One of the most common worries many come to me with is a lengthy gap on their resume. You might find my thoughts on this matter helpful whether you too are in this situation or like me, you’re in the business of providing help and support to those seeking employment. Let me just say here and now that I’d absolutely love to hear your own thoughts in the comments section; perhaps the advice you’d give yourself or what your personal experience has been – the good and the bad.
To begin then. When I first hear someone tell me they are worried about a lengthy gap on their resume I ask them why; not why there’s a gap but rather why they are worried about the gap. What I’m listening for are a couple of things. The first is hearing what they believe an employer’s possible objections are in order to hear if they accurately understand just what the gap implies. The second thing I’m listening for is actually the tone of their voice. It’s in the tone of the voice that I will detect anything and everything from utter despair and hopelessness through to defiance and bitterness. Most are somewhere in the middle actually; does it SOUND like they really want to work and do they FEEL they need to overcome this barrier in order to get a job offer. The tone is perhaps as important or in some case more so than what they say.
Now of course I want to also hear the truth when it comes to what they’ve been doing with their time during the gap, as it is often unexplained on their resumes. My direction to them is to tell me the blunt honest truth so that in that knowledge, I can determine the way to craft a few potential strategies in responding to the problem.
For a problem it is. Anything that undermines a person’s self-confidence and stands between themselves and their goal – in this case an employment offer at the conclusion of a successful interview – is a problem. One thing I’ve found over and over by the way is that when you hang on to your problems, you don’t often resolve them as quickly as when you share them with someone who has the knowledge and experience to provide you with options for reaching a resolution. Be selective with whom you share your problems of course, for telling anyone and everyone about your problems is seldom a good idea.
So, exactly how lengthy a period or gap are we talking about? For someone used to working their whole life, a 1 year gap can be their big worry. In the case of another, it could be 8 – 10 years. The length of time we’re talking about here is critical to know because there’s your perspective and the perspective of a potential employer, and they may not be the same shared view.
One positive thing about a gap in the present day is that it’s far less uncommon that in years past. Today more people transition from job to job, companies relocate, others downsize and reduce their workforce. More people find themselves as primary caregivers for aging parents because quite frankly medical advancements mean longer life spans than in years past. Sheer numbers alone play a factor too; with more people than ever working or looking for work, the odds of many of those people being out of work (after all there’s just so many jobs to go around) is up.Then there’s the people who were off due to physical or mental health issues.
One thing good to know is whether you’re unemployment was due to an issue which no longer exists. Caring for an aging parent that has passed away, or raising children who are now school age are two examples.
When I listen to a person tell me about the reason why they have this unemployment period, I always ask them what they DID do during that time, rather than what they didn’t do. Did they do any self-improvement activities such as volunteering, take a course of any kind, address some personal health issue such as losing weight, having a surgery, etc. All this information is what I’m after before I can offer up a few potential strategies on how to respond to the issue when it comes up in an interview.
My goal in responding to the person asking me for help is to provide them with three potential angles to choose from in addressing their gap. From these, they can best pick one that they feel most confident and comfortable with owning for themselves. It is remarkable to see first hand how having a good response can shift a person from dreading the question about their gap to hoping it actually comes up in the interview.
Once a strategy is selected, I’ll ask that person 3 questions which are:
- Explain this gap on your resume.
- What did you do between (date) and (date)?
- I want to talk about this gap…
Yep, any version of the same issue asked 3 times. This gives you the chance to hear what the person actually says and gives them the chance to practice until they feel they own it and can confidently reply. With confidence, not only does the answer given satisfy the gap, the body language, facial expression and tone of voice come across as assertive.