How to Confidently Handle Employment Gaps While Job Hunting

How to Confidently Handle Employment Gaps While Job HuntingWhether you anticipated a career break or experienced one out of the blue, holes in your resume can feel nerve-wracking to explain to recruiters while job hunting. But while career gaps were once a big no-no for most employers, the good news is that times have shifted. With the right strategy, you can even put a positive spin on your time away and use it to highlight your value.

Do you want to learn how to handle employment gaps with confidence? Then keep reading for a quick, no-nonsense guide to explaining breaks in your resume.

Are Employment Gaps Still a Red Flag?

It’s no secret that resume gaps were seen as highly problematic not even five years ago.

Depending on who you talked to, such gaps could indicate a lack of skill, drive, reliability, or potential challenges with readjusting to the workforce and technological changes. Today, while we can’t say career gaps no longer matter, the stigma undoubtedly faded during the pandemic for a few reasons:

  1. The pandemic normalized long periods of unemployment. By April of 2021, nearly a third of all unemployed Canadians were considered “long-term unemployed” (i.e. jobless for six months or more), and the U.S. experienced similar trends. As a result, it’s no longer unusual to see extended gaps in candidate resumes.
  2. Employees and the nature of work have changed. Organizations have had to adapt to unprecedented changes (such as mass levels of remote work) to stay operational during the pandemic. In addition, many employees had a chance to reevaluate their relationship with their work, forcing employers to be more open-minded to retain talent and stay competitive.
  3. The labour market is tight. As I shared in an earlier article, it’s a candidate-driven market, meaning that if you’re a strong candidate, you have the upper hand even if your work history has some holes. This is especially true if you have many years of experience.

So, are gaps in employment a big deal today? Not as much as they were in times past.

How to Bridge or Explain Gaps in Your Work History While Job Hunting

While resume gaps aren’t as problematic anymore, your strategy for addressing them could either create unnecessary complications or spin your time off as an advantage. Here are some tips for how to handle employment gaps with class.

Know Which Gaps to Highlight (and Which to Leave Out)

First, understand that you don’t need to address every career gap you’ve ever had. Determine which holes are worth mentioning and which ones you don’t need to discuss. Some examples of gaps you don’t have to stress over include:

  • Time off that was only a few months long
  • Parental leave where you had kids and returned to work shortly afterwards
  • Employment gaps that happened several ago

If you have gaps that need explaining, stay calm and move on to the following tips.

Be Upfront From the Beginning

Whatever you do, avoid lying about your employment gap. You may feel tempted to tweak some dates on your resume or stretch the truth during an interview, but remember that potential employers can easily verify how long you stayed at your previous companies. Lying could break trust and cost you much more than the consequences of being transparent.

Use Your Branding Materials Wisely

Depending on the nature and length of your employment gap, you may consider including some details on your resume and using your CV to provide extra context. Also, LinkedIn recently added a career break feature, so you can use that to spotlight any professional pauses worth mentioning.

How much detail should you add? It depends.

For instance, you may have spent some years freelancing or volunteering in your field while figuring out your next career move. Since the skills required are transferrable, you can highlight that time just like you would a regular job.

However, if it’s not as easy to fit what you did during your hiatus within the context of your career, keep things short and sweet. For example, something as simple as the following could suffice on your resume:

“Two years taken off to travel twelve countries, learn two new languages, and broaden world perspective.”

Again, add some context to your cover letter and prepare a more detailed answer when asked to share more about yourself during an interview.

Focus on Positive Outcomes

Whether you took time off to travel, heal from an illness or attend to some family matters, emphasize the ways you grew. Maybe you learned a new skill, sharpened old skills through part-time work, or earned a certification. What you did in between jobs isn’t necessarily important; what matters much more is how you grew as a person.

Own Your Previous Experience

Recent experience isn’t the only thing that matters, so don’t gloss over the experience you had before your career break. When speaking about how to handle employment gaps, Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO & Co-Founder of iRelaunch, stated:
“The important thing isn’t when you had the experience, but that you had the experience… so instead of saying [something like], ‘this is ancient history, but way back in 2010 we faced a very similar customer challenge’…, you would say: ‘When I was working for company X we faced very similar customer challenges, let me tell you about one of them.”

Stay Positive and Future-Focused

Lastly, stay positive and future-focused while searching for opportunities and interviewing. Your career isn’t over because of an employment gap. Life happens, and no professional path is a straight line. Remember that you can use your employment gap as a strength rather than a weakness with a positive mindset.

Is Your Employment Gap Situation Tricky?

One thing I’ve learned during my 20-plus years as a resume writer and career consultant is that not all employment gaps are created equal. You may feel like your situation is hopeless, but with some help, you can find those hidden gems of experience and piece them into a powerful resume. If you need guidance, contact me for a free, no-obligation consultation call to discuss how to make that happen!

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