When you’re looking for a new job, conventional wisdom has always been that a gap on a resume, regardless of the reason, is a red flag to employers. Employers want to hire individuals with a solid employment history, one free of any significant time between jobs or evidence of job hopping.
While many employers do still have some concerns about applicants with gaps on their resumes, research and recent trends indicate that it might not be the death knell to a job search that it once was. Not only have economic trends, i.e., the Great Recession of 2008, affected many individuals’ employment histories, but there’s also a growing acceptance of alternative paths and experiences in one’s career. In other words, taking time off to raise a family, earn an advanced degree, or even explore a passion is no longer viewed as detrimental to your candidacy, but in some cases, might even be a benefit.
The key to successfully using a gap to your advantage – or at a minimum, keeping it from being a liability, is to be honest and forthcoming about why you have a cap in your experience. Downplaying or attempting to hide to the gap won’t do you any favors, and could even take you out of the running.
Why You Should Be Honest
If you are surprised that being upfront is the best way to deal with an employment gap, you aren’t alone. Researchers at Vanderbilt University were also surprised when their study indicated that women who told interviewers that they took time off to raise a family were 30-40 percent more likely to be hired than equally-qualified candidates who did not provide that information. Employers vastly preferred those female candidates who explained their resume gaps, leading the researchers to conclude that providing any explanation for your absence from the workforce, even if that time was not spent on career-related activities, is better than no explanation at all.
Not only does being honest increase the likelihood of receiving a job offer, but it can also prevent speculation on the part of the employer. Many employers are afraid to ask about employment gaps for fear of running afoul of fair employment laws (for instance, questions about gaps could be construed as questions related to family life, which are prohibited) so they try to gather information in other ways, or they make assumptions. Those assumptions may not always be flattering or accurate, so therefore it’s best to be upfront and honest.
Handling a Gap on Your Resume
Because your resume is the document that will get you in the door for an interview in the first place, it’s smart to address your gap from the outset. If you have a significant gap of a decade or longer, you may want to consider resume services for help, as a resume expert can help you choose exactly the right words and format to highlight your skills and draw attention away from the gap.
In most cases, the best approach to addressing a gap is to choose a functional style resume. Rather than highlighting progressively increasing responsibility, as a chronological resume would, a functional resume puts the spotlight on your skills and achievements, showing employers what you can bring to the table. Think about what you have done during the time you’ve been out of work. Volunteer work, board positions, freelance work, continuing education – all can be included to show that you’ve stayed in the loop and continued to build your skills.
Most importantly, though, show employers that even though you may not have been employed for some time, you have kept abreast of changes in the industry and that you are prepared to address current challenges and use current methodologies and technology. One reason that employers may be reluctant to hire someone with a gap is a concern that the candidate isn’t up to speed with current trends or hasn’t accepted changed, so you need to provide reassurance that you are prepared for today’s workplace.
It’s also important to avoid being apologetic. Be confident in who you are and the decisions that you have made. An apologetic or negative attitude toward your circumstances will come through in your resume, and send the wrong message to employers. Stay positive.
Resume gaps are common, and they don’t have to be bad news for your job search. Be honest and forthright, and focus on what you can do, not what you haven’t done, and you’ll have a better chance at getting the job of your dreams.