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