How to manage Career Gaps in your Resume
There are numerous legitimate reasons for employment gaps and assuming you did not spend your time as a couch potato watching TV, you should not be afraid to explain what the reasons were.
The way employers recruit and especially how they hold (or don’t hold) on to their employees has dramatically changed so career gaps on resumes are a very common feature. Employers generally view a gap in employment negatively, however, you control how you explain and present any gaps in your resume, which can go a long way to addressing any negative perceptions.
The length of time unemployed Australians job hunt has increased to an average of 38 weeks, up from 28 weeks in previous years. The New Zealand average is slightly better at 34 weeks. Most recruiters and hiring managers are well aware of these timeframes (at least conceptually), so whether you: chose to become a stay-at-home parent; or pursue your education further; or had to care for ailing parents (or your own illness); or were just unsuccessful in gaining new employment; you need to help an employer understand the reasons for your resume career gaps.
I have prepared a list of the 4 most common reasons for resume gaps. Check out the insights and tips and see if any apply to your situation and then use them to fill the gaps.
Reason No. 1 Family Reasons
Sometimes you just have to take time off to deal with ailing relatives and financial matters. Or perhaps you were ill and don’t want to go into the details. Dealing with this is simple. Just list ‘Sabbatical’ and state, “Dealt with urgent family matters now fully resolved.” When it comes up in an interview, just say something like, “I always give 110% to my job and I knew I could not do that at this time, so I decided to take the time off. However, everything is resolved now and I am ready to hit the ground running.”
You can also consider mentioning the skills you drew on during that time if they might be relevant to your current job search.
Reason No. 2 Sabbaticals
This one is the most common used Gap explanation and not exactly popular with most recruiters and hiring managers, especially if not explained properly. So ask yourself if you were really “on a sabbatical” as your resume says, or are you using that term to cover up negative aspects of your work history? So, I suggest that even if you were on sabbatical, you might want to find another way to account for your time by re-phrasing it as educational or volunteer time or something that does not seem to be seen as a cover up. As discussed under Reason No. 1 above, indicating ‘sabbatical’ can be fine but it’s important that you provide some details.
Reason No. 3 Furthering Education
No one can fault someone for furthering their knowledge and training, so just treat this like another job and put a notation that you were pursuing a XX degree/certification.
I regularly have resume clients who have used their unemployment time to obtain new qualifications or learn new job skills. These qualification timeframes can be listed in your LinkedIn, Plaxo or Google+ profiles where you can upload the actual certificate which shows the duration of your learning period or the date of completion.
Remember most hiring managers look for you online, so use the certificates and qualifications to show your time.
Reason No. 4 Unemployment
Yes I know, it is often the most obvious and difficult one to deal with but there are ways and smart solutions to deal with unemployment in your resume.
My Tip: List only years, not months, when writing dates for your work history.
Using only years achieves two things:
- It makes it easier for the reader to establish the length of time you have been at a particular job.
- It conceals gaps.
Here is an example to demonstrate. Notice the gap here:
11/09 – 4/12, Client Relationship Manager, Holdsworth Group, Pyrmont, NSW
3/07 – 2/09, Account Manager, The DesignWorx, Glebe, NSW
If you use only years and eliminate the months, there is no apparent gap:
2009-2012, Client Relationship Manager, Holdsworth Group, Pyrmont, NSW
2007-2009, Account Manager, The DesignWorx, Glebe, NSW
My Tip: Explain the gap(s) if you have a period of unemployment that extends over one calendar year or more.
Consider everything you were doing during that time (such as travel, volunteer work, internships, training, family projects, small personal business) and if possible, present them so they’re relevant to your job objective.
A person who cared for a sick parent for two years and is now looking for a position as a pharmaceutical sales rep might write:
- 2010-2012: Primary Home Care Provider for terminally ill relative
Someone applying for a position as a travel agent might list his vacation
- 2010-2011: Travel – Central and South America
A mother re-entering the workforce who wants to be a teacher’s aide and who did some related volunteer work might write:
- 2010-2012: Parent and Classroom Volunteer, Melbourne Boys High School
A person looking for a job in accounting or finance might list the ‘small business’ they ran doing tax returns and other accounting work:
- 2011-2012: Personal Accounting Services Business
My Tip: If the gap(s) in your resume is not relevant to your job search, explain it with honesty and with dignity.
Warning: It is not good form to refer to illness, unemployment (even if it is clearly due to an industry downturn or other economy related factors), and rehabilitation because they suggest that you might be a high-risk job seeker. I suggest that you write instead about something you were doing during that time, even if it’s not related to your job objective.
Here are some suggested ‘job titles’ for such gaps:
- Full-time Student or Independent Study
- Full-time Parent or Family Management (or Home Management)
- Family Financial Management (or Estate Management)
- Adventure Travel (or Travels to …) or Personal Travel
My Tip: Call this section Work History or History if you include unpaid ‘job titles’ in your work history.
Try not to use headers such as Professional Experience or Employment History because ‘professional’ and ‘employment’ both imply that you were paid for the work you did.
So, as you can see, there are plenty of entirely legitimate reasons to have a gap so I suggest that you don’t try to hide it (beyond what I mentioned in Reason No. 4) and please do not try to embellish it by using silly titles like Household or Domestic Engineer. I’m not kidding, I regularly receive resume samples with silly titles.
Prolonged unemployment, and the resume gap(s) that reflects it, doesn’t have to be a liability. So re-write your resume or hire a professional resume writing service if you are daunted by the task and when you return to your job search remember to hunt wisely!