Getting Over the Gap
Framing a gap on your resume is intimidating whether you’ve been out of the workforce for months or years. It’s likely that you accomplished incredible things and learned plenty of new skills during your time away – but sadly there’s a stigma about resume gaps, and recruiters and employers often pass up well-qualified candidates without consistent work history.
Even if you’re secretly hoping that no one notices the blank spot on your resume, it’s imperative to effectively and persuasively position your career gap on paper. Just consider these stats from a 2019 ResumeGo survey:
- People with work gaps had a 45 percent lower chance of receiving job interviews than those without.
- Interviews significantly decreased for people with work gaps of three or more years.
- People who gave a reason for their employment gap received close to 60 percent more interviews than those who did not – and those who said they received additional training or education ended up with the highest callback rate.
Don’t let the statistics scare you off – it’s important to be aware of potential challenges during your post-break job search, but you are entirely capable of landing the job you want. Here are some proven ways to help your resume rise to the top of the pile after a long break.
Tip 1: Be strategic about what’s included on your resume
This is a helpful tip in general but it especially applies to “returners” (those coming back after a long break). Highlight the work experience that matters most – don’t be tempted to point out odd jobs or unrelated part-time gigs even if they help fill in the gap.
If you worked on projects or had a part-time job in your field during the gap, then by all means, point that out. It’s even better if you can provide something tangible – a report you created, a tool you built or something else that demonstrates your knowledge and expertise. As you craft your resume, focus on measurable accomplishments: increased sales by X percent, helped X number of clients accomplish XYZ, etc. Employers love to see concrete figures that demonstrate your worth.
Tip 2: Talk in years, not months
You can subtly but effectively soften the edges of a short career break by listing your employment dates in the [Year] format instead of the [Month][Year] format. Here’s an example:
November 2018-May 2019
As you can tell, blurring the edges by leaving out the months softens the gap. Of course if you’re asked to elaborate on those dates during an interview, be honest – but there’s no need to volunteer those specifics on your resume.
Tip 3: Use your gap wisely
We don’t all have the benefit of planning our career gaps – sometimes life strikes unexpectedly and we’re forced to leave work because of a tragedy or an immediate need. But no matter where you are in your gap, strengthen your resume by educating yourself and creating something impressive. For example, it’s practically free to build a blog on a subject related to your industry – and even if your blog doesn’t make a dime, it’s still an example of hard work and talent.
Education is another way to help stand out from the crowd – remember that statistic from earlier about callback rates being much higher for returners with education? Getting another degree isn’t always an option, but you can gain other relevant training through workshops, certifications and stand-alone classes.
Lastly, volunteering is a great way to fill your career gap. Align yourself with an organization in your field and see if you can handle their social media, write articles, plan events or assist in other ways. Network and let people know that you want to get back to work – it’s possible you’ll gather some great future references simply by volunteering time and energy…which leads to our next tip:
Tip 4: Get References
Make an effort to stay connected to former employers, colleagues and recruiters. Thanks to social media it’s easy to drop a birthday note or a holiday greeting to anyone you’d like to stay in touch with. And if you see a promising opportunity to help someone personally or professionally, do it – you never know what can happen when you take initiative!
Tip 5: Stay Positive
If asked about your gap during an interview, speak carefully. Don’t position it as something that was forced upon you (even if it was). Consider the difference in these two phrases:
“Yes, you’re correct, I didn’t have a job outside of the house that year. I had to take care of a sick family member and that required a lot of my time and energy, so I wasn’t able to work at that time.”
“Yes, during that year I was caring for an ill family member, and I’m grateful that I had the chance to provide that compassionate service. With that time I was also able to accomplish [project, volunteer work, etc].”
The second explanation highlights your good qualities instead of focusing on limitations. It’s admirable to raise children, care for the sick and to make sacrifices – even the most intimidating interviewers are likely to acknowledge that. Having a positive attitude about your experiences and highlighting the good is a smart practice, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s undoubtedly tough to jump into the job search after a long break. There are all kinds of events, services and programs built around trying to help returning job seekers, but the best tool you have is your determination and unique skills – don’t be afraid to get out there and claim what you want.