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Employment gaps are the black sheep of the career world. Nobody wants them and most people try to hide them. But what do you do when the year is out and the employment gap is just too obvious to conceal? You turn it around. Experts say there are many ways to explain employment gaps on your resume. So you can breathe a little easier and interview with confidence.
What’s the Best Way to Address Employment Gaps on a Resume?
According to Ginny Clarke of My Career Mapping, one of the best ways to address employment gaps on a resume is to do it honestly and with confidence.
She says, “Give your gaps a name – if you were in job-search mode and doing freelancing call it that. For example, ‘John Smith, Inc. providing financial consulting services to large and mid-size business, churches, and other non-profit organizations, etc.- Also conducted strategic search for full-time employment, regionally (or nationally or globally).’
This way, you are not calling attention to a gap by hiding it and, just as important, you are prepared to discuss in an interview exactly how productively you spent your time, what you learned from the experience and what led you to this opportunity – with confidence.”
If you took some time off to raise children, instead of using, ‘Stay-at-Home-Mom’, give yourself a more marketable title such as, ‘Household Coordinator’ and then list your skills and responsibilities. Something like, “Managed household of five, coordinated school projects, organized, and budgeted.” When you begin to see and talk about your everyday projects and chores as marketable job skills, it will go a long way in impressing a potential employer.
What’s the Best Way to Address Employment Gaps during an Interview?
When you know the right way to address employment gaps on your resume, you’ll be less tempted to avert your eyes when the inevitable question comes your way. Looking uncomfortable will only make you look guilty or lazy, as though you did nothing constructive with your time. That is not how you want a prospective employer to see you. You know how hard you’ve worked and it’s important to convey this in a positive way.
Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs explains it this way, “Don’t try to avoid the question, but don’t belabor it either. Keep your answer short, to the point, and positive. First, let the employer know that you are passionate about your profession and have not been applying to any and every job, but really focusing your search on roles that you can really add value to. Then, talk about your background and experience, and let the employer know that you understand your competition is tough, but that what sets you apart from other job seekers are x, y, and z.”
This is the time to focus on your skills; what you really bring to the table and what you’ve learned between jobs. If you can show your prospective employer how you’ve grown and learned from your experiences while unemployed you’ll look like a more well-rounded employee and person.
Employers are attracted to people with drive, passion, and commitment. Walk in the door with that attitude and the gap in your employment will quickly become a non-issue.
Why Are Employers Reluctant to Hire Workers with Employment Gaps?
In the past when very few people were unemployed employers thought that if you were out of work you were at fault. Even in this economy there is still a stigma attached to being unemployed.
Aryel Wheeler, Staffing Supervisor of Top Talent Solutions, explains it like this: “Some employers may think that other companies have intentionally passed you up due to something on your resume or from your interview; others might worry that you just weren’t dedicated enough to your job search.”
Wheeler goes on to offer other possible explanations for why employers are so reluctant to hire somebody who has a significant employment gap on their resume. Technology changes fast and with a gap of over a year or more, a prospective employer may be concerned you’re no longer up-to-speed on the latest innovations.
“If someone has been out of work for 6 months or more, it’s possible that the technology or skills necessary to successfully, efficiently do her job have completely evolved since the last time she was employed.”
How Long of an Employment Gap is Considered “Too Long”?
“Given the employment market over the past couple of years, a couple of months in between positions is really not a problem. I would say that periods of unemployment longer than a year start to become more noticeable and harder to sweep under the rug. Once you hit five to six months, you need to start being strategic with your time and decisions so that it tells a good story when it comes to submit your resume or interview,” says Laurie Berenson, President of Sterling Career Concepts LLC
Based on Berenson’s comments, if you’re recently unemployed, you’ve got time. However, for those of you who are still looking past the six month mark, you’ve still got time. You just have to start planning to do more than job-hunting with your time to stay current in the market.
What Should You Do While You’re Looking for Work?
When you suddenly find yourself out of work, you can feel set adrift and at a loss for what to do next. Your first thought might be to contact unemployment or live on your savings while you search for your next job. These are good and necessary strategies. However, it’s important not to overlook some of your other options that will help prevent employment gaps from becoming too wide.
Network, Network, Network
Yes, you can still find a good job in the paper or on a job board. However, in the 21st century, those who know how to network, including social networking, will have the upper hand. This means getting the word out there that you’re looking for work and the type of skills you have. Whenever you can, work your availability into a conversation at your child’s daycare center, your church or in line at the grocery store. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll turn up.
Using social media not only gives you an advantage, it’s also an opportunity to build marketable technological skills in the process. If you’re not on LinkedIn.com join and build your profile today. LinkedIn offers free subscriptions and you can build business relationships with like-minded people that could turn into permanent employment. Your LinkedIn profile is a type of living resume, where you can list your skills and interests and join groups dedicated to finding employment.
Twitter isn’t just for teens, young adults, and celebrities. Anybody can utilize this popular micro-blog to search for employment opportunities by networking with people in their chosen career field. Facebook is another great way to connect with potential employers. You can learn a lot about a potential employer through the company’s social media presence.
Brush Up on Your Skills
In between job searches, take this opportunity to brush up on your skills. This could mean taking a relevant course or two at your local college or joining a temp agency that will let you improve your office skills for free.
Freelance or Consult
What does your skill-set look like? Can you use any of it outside the typical 9-5 job? For example, if you’re primary skills involve customer service or communication; you may be able to offer these skills on a freelance or consulting basis to a local company or through the Internet to someone half-way around the world.
Consider Part-Time or Temporary Employment
This might not be a viable option for all job-seekers; especially those collecting unemployment benefits. However, taking on a part-time job after six months to a year of unemployment will help alleviate those lengthy employment gaps.
Start Your Own Business
Entrepreneurship has increased since the recession. Love arts and crafts? Consider improving your skills and selling your wares to family and friends. One way to branch out is to sell your items on Etsy Perhaps, you’ll open up your own online or brick and mortar shop.
Wild about flowers? Photography? Writing? Believe it or not, the down economy has inspired many job-seekers just like you to take the bull by the horns and turn what they’ve always dreamed of doing into a business.
Also, it’s important to also use some of your down time for actual down-time or you’re liable to end up with some serious stress and anxiety-related health problems.
Michael B. Junge, author of Purple Squirrel: Stand Out, Land Interviews, and Master the Modern Job Market, puts it like this, “I’ve seen people use ‘unexpected downtime’ as an opportunity to take classes, organize events, travel, spend time with kids, learn new languages, and much more. These sorts of activities offer a chance to exercise relevant and useful skills that can be seen as part of the value you bring to an organization. Even if you’re just having fun, bringing something interesting to talk about is a great way to get the other person emotionally engaged.”
Whether you’ve just been laid off or have been on the market for a while now, don’t lose hope. Keep looking for the right job for you. Meanwhile, brush up on your interviewing skills and take a class or two. Remember to keep networking online and off and keep your spirits up.
What Helen Keller said is true, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” Will you be ready when your door opens?