Career gaps, the inevitable, sometimes planned but often unplanned and dreaded periods of unemployment, are an issue many job seekers face.
Life happens. Whether it’s a personal health setback, a planned sabbatical, or caring for loved ones, many of us experience gaps in our professional journey. I recently took a month away from business, a combination of speaking at a business conference, planned travels following the conference, and then an unexpected serious bout with COVID that took me away from work for an additional two weeks. While a month isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, this personal experience made me reflect on the challenges of resume gaps, especially in a world that often seems to be moving at breakneck speed.
While these gaps may seem like a red flag to potential employers, it is possible to turn them into assets with the right strategies. In this post, we will explore the reasons behind career gaps, how to address them effectively on your resume and share expert tips to help you make the most of your time away from the workforce.
- Understand and explain career gaps in a positive light.
- Use strategies such as staying active, building your network & gaining relevant experiences to turn gaps into assets.
- Confidently discuss career gaps in your resume, cover letter, and job interviews by focusing on the positives gained during that period.
The Implications of Resume Gaps: Decoding Employers’ Perceptions
Career gaps on resumes can raise concerns for employers, as they may question a candidate’s commitment, performance, and reliability. However, the perception of career gaps as red flags have evolved, and many employers now understand that there can be valid reasons for such gaps, such as taking time off for personal reasons, education, or reskilling.
Most of us have faced employment gaps at some stage. It’s not usually the gap itself that raises red flags for hiring managers, but rather the absence of an explanation. Yet, trying to explain most career gaps in your resume is a mistake. Hence, it can be a Catch-22. Unraveling the reasons for your career break and learning how to justify employment gaps without harming your job search is essential.
The key to successfully explaining employment gaps is to focus on the positives and how they have contributed to your personal and professional development. By reflecting on what happened during the gap and the lessons learned or achievements gained, you can spin it in a positive light and address any worries that potential employers may have. Yet, how and where you do this is critical, and the strategies for how to do this might be as varied as the reasons for career gaps vary.
Unpacking the Reasons for Employment Gaps
Career gaps can occur for various reasons, ranging from voluntary, such as taking a sabbatical for personal growth or family leave to support a loved one, to involuntary, such as unemployment due to company downsizing or medical issues.
Some common reasons for career gaps in resumes include:
Job Search: Time spent looking for a new job after being laid off or deciding to leave a previous position
Layoffs: Being laid off due to organizational changes or economic downturns
Education: Going back to school to pursue further education or to acquire new skills
Family Care: Taking time off to care for family members, such as children or elderly parents
Personal Illness or Injury: Recovering from a personal illness or injury
Travel or Self-Discovery: Taking time off to travel, discover oneself, or reassess career choices
Parenting: Taking time off to raise children or expand a family
Sabbatical: Taking a planned break or sabbatical from work for personal or professional development
Regardless of the cause, realizing that employment gaps are often a part of life and having a valid explanation for them can alter their perception by hiring managers.
One example of a career gap that may be tricky to explain is when it isn’t so much a gap as it is irrelevant job experience below your credentials, which can be seen as a step-down or backward in your career. In such cases, it is essential to remember that a resume is a marketing document and does not always need to include every experience. Instead, it should include relevant experiences, and if you can’t reframe the job in this light, it may be better to leave a small gap in your resume chronology.
Another example involves continuing education, which is typically viewed as a positive reason for a career gap. Pursuing further education demonstrates your dedication to personal growth and acquiring new skills, making it an easy-to-explain reason for a break in employment.
Strategies for Explaining Gaps in Your Work History
Addressing career gaps effectively involves a combination of preparation, choosing the right resume format, and focusing on the skills gained during the resume gap. By taking the time to examine your employment history and identify any gaps that may need explanation, you can create a strategy that highlights your strengths and minimizes any potential concerns.
Keeping abreast of industry trends and knowledge is also crucial, as it shows employers your commitment to staying current in your field. By engaging in professional development activities and gaining positive experiences during your career gap, you’ll be better equipped to address potential concerns from prospective employers.
Remember, the goal is not to hide your career gaps but to address them in a way that showcases your resilience, adaptability, and commitment to personal and professional growth. By doing so, you can effectively explain employment gaps and turn them into assets during your job search.
Preparing for Your Return to Work
Even during a career gap, it’s essential to remain proactive and engaged in your industry, ensuring a smoother transition when you’re ready to re-enter the workforce. Whether your hiatus is a few months or a year, your commitment to professional growth shouldn’t wane.
One effective approach is to immerse yourself in professional development opportunities. Pursuing certifications, attending workshops, or becoming an active member of professional associations can keep your industry knowledge sharp and your connections robust.
Volunteering is another avenue to consider. Not only does it showcase your dedication to community service, but it also equips you with additional skills and experiences that can be invaluable in your professional journey. Moreover, it’s an excellent way to network, opening doors to potential job offers in your field.
For those inclined towards flexibility, consider contract work or freelancing. This not only bridges the employment gap on your resume but also provides a platform to hone and diversify your skill set. (For those new to freelancing, we offer specialized resume templates tailored to your needs.)
In essence, navigating a career gap successfully involves:
- Industry Engagement: Stay updated with the latest trends, news, and innovations.
- Networking: Foster relationships with industry professionals to gain insights, knowledge, and potential job leads.
- Skill Acquisition: Seek experiences, whether through volunteering or contract work, that enhance your professional appeal.
Remember, a career gap doesn’t signify stagnation. With the right strategies, it can be a period of growth, reflection, and preparation, positioning you as an even more attractive candidate to future employers.
Resume Formats to Minimize Gaps
When addressing career gaps on your resume, your chosen resume format can play a crucial role. A functional or hybrid resume format can help minimize the emphasis on dates and instead focus on your skills and accomplishments, making it easier to explain gaps in employment.
The goal isn’t to hide anything. Rather, to emphasize all the positives you have to offer so that employers see these positive selling points before they notice any work history gaps.
While a functional format resume can be helpful, you must carefully weigh the advantages of the format against the potential cons. While a functional format resume does a great job of bringing positives to the forefront of the resume while downplaying dates, the functional format is not usually the best choice for ATS compatibility. Additionally, a functional format is often a red flag to employers who will assume you are hiding something negative with it, and might scrutinize your resume more carefully for gaps than they would have otherwise.