Managing Gaps on Resumes

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Source: Center for Women

Most of us have been there: we need to explain a gap on our resume either due to unemployment or a conscious decision to take time away. Maybe you want to take a year off to explore the world, or five years to be with your child before he goes to school. Maybe you just need a break because you’re overworked and overwrought.

Everybody has these moments, and some people are fortunate to be able to make it happen.

So what happens when you decide to wade back into the work world? How do you manage your resume? And how do you talk about these gaps should you get an interview?

Luckily, there are many, many websites that discuss this very issue (for the full list please refer to the end of this post), but most of the message seems to be the same.

Writing the Resume

1. Format Dates on Your Resume: Instead of using work dates that include months, just use the year. This can help explain hide shorter gaps.

2. Highlight Parallel Experiences: Mention any online training, professional development, volunteer work that may relate to the current position for which you are applying (1).

3. Don't Put Parenting as a Job: Even if you took time off to be a parent, don’t put it as part of your resume.

4. Briefly Explain the Gap in a Cover Letter: This is a personal choice. I don’t really see the need to include that in all times, because sometimes it is just highlighting the issue. However, if your gap has been particularly long, (generally over 2 years) it may be worth mentioning in your resume, just to get in front of the situation (2). Be careful not to expressly mention time taken off for personal illness with details, because it may suggest you are a high risk employee. Instead be vague – use phrases “personal” or “family” reasons. Leveraging somebody who works on resumes may be useful in situations like these.

Managing the Interview (3)

1. Be Prepared: People are going to notice gaps on your resumes. They won’t always ask you about it, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention it. In fact, many sites recommend getting in front of it (4).

2. Be Honest: Don’t lie about why you took time off. Don’t go into too much detail either, but it’s perfectly reasonable to explain that you took time off for personal reasons, or you were spending time raising your child. According to a study completed by Joni Hersh, “Those who revealed the personal information were 30 to 40 percent more likely to be chosen than those without.” (5)

3. Be Brief: Don’t explain too much why you weren’t in the work force. The important thing is to address the gap, but then move on and focus on the job and your qualifications. From everything that I have read, it sounds like it’s not a matter of if you will be discriminated against, but when. By not focusing on the issue too long, you’re being direct but also mitigating exposure. Unfortunately, there is just no good way to eliminate all judgement about your time-off.

4. Explain Your Fit: You’ll need to emphasize how you’ve managed to stay up on your training while you’ve been away. Discuss any sort of relevant freelance projects, training, any valuable skills that relate that you’ve learned on your time off. (6). Be careful from focusing too much on skills that emphasize parenting (or domestic management). Apparently, it can backfire if the person interviewing you is also a parent.

5. Be Positive: That’s how you should approach the interview. It doesn’t always mean things go well. In fact, there are some people who will not respect you taking time off for any reason. But it’s important to be positive about the time off you had, and not get bogged down into the technical details.

The best option for managing gaps in your resume however, is to simply not have them. While that doesn’t mean working full-time, it does mean keeping up to date with what’s going on in your industry, publishing things (like blogs) related to your field, or continuing education if you can find the time (7). It doesn’t have to be a full-time commitment, or even a weekly commitment, but if you can manage it, definitely try to make it happen.

So there are some suggestions! Of course, my personal suggestion is to become independently wealthy, and then you won’t ever have to go back to work. I’m still working on that one though….

References:

  1. Monster: Resume tips for full-time parents returning to work
  2. How to Explain Unemployment on Your Resume
  3. Monster: Fill in Your Resume Gaps
  4. DailyMail: Should women explain gaps in their resume after raising a family?
  5. NYTimes: A Child Care Gap in the Résumé: Whether to Explain or Not
  6. BigInterview: When You Have Gaps In Your Resume
  7. WSJ: How Women Should Explain Gaps in Their Resume
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