Got Gaps in your Work History? Don’t Despair!

Employment at one company until retirement has become the exception in the US, rather than the rule. With the evolution of a global labor market, the 9/11 crisis, and the 2008 economic meltdown followed by “The Great Recession”, “job security” has literally disappeared. These trends have also led many companies to cut their workforce, leaving downsized workers with gaps in their employment history and/or long periods of unemployment.  

Gaps in work history can occur for other situations besides the economy, such as family/maternity leave, caring for an ill relative or returning to school full-time. Whatever the reasons might be, the challenge for jobseekers is how to skillfully handle these gaps on resumes, social media profiles and in conversations with hiring managers, without jeopardizing their candidacy.

Given today’s economy, hiring managers are usually more accepting of gaps than in previous years. Even so, it’s wise to show them that you haven’t been idle during a period of unemployment. You want to confidently answer the questions: “Why did you leave your last employer?” or “What were you/have you been doing between Job A and Job B?” 

Start by filling in the gaps on your resume and on social media profiles with temporary or contract work, survival jobs or volunteer assignments. Here are some examples from my client case studies: 

  • Educational Programs:  An unemployed business analyst returned to school full time for a certificate in data warehousing. She moved the “Education” section to the first page of her resume, then listed the name of her school, the program she was enrolled in, the core curriculum and expected graduation date.
  • Caregiver: Several clients who have been primary caregivers for loved ones have listed this as an actual job on their resumes. To properly serve in this capacity, they had to resign from their full-time jobs.
  • Contract/Temp Work: A laid-off accountant registered with several contract/temp firms. Because one agency kept him busy, he listed it on his resume as his current employer and wrote key bullet points about what he accomplished for each client company.
  • Survival Jobs: A downsized marketing exec took a job in retail to bring in money while searching for another marketing position. He created an “Other Employment” section on his resume, and listed the retail position there.
  • Volunteer Work: One client handled a major campaign for a high-profile foundation as a volunteer and listed that as her current status on LinkedIn.
  • Workforce Re-entry: One woman had a nine-year gap when she took time off of work to raise a family. She inserted “Resigned to start a family” as one of the bullet points in her last job; then she listed the volunteer/leadership activities she was involved in while being a stay-at-home mom.   

On LinkedIn, you can even set your current status to: “In Transition,” then include a few sentences to explain that you are actively engaged in job search.

For interviews, prepare scripts to back up your gaps. Your scripts should be short, matter-of-fact and close-ended, e.g., “I was downsized because my company closed down the department I worked in.” <period> Then, redirect the interview about why you are perfect for this job.

Gaps in work history are part of life. When you have a strategy in place for handling them, you’ll overcome a major hurdle in confidently marketing yourself for the job you want.

* This post originally appeared in the May 2012 Edition of Career E-News.

 © 2012 Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, The Career Success Coach. All Rights Reserved

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    OMG, There’s A Mistake on my Resume!

    You’ve worked hard on your resume, from writing, rewriting and editing, through proofreading and a final spell-check. You’ve even had others review it and give the “OK” to send it out. Then – <gasp> -you discover a glaring typo on your resume, which you didn’t catch before sending it to recruiters and posting it several job boards! 

    Your biggest fear is that hiring managers will find this error and discard your resume, based on this common premise: “If you make a mistake on your résumé, you’ll probably make mistakes on the job.” Before you chastise yourself for this oversight, you may be surprised to know that minor typos aren’t always noticed or viewed as disqualifiers by hiring managers.

    “You can’t avoid every mistake and recruiters do make allowances under certain circumstances,” says Kris Maher in the article “Strategies for Avoiding Common Resume Errors.”  Besides this, a survey by Career Directors International revealed that only 50% of the respondents said that typos can ruin your chances [at getting the job] and the other 50% said that one or two small typos typically do not matter. Even so, the survey’s final comments stated: “Because you never know how an employer may take an error as a reflection of the candidate, it’s always best to proofread not once but two or three times!”

    For an error-free resume, follow these proofreading tips: 1) Print out your resume and read it out loud; 2) Read each line backwards (right to left); 3) Scan it diagonally (like an X) from both directions. You’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you don’t catch (including words that are spelled correctly but used in a grammatically incorrect context) by simply reading it silently from left to right. 

    Two more critical proofreading hints: 1) Don’t rely on a spell-checker to proofread for you; 2) Be sure your contact information is 100% correct–including your email address and phone numbers! 

    As for resumes with errors which you’ve already sent out, use these damage control strategies to get corrected copies to hiring managers and boost your candidacy:  

    1) Resend a corrected version to target recipients; but don’t point out the error. If you’ve kept good records about where you’ve sent your resume, it will be easy to recall who to send it to. Include a short note that you can edit for each situation:

    “Dear Recruiter: Earlier this month, I emailed you a copy of my resume in consideration of career opportunities that might be available within your client companies. Attached is an updated copy, so please discard the earlier version. Thank you.”

    2) Refresh your resume on job boards, online applications and social networking sites. Besides providing the corrected resume, you’ll get higher rankings in the search engines, because they will treat the update as fresh content.

    3) Reframe the situation from a “sales” standpoint. Resending or reposting your resume can work to your advantage. Salespeople know that it takes six or more attempts to reach prospects before getting an appointment. Since job searching can be likened to “selling your skills” to employers, another “ping” of your resume presents another opportunity to connect.

    You should always proofread your resume carefully before sending it out. If you implement the strategies above, you’ll avoid embarrassing mistakes and keep your job search on-course.

    © 2012 Joellyn Wittenstein Schwerdlin, The Career Success Coach. All Rights Reserved

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