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Gaps in Resumes – Do They Matter Anymore?

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Everyone knows that unemployment happens.

Will that gap land your resume in the trash pile? Are you going to be branded for life?

Probably not.

The Dot Com Bubble. The Great Recession. Taking off a few years to be with your family. It’s not uncommon to have a gap in your employment history.

One gap a few years back may barely register with a hiring manager. But multiple gaps and short tenures at your previous employers may begin to raise eyebrows.

Don’t Try to Hide Your Gaps
When formatting your resume, it may be tempting to camouflage your gaps by only presenting the years you were employed and leaving off the months (e.g., 2011 – 2014). 

Address your gaps head on in the cover letter. Say what you were doing: raising children, going back to school, travelling, etc.

What if You Weren’t Doing Anything
That’s a trickier scenario. If you’ve been out of work for two or three months, it is time to volunteer, take a class, consult or do something else you can proudly state on your resume. It shows you have initiative and keep active.

But what if you really did nothing for seven months? You may need to dig deep to find the positive angle on this. But be sure to have an answer ready and include a sentence or two explanation in your cover letter.

In a worst-case scenario a prospective employer may think you’ve had a jail stint or there is a problem that has caused various employers to pass on you.

What Multiple Gaps Look Like
Gaps between each job signal that maybe you are quitting on the spot in a moment of fury without having anything else lined up. Or perhaps it shows a trend where you are dismissed repeatedly for performance or absenteeism issues.

No matter what the truth is, the hiring manager may picture the worst-case scenario.

A Skills-Focused Resume
This format is organized by skill sets rather than chronologically. For instance a proofreader might convey a specialization as in the example below:

Senior Proofreader for Consumer Print Magazines

  • Was sole person responsible for sign-off on final proofs for 28pg Cape Canaveral Magazine
  • Adeptly managed a team of three proofreaders for Friday Nights, a weekly 48pg magazine with a circulation of 72,000
  • Under immovable deadlines, proofread up to 22 manuscripts of short fiction each week for The Cascader

What not to do
Don’t say you were on sabbatical, unless you well and truly were. Anything else is “time off.” Don’t say you were consulting if you didn’t do a single project or have any clients.

If you took six months off to recharge after working 75-hour work weeks for five years, few people would fault you for it. But they may wonder if this extended time off will become a pattern you repeat every few years. Ease the hiring manager’s mind that this was a one-time event.

Honesty is the Best Policy
Never lie (this includes stretching the truth) in a job interview or on a resume. If and when the truth comes out after you’ve started working, your employer has clear grounds to terminate you.

Get everything out in the air so you can have peace of mind that you were ethical and transparent at every step. 

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