One of the harshest realities of today’s competitive job market is that gaps in employment can lead to negative misconceptions by some employers and recruiters.
In this blog, we’re going to do our best to include a couple quick strategies for addressing longer gaps in your resume– and next week’s blog will focus on how to present yourself if you’re currently unemployed.
What is considered a “gap”
There’s no exact science for determining whether or not a gap in your employment needs to be addressed on your resume in some way. Certainly gaps between jobs of a few months are to be expected, but when those gaps extend towards the year-plus mark, perhaps consider addressing them strategically.
The reasons for the gaps are immaterial – and private to you. Whether you were raising your family, battling an illness, traveling the world or trying to find work, we carefully considering how you share your personal reasons for having employment gaps. While it’s against the law for employers to discriminate based on your familial, personal and health history, that doesn not mean it never happens. This is your career -- protect your future strategically. Click here to learn more about addressing medical absences carefully.
Step 1: Resume Formatting
One common solution is switching your resume’s entries from months + years to just years. A gap in employment from February 2002 to November 2002 is easily covered when it appears that you held Job A from 1999 to 2002 and Job B from 2002 to 2005.
- Functional resume formatting
For more drastic gaps in employment, moving the focus away from employment chronology may be the solution. A functional resume is a resume that is formatted to highlight job skills and experience, rather than places of employment one after another. While disliked by some employers (because of this bit of sight of hand), a functional resume can be the best way to present your case if you have great usefulness but have been out of the workforce for a long time.
Example Functional Resume
Step 2: Share upfront when it is relevant
However, if your employment gap involves career-related volunteering or using skills pertinent to the job you’re trying to get, discussion of that type of resume gap can benefit you.
Do not discount the value of personal and professional non-paid activities. If the personality traits, skills used, or accomplishments achieved are transferrable at all, the employer may be even more keen to hire you.
What if you were gainfully employed during most of your work history, but had long periods – multiple years, of work unrelated to the job that you’re currently seeking?
What if you were pursuing charitable work or a personal hobby?
Experts are of two minds about it – some recruiters prefer you list only work experience directly related to the position at hand. This keeps resumes short and easy to understand.
But when the activities can demonstrate transferrable contributions and you have “gaps”, then this may be a strategic time to include these periods.
Sure, being a roofer has little to do with managing a sales team, but there are leadership, budgetary, time management and communication skills present in almost every job, so it’s up to you to make this connection in the mind of the employer.
AppleOne recommends doing this by focusing on MSAs – your made-saved-achieved accolades from every job.
Instead of simply listing the when and the where of your work experience, show WHY it matters.
Step 3: Answer A Question-With A Question Technique
Hopefully, with a resume that focuses on your strengths and highlights your MSAs, your resume gaps will not come up. But be ready in an interview if they do.
Whatever the reason for your gap in employment, be confident and optimistic as you share it. Perfect a 30-second elevator speech highlighting your volunteering mission, successful recovery, return to school or foray into entrepreneurship. Don’t apologize, don’t dwell, and be sure to bring it back around to why you’re a great fit for the current job you’re interviewing for.
KEY TECHNIQUE: Explain the gap with a smile and change the subject immediately back to the interview by asking a question. What question is not the point, but rather, asking a question redirects the focus of the interviewer. For example:
“Well, my time away from traditional work has brought future positions even more value to me as you can see, so I understand this position needs someone to hit the ground running, what is the most immediate challenge I would be able to focus on and solve in the first few months?”
The job market is a complex and difficult place right now, and while these techniques are far from a guarantee that you'll land an offer, they give you tools to address resume gaps and boost your peace of mind, which in the end is may be the most important thing. Embodying confidence, trustworthiness and responsibility in your words and body language is the best gift you can give yourself as a job seeker.