 2019

Took a once in a lifetime opportunity to travel internationally, developing my cross-cultural communication skills, problem solving skills, and fine tuning my career goals for the future. 

*Note: Mentioning that this is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” communicates to recruiters and hiring managers that you will not be repeating your time off in the near future.

Remember that your resume is not just a snapshot of your jobs and responsibilities. It’s an introduction of you as a professional to a potential employer. As such, your resume should tell the reader the beginning of a story—one that shows how you have progressed over the years, built your knowledge base, and met challenges.

Communicate how you intentionally developed skills during your employment gap

Did you go to any professional classes or conferences? Have you learned a new skill or spent time training for a different career? These are all great skill-building activities that should be included when writing your resume.

Employment gaps are great opportunities to fill skills gaps. And recruiters like to see applicants that are constantly and intentionally learning their trade. That’s a signal of a passionate and knowledgeable candidate.

This can include volunteer work, too. If you spent some of your downtime pitching in at a local food bank, or coordinating a charity run, you can and should include it on your resume, along with the skills you learned.

If you’re currently experiencing a gap in employment, consider taking an online course or check out these free certifications to add to your resume.

Group temporary and self-employment gigs together

Some people take on temp jobs and contract work to make ends meet after a layoff. Others simply prefer the “gig economy” so they can have the flexibility to pursue other interests. This type of employment history can look a little awkward on a resume, however, especially if you have a handful of temporary jobs at one time.

If you were a contractor, or if you did these jobs on contract, you may be able to qualify all of this time as being self-employed. Doing this will give you one steady explanation of that timeframe (and look a whole lot better on your resume).

Employers rarely look down on someone who started their own business, even if it failed in the first year. Failed businesses happen often and as long as you’re prepared to explain it honestly in the interview, this isn’t a deal-breaker for most hiring managers.

Rearrange your resume to emphasize skills

The right resume format can help spotlight your skills rather than your employment history. While a functional resume, which focuses on skills and does not include chronological employment history, is the best format for hiding resume gaps, we don’t recommend it. Recruiters can be suspicious of functional resumes for exactly this reason. 

A better choice is a hybrid resume, which emphasizes skills while also including your chronological work history.  

Embrace the resume gaps

Resume gaps happen, especially in an unstable economy. Having an employment gap isn’t usually a deal breaker, and when it is, it’s probably not the right employer for you in the first place.

Build your resume in a way that reflects you as a professional. Emphasize skills, list the small things, and be prepared to explain any gaps when the interview happens.

In the end, resume gaps are far from the hardest thing job seekers have to overcome.

Does your resume pass the test?

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