Has life thrown you a curve ball? Are you worried about employment gaps on your resume? Here’s how to handle them so they don't work against you.
There are few people these days who have a chronologically perfect work history. From ill health to caring for children, redundancies to extended job search, modern life can throw an abundance of obstacles along our career path.
As with most things though, it’s best not to dwell on what has happened but instead focus on what you can do about it.
This article will help you navigate through this tricky problem so you can reframe whatever has happened and get you back on track.
Employment gap or minor blip – what's the difference?
An employment gap is a period of months or years where you have voluntarily or involuntarily not held a traditional job. However, if this lasted for 3 months or less, you can relax. This will not cause concern for recruiters and hiring managers because that is a generally acceptable timeframe to be job seeking or taking a break between positions.
If your gap is longer than 3 months, then we are in the realm of damage limitation as this can represent a big red flag to potential employers.
Why employment gaps can cause concern
Hiring staff is a very expensive process.
Recruitment consultants typically charge between 15-30% of a candidate's remuneration package as their professional fee and then there are all the hidden costs such as staff interviewing candidates, having meetings with HR, and the general onboarding process. There could also be further initial training on top of that depending on the industry sector.
That’s why, if a potential employer hears any kind of alarm bells ringing, they take them very seriously.
If your resume has any unexplained employment gaps, they may fill in the blanks themselves with reasons such as unemployability, drugs, crime or laziness. After all, if you offer them no reason then it must be negative, right?
Wrong. Most people have very good, plausible explanations for employment gaps, but they make big mistakes with how they choose to explain them.
Don’t make these mistakes when explaining employment gaps
It is totally understandable that you will feel a little anxious about applying for jobs with a resume that will reveal an inconsistent career history.
However, that is exactly what you must do, and I will show you how and why shortly.
Before we get into that, I just want to make it crystal clear that you must not resort to these two methods instead of being upfront.
Candidates who are trying to cover up employment gaps often use little tricks to make their work history appear seamless.
Popular methods are stating years of employment without months so that a few months off can be easily hidden and artificially extending dates of positions so that gaps between positions magically disappear.
Some even say they are still at their last company when in fact they have not been there for several months or even years.
The usual thinking behind this is to get to the interview and then explain why they did it in person.
The obvious issue here is that it is dishonest, which is more than likely to be a lot worse than the real reason for the gap in the first place.
If you lie on your resume, it will most probably backfire. Employers will either uncover your lies at interview or they will discover it later through a verification service such as Equifax just prior to a job offer.
Opting for a functional resume format
Functional resumes focus on skills rather than work history which means that dates don’t get mentioned.
While the traditional chronological format highlights work experience with detailed summaries of the duties and achievements under each position, the functional format will instead list particular skills and strengths as headings with information on each underneath.
In other words, it is based on a per skill rather than per job basis.
If you didn’t already know about this style you may now be thinking great, that is the answer.
However, I would strongly advise against this. When recruiters see this style, their first thought is “what are they trying to hide?”
Always use a reverse-chronological resume, starting with your most recent position at the top.
This is the most traditional resume format, and starts with a career profile and ends with education and referees.
The best ways to explain employment gaps on your resume
Now we have established that honesty is definitely the best policy, and that an unconventional resume format will just highlight your problems, how do you tell the truth without frightening off potential employers?
Define the explanation
You need to be honest and give a straightforward explanation whilst being careful not to overshare. For example, if you travelled by all means say where you went but don’t assume that people want to know your whole itinerary.
If the reason is that you lost your job never show bitterness and frame it with a company issue rather than a personal reason.
For example, “I was with XYZ for 6 years and achieved promotion to Product Manager a few months ago. Unfortunately, due to the current economic climate, XYZ made the tough decision to discontinue x product and therefore my position became redundant.”
The key to your explanation is to be honest and brief so that you can quickly address it, give it context and then move on to the following.
Identify the benefits
Next you need a line explaining something positive. What did you learn, how did you grow, which new skills did you pick up?
If there was an actual qualification involved, say what it was and if not mention a couple of soft skills such as problem solving, adaptability or resilience and say how you feel this will improve your performance in the workplace going forwards.
Your whole explanation should be no longer than 3 sentences.
Remember, you are looking to explain not highlight your gap.
Produce a strong profile
A great profile will redirect recruiters and hiring managers to your key skills and strengths and away from any employment gaps that might exist.
Recruiters typically spend just 7 seconds scanning a resume, but they will always spend time on the first thing they see - your resume profile - because it gives them a snapshot of who you are and what you can offer.
And the best bit? You get to control how they view you by telling them exactly what you want.
Everyone needs a great profile to begin their resume but, if you have employment gaps, it will be even more crucial for you to lead their attention to what you want them to see.
Follow the tips in this article so that you get yours just right.
Actively manage your current gap
So far we have talked about managing past gaps but what if you are currently experiencing one and need to explain it on your resume when you apply for jobs?
Consider these options that you can add to your resume that that will help frame you as a great applicant.
Update your skills
Explore the possibility of taking a course to learn new skills or update those you already have which will be very positive to potential employers who will appreciate your efforts towards continuous personal development.
Consider part time work and job-sharing options
Know that you are not alone. Many people either have to, or choose to, leave the workforce for extended periods of time for all sorts of reasons.
Job sharing, either half days, or splitting the week can work for both the employees and the employer.
Part time work may not be your first choice or even something you would have previously considered, but it can be a great way to keep your skills and experience up to date with your particular industry and help pave the way for re-entry into a full-time position.
Create a small business
Perhaps this is the perfect time to try something completely different?
Do you have a skill that you could offer on a consultancy basis that could spark contract work? Or a passion for something that could be turned into a business?
With minimal investment you could set up a website and see what happens.
And no, you don’t need to be pay huge amounts of money to programmers or be skilled in coding to do this anymore. Take a look at Thrive Themes for some inspiration.
Be open to volunteering
Not only can this be good for your soul but also for your career.
Try to pick activities that in some way relate to your profession that can put a positive spin on your employment gap
The best way to handle gaps of employment on your resume is to:
Remember this. Recruiters and hiring managers spend most of their time interviewing so they get to see a huge range of people and circumstances.
They understand that ‘life happens’ and obstacles can appear out of nowhere sometimes.
These days they are very common and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.
Gaps in employment don’t define you, but how you choose to handle them will.
Do you have questions on how to explain gaps in resumes? Just leave a comment below. We are here to help.