You are not your work history
Addressing the employment gap on a resume is one of the most common problems that keeps job seekers awake. It is drilled into our heads that if you don’t work, you spend.
There is a persistent belief that if a hiring manager or recruiter notices even a small gap in a resume, they will automatically mistake the applicant for a slacker who can’t hold down a job.
This is simply not true. Consider these recent statistics from a LinkedIn Survey 2021: Fewer than four in five hiring managers (79%) say they would have no problem hiring a candidate with a gap in their resume.
The relationship between “job hopping” and DEI
“DEI practices, which many employers may not be aware of, are viewed as “competitors” for positions. In many cases, job seekers face more barriers than other members of the workforce.” This can mean many things, including health problems, economic hardship, caregiving responsibilities, or transportation issues.
“Honestly,” being a serial “jobber” is one of the reasons for my career success. My skills are diverse, my exposure to different industries is comprehensive, and I have a good understanding of organizational culture.”
Brittany King, Senior Manager of TA-Talent Intelligence & Diversity and member of Sista Circle: Black Women in Tech.
Employment gap a deal breaker? Not anymore
Being out of work for a year or longer may have been considered a deal breaker by most decision makers just 10 years ago or so, but the narrative surrounding career gaps has changed significantly since then.
You can probably guess the biggest reason: COVID-19. The pandemic caused absolute tidal wave layoffs, vacations, and voluntary time off to care for loved ones.
In light of everything that has happened in the past few years, it no longer makes business or ethical sense to discriminate against attractive job candidates because of a career break (self-protective or otherwise).
“I feel a change in the atmosphere compared to the previous days in my career. If you see a gap in your resume, that’s no longer a red flag. This is an area of investigation. But the investigation does not assess whether it is normal or not. The request is more like, “Wow, what did you do?”
Give me a break!
On a day-to-day basis, the average professional has little time to consider the bigger picture of their career. When we are busy with our current job needs from us on a given day, it can be all too easy to forget who we really are I want from our career.
Another LinkedIn survey according to reports earlier this year, 69% of people say that taking a career break has helped them gain a new perspective and perspective on what they really want out of life.
Even more telling, the same survey tells us that just under half of hiring managers (48%) believe that most candidates are overly negative about job shortcomings, underestimating themselves in the process. Meanwhile, 64% of job seekers want a better way to broach career gaps on their resumes and during interviews.
What does all this tell us? Employers and job seekers alike are ready to let go of the outdated notion of having a permanent job from graduation to retirement.
Yes, your resume tells the story of your career in your chosen field, but it’s more about yourself. Your story is not limited to periods of work. Here are some ways to change the scenario of career breaks and use gaps in your resume to your advantage.
There is no success without adversity
U Lit summary, we always encourage resume writers to highlight their career wins and accomplishments. Demonstrating success sends a clear message to readers: “I’m good at what I do and I’m ready for my next career challenge.”
What’s a success story without a little adversity to overcome? One research project has been published in a scientific journal Fundamental and applied social psychology researched what hiring managers want to hear from applicants during an interview. While the accomplishments are great, the research found that interviewers really wanted to hear about the setbacks and challenges interviewees faced along the way to those successes.
Gaps in your work history can serve this competitive role on your resume. Yes, taking a break from work for any reason is not ideal. But if you frame these gaps in the right light, using the right words, they can work to your advantage by demonstrating your resilience and commitment.
Not working does not mean not growing
You may be wondering exactly how to frame unemployment as a positive, especially on paper. The simple answer comes down to staying busy. You need to indicate on your CV the period of time when you were not employed in any other way.
The best way to do this is through some type of institutional connection. Maybe you went back to school or got a new certification in your field. Volunteering for a non-profit, especially a good cause, is another great way to show readers that you may not have been working, but you were still learning, growing, and moving forward.
Consulting roles, attending industry conferences and virtual events, and even part-time or one-off freelance gigs can also work.
The biggest mistake you can make with a gap in employment
The #1 mistake to avoid is leaving a year and a long gap on your resume completely off the table. This practically guarantees that recruiters and hiring managers will think that you spent your free time exclusively from the couch to the kitchen.
Avoid long explanations about the employment gap
If we put COVID-19 aside for a moment, the three most common reasons people usually take an extended vacation after working full-time are:
- half pension (annual leave for travel, etc.),
- they were fired, or
- choosing to stay at home as a full-time parent or carer.
It is likely that many of those who fall into one of these three categories did not maintain any formal institutional ties during the employment gap years. If this is your situation, don’t waste a lot of space on your resume explaining the small details of your story.
U Lit summary, we believe that brevity is best in all aspects of resume writing. Even when describing your biggest career wins, it’s best to keep it short and sweet. All the more so when it comes to eliminating gaps in work history.
Instead, use one sentence about the time period in question with a positive future twist.
If you’ve spent the last couple of years taking care of your family, write something like:
“Parents, family of five, stay home, happy to be back at work. 2020-2022″
You can make it even more vague:
“Excited to return to work after a period of personal growth. 2020-2022″
During the interview process, you will have the opportunity to better explain the shortcomings in the work. At this point, there’s no reason to take up more valuable space on your resume than you need to.
Never adopt an apologetic tone about your employment gap
It’s important to be transparent about career breaks, but that doesn’t mean you have to apologize. Again, a decade-old hiring guide just doesn’t apply anymore.
Remember the statistic that 48% of hiring managers believe that candidates are too lenient due to career lulls? If you frame your performance gaps as a failure that needs to be forgiven, or immediately sulk when the subject is brought up in an interview, it sends the wrong message.
“Don’t apologize for doing what you need to do for your professional and personal growth. Sometimes a vacation is necessary for any reason. Be confident in your decision to take time off and be prepared to be confident in your answer as to why you did it.’
Lexi Bee, founder of Sista Circle: Black Women in Tech.
Not all periods of unemployment are of our own choosing, but you are always in control of the telling of your story. Even if you were unceremoniously fired, turn it into motivation. Use it to propel you forward, not an obstacle that holds you back.
That was then, this is now
Decision makers these days are undoubtedly more open to considering candidates with gaps in their work history, but they still need to know that you’re serious about your job search.
Make sure to make it clear that today – right here and now – you’re totally on your toes to pick up where you left off and never look back. No employer wants to hire a new employee only to have them disappear shortly thereafter. It is very important to frame the gaps in employment as temporary siestas.
Ideally, the message is that you’ve used your free time wisely and are ready to come back as an even better professional version of yourself.
You are not just your career
As we conclude this article, it might be helpful to touch on the summary in general for a moment. Most people tend to think of their resume as a simple description of their career, but that’s an oversimplification.
“The resume is an art, not a science. As a recruiter, I want to get an idea of the impact you’ve been able to make and what you’re passionate about. The gaps in your experience are less important to me than the story your resume tells me.”
Amal S., Scholarship Recruiter @ Formation
When recruiters sit down to read your resume, they want to learn about you as a person, not every job you’ve held since college. If you get the job, it’s you, not your resume, who comes to work on Monday morning.
Addressing the underemployment properly and demonstrating that you didn’t let bumps in the road get in your way will reflect far more on your character and drive than any boring old corporate achievement.
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Hired partner Sista Circle: Black Women in Tech (BWiT) is a solidarity group dedicated to supporting black women in tech, including community and networking.