About That Big Gap On Your Resume


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:

  1.  Explain this gap on your resume.
  2.  What did you do between (date) and (date)?
  3.  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.

How Do I Explain A 10 Year Gap?


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Today I sat down with a woman who hasn’t worked in the last ten years. “This is a huge problem for me. I mean, what do I say?” The look she gave me as she asked this question flooded poor self-image, a lack of hope, embarrassment; take your pick.

Well, I replied with the same reply I ask anyone who has been out of work for a period of time. I asked her politely to confide in me and tell me the real reason she’s been out of work so long. You see I have a mindset which is that there isn’t a problem I can’t solve or an issue I can’t strategize for when it comes to overcoming a dreaded question and performing well in an employment interview. That may sound cocky and I don’t mean to. What I mean is that anytime I sit down with someone who presents with a problem – big or small, I go in with a mindset of being able to provide this person with a viable solution at the end. If one doesn’t work, I’ll come up with another possible answer. The one that works for the person I’m helping is the one they choose and the one they feel they can pull off.

Maybe you’ve got a problem issue that you dread coming up in a job interview too. That question that inevitably gets asked just when you thought the interview was actually going well for a change. Take heart, maybe you benefit too.

So the reason? “I raised my girls.” Hmm… I’ve heard this before. Heard it before yes, but never from this woman. And this is crucial for anyone reading this who also helps others with interview preparation. You will hear over and over again the same tough questions people face, but please, never lose sight of the fact that this person sitting before you has never raised this issue of you. If you never lose sight of this and tune in like you’re hearing this for the first time, the person feels so validated and connected with just by your response, they’ll actually tell you more.  And this was the case today.

In just a moment or two, I arrived at the real reason she’d been out of work for 10 years. It went something like this:

“So what’s the real reason you’ve been out of work for 10 years. Tell me.”

“I raised my girls.”

“That was important for you. (Pause) Any other reason?”

“Well, my ex; he was abusive.”

And there it was; the answer to the question. Well, if not THE answer, it was at the very least one possible answer she could consider giving if and when asked. The key in finding out if the answer would work for her is in letting her actually hear it delivered as she might deliver it so she could gauge the strength of the answer. Hence, I asked her to reverse our roles, and pose the question to me as if I was her.

“Okay, so why have you been out of work for 10 years?”

“That’s a fair question and I wish I had a better answer. The truth is I was in an abusive relationship with a controlling partner who refused to allow me to work. He kept me at home raising our children. I’m no longer in that relationship and it took some time to relocate, rebuild my self-confidence; something I’m still working on. I tell you though I’m mentally and physically ready to work and I will arrive each day with a willingness to learn, grateful for the opportunity and you’ll have a worker who does their best.”

“I like it” she said. When I told her this was just one possible way to answer the question and offered to give her other suggestions, she stopped me. This one resonated with her because of the honesty, and she felt for the first time she wasn’t on the spot to make something up, like totally fabricated employment, which she said she’d been told to do by someone else.

Do you know how I could tell this answer will work for her? I read her face. Whereas I’d seen low self-image, hopelessness and embarrassment at the outset, now I saw hope, possibilities, relief.

Now, here’s the hard part if you yourself have a sticky situation that makes answering some interview question a major problem. You have to find someone you can confide the truth in – whatever it is. Only when I know the real reason behind your problem can I offer up a possible resolution that you might adopt. If you hold back on that truth, any possible solution will be based on what you share, for how could it be based on what is kept hidden?

So, criminal record, abuse, fired, exploited…what’s your issue? What is the question you dread in an interview? Whatever you fear won’t be diminished until you come up with a solid response that puts fear in its place. The only way to come up with that solid response is to lay it out and that takes courage.

For the record, I’m confident that wherever you are in the world as you read this, there is someone with the empathy, understanding and most importantly the expertise to guide you and counsel you through your own situation.

Reach out in your neck of the woods and all the best my friend.

 

About That Gap On Your Resume


When you’ve been out of work for some time, one of your concerns is going to be that large gap on your résumé. And why is that a concern? Primarily because you know it’s going to be a concern for the people who are going to be mulling over hiring you versus those you’re competing with.

You should expect some questions which ask you to share what you’ve done with yourself during the present gap. Now there are many things you could say in reply, but one of the poorest things would be to shrug your shoulders and say, “Not much really.” That kind of response isn’t going to impress anyone, let alone someone considering hiring you. The thing is though, what if that’s the truth?

Well, you certainly can’t change what’s happened in the past; after all it’s called the past for a reason. You can however, do something in the present which will allow you to improve your answer in your future interviews. So rather than feeling bad about having not done much, feel better about choosing to do something now.

What can you do aside from get a job to fill in gaps on your résumé you ask? Excellent question and I’m so glad you asked!

Volunteer your time. Donating your time to support a cause can be immensely beneficial in a number of ways. For starters, yes you get to fill in the gap on your résumé with a new experience. From your first shift wherever it is you give of yourself, you’ll be establishing a relationship with someone in charge of supervising you and that person is your future reference possibly. But there’s more… You’ll feel good. Suddenly you have purpose again; you’ll feel appreciated and valued when you show up. You’ll also be practicing skills that may have otherwise started to rust, such as customer service if you work with the public, communication skills, teamwork skills and you’re going to find you enjoy being productive.

Upgrade your education. Whether it’s going back to finish your grade 12 or that one course that would complete your College Diploma or University Degree, now might be a great time to invest in yourself and complete what you started years ago. No, it’s not a waste of time, nor is it too expensive to consider doing while you’re out of work. It might just be a spark that changes your future and ignites some passion into your soul where you thought the fire had long been extinguished. You’ll have a reason to get up and get out, charge your little brain cells in ways that have been dormant, and you’ll finish off with a great sense of accomplishment. Day school or night school, full-time or part-time, online or in-class, there’s so many options!

Get healthy. I know! I know! Being out of work you’ve developed some unsavory habits and that lethargy has made you feel overly tired, the muscle tone you had once upon a time has disappeared and perhaps your weight has changed more or less; literally speaking. In short, you might not feel as good about your health or appearance as you used to. Okay, but again, stop beating yourself up about the choices you made in the past and resolve to make some better ones now. Go for walks and turn those walks into walks and short jogs. Turn those short jogs into longer ones or even a run or two. Eat better and healthier; don’t buy at the grocery store what you’ll feel bad about eating if it shows up in the pantry or fridge at home. See the Doctor and Dentist now and address the things which will help you ultimately feel better and present yourself better to others.

Pick up part-time work. Choosing to look for a part-time job and one outside your field doesn’t have to be an admission of failure. In fact, picking up a part-time job can have immense benefits. First of all it does fill the gap on the résumé with something. You can make the case to a future employer that you filled the gap with a job to stabilize your finances but you’re applying for whatever the job is you’re interviewing for because you want to get back into your field of training and experience. That part-time job will get you back into a routine gradually if you’re not up to a full-time job and being accountable every day.

Now the other thing you can do is some self-assessment. There’s free stuff online if you want to search personality assessments, Multiple Intelligences or Career Exploration. You can also enlist an Employment Coach or Counsellor, drop into a College or University Guidance office and get help with your career direction. If your issue is figuring out what to actually do in life, how are you going to do it going about it the way you’ve been going about it? Right! Time for a change in strategy.

Your cover letter when applying for work is a great place to explain the gap in your résumé. When you do get interviews, you already know that they must be understanding of your gap or you wouldn’t be invited in for the interview. This can increase your confidence in addressing what otherwise would be a frustrating and embarrassing question to answer.

Lots of options to consider and with 2019 days away, now is the time to act.

The Resume Gap Question


“Now, I noticed there’s a gap on your résumé of 4 years. Could we talk about that?”

Up until this point in the interview, you’d been feeling pretty confident and self-assured. You’d been answering questions put to you by providing real examples from your past which have demonstrated your strong skills and abilities.  Then this question about that 4 year gap. You feel as if they can look right through you at the truth; it’s like there’s a lie detector strapped to your right arm and it’s about to reveal whatever you say as an attempt at a cover up. This interview that’s been going so well is about to take a nosedive.

Hang on a second. Let’s pause, take a deep breath to get some air into our lungs and relax here for a moment. I can help you with this one and together, we can come up with an answer that you can give with confidence and not ruin your interview. Take another deep breath; in……  and out……

Better? Good. Whenever you are faced with a tough question in a job interview; and this question may be your Achilles heel, remember one basic truth; you and you alone get to decide what you reveal and what you conceal. Now by conceal, I don’t mean lie. If you’re a regular reader of mine, you should know I never advocate you lie in an interview. That being said, you’re not under some obligation to reveal absolutely everything; especially anything you feel may damage your chances.

Now to give you some options from which to choose which will aid you in your own interview, I’d have to know exactly what this gap is all about. The more you tell me – and tell me truthfully – the better able I am to help you craft a plausible and honest answer which will satisfy the person asking the question yet keep you in the running for the job. So please, whomever you are working with yourself to prepare for job interviews, give them the honest answer. Knowing the real reason helps them help you.

One thing it’s fairly safe to assume if you loathe this question, is that this gap has a negative event preceding it. So perhaps you were fired, you were convicted of some crime, you had a mental health issue, you quit your job due to a death of someone near to you, your addiction to drugs or alcohol got out of control and you haven’t been able to get hired since. Might even be, that lately you haven’t even really been interested in applying for work with any real dedication.

Saying any of the above would only seem to kill your chances of getting hired, and telling an outright lie is ethically wrong, so this is your dilemma;  you’re stressed out even thinking about it now and you’re not even in an interview at the moment!

Relax. You’re not in an interview as you say. First off, I want you to hear and understand that many people – more than ever in fact – have had the same problem you have now and have gone on to successfully end their job search by getting hired. You can do this; you will do this. Don’t focus on the problem itself, but rather picture the positive outcome you want; in this case, getting past this one question and being offered the job.

The question is asked to show a problem. That’s the purpose of the question. You do not have to reveal every detail in an answer. If you have something to share which puts you in a bad light, you’ve got options:

  1. Deliver the bad news briefly and honestly. Spend the other 90% of your reply rebuilding their faith in you by pointing to what you’ve done in those 4 years. Mention what you’ve learned, how you’ve changed, what you now appreciate and that whatever happened in the past is exactly that – in the past. No concerns at present to wonder about.
  2. If the situation now has changed; that ailing family member you quit to take care of because you couldn’t care for them and hold down a job has passed on or is now in a nursing home getting the care they need, say so. It’s not something that will keep your job from being number 1 again.
  3. Draw on their empathy if possible. Maybe you quit a job because you were being exploited and the experience left you emotionally frayed. After getting some professional help, you’re now ready to move forward and you’ve got the clearance and support of a professional behind you. Details are not required.
  4. Should you have lost your job due to an addiction, you need to first be honest with yourself; are you able to work without relapsing when the money starts coming in? How are you going to deal with things when you’re stressed and tempted? Be honest with yourself when you decide if you’re ready.

What safeguards do you have in place to assure an employer you’re dependable and will show up physically and mentally prepared to put in the work they are considering hiring you to do? Backup childcare provider in place, siblings to check in on your parents if there’s a problem, support group outside of work?

Remember they like you on paper enough to consider you for this job. Therefore, say nothing that will change that perception in the interview.

Explaining The Gap In Your Resume


So you’re feeling pretty good because you’ve got yourself a job interview! You feel you’re off to a good start having made a really solid first impression, and your advanced preparation has paid off in the first 4 questions they’ve put to you. Just as you feel your confidence growing, one of the interviewers furrows his brow and asks you about a gap in your résumé; those years that seemingly can’t be filled in with work, volunteering or education.

Like any other planning and preparation you do ahead of a job interview, you also need to anticipate as best you can, where you might be exposed or weak. When you look at your résumé with an objective eye, you’ll be able to spot such issues, and a gap will stand out. Remember that you’re likely to be interviewed by people who are experienced interviewers; who dissect resumes on a regular basis, looking for both the strengths someone will bring to the position and potential liabilities.

To best respond to questions about a gap on your résumé, you need to first understand why this is such an issue for some employers. A gap on a résumé could show a variety of potential issues; and by issues, I mean problems. Any number of things could be the reason; a mental health breakdown which required you to quit your job, taking time off to have children and raise a family, being fired and unable to land another position, relocating from one area to another requiring you to quit a job and set up yourself all over again. There could also be time off to go back to school and school didn’t work out. In this latter case, the applicant may not have put school on the résumé because they dropped out of the 3, 4 or 5 year program after 2 years and decided not to put the incomplete schooling on the résumé. The same could be for omitting to include several short-term jobs; positions that didn’t work out and aren’t relevant to the job you’re after now.

Understand that while you know yourself extremely well, the people you’re seated before in a job interview may no absolutely nothing about you other than what they might get from looking you up on social media. When an organization is considering making an investment via hiring you, they want to know as best they can what exactly they are going to receive in return. They know at the moment you’re at your best, both in clothing choices, posture, grooming and of course the way you talk and the content of your answers. It is in the end, a performance of sorts. Questions that probe are designed to get beyond this polished image and get an idea of the real you.

Now if you’ve been off to have a child or two, saying so will be definitely honest, but it will possibly raise new concerns about your absenteeism to care for sick children, attend school functions, and limit the amount of focus you have on your job even – if you’re the type of parent who is going to be having your child check-in with you several times a day when they have a question, get home from school, go to a friend’s house, or even just to chat. Such concerns accelerate if you happen to be a single parent, for now you have no one to share required trips to the school and all those distracting phone calls. It’s not that companies dislike children and are prejudiced against employees that have them but rather, they have a business to run and the business requires employees who are focused on doing their job and consistently present to do it.

If your children are now school-aged and you’ve got a reliable childcare provider – and a back up provider, say so. Address their potential concerns and prove you’re fully aware of the commitment the job before you demands and you’re up for it.

If you took time off to care for someone and that person no longer requires care, say so. Maybe they are now in a long-term care facility being cared for, they’ve passed on, or you’ve got other people providing the care freeing you up to work. Again, you’re attempting to prove that the reason you weren’t working is no longer an issue, and you’re in a place to focus fully on yourself and committing to work.

Now, it could be that you’ve taken more time off from work than you had originally planned. In the case of say, being terminated, needing to rebuild your shattered ego and find some new line of work because your former job was too stressful or you just weren’t very good at whatever it was. While this may be the case, best not to share absolutely everything!

Consider explaining that you took time to look at what direction you wanted the next phase of your work life to look like. Perhaps you gave yourself the gift of time to reassess your strengths and interests and instead of just taking any old job which you weren’t invested in to fill a gap, you researched where you’d be most happy and where your skills and experience would serve you best. In the end, what you learned and discovered is both the job you’re applying to and seated before the person in front of you.

Anticipate the question, prepare your answer.

About This Gap On Your Resume


Have a gap on your résumé? If so, you might be feeling some anxiety heading into the job interview, dreading the moment when the interview peers across the table, looks you squarely in the eye and pleasantly says, “I’m interested to hear what you were doing that explains this gap in time on your résumé.”

So there it is, out in the open; that slap in the face moment when you feel trapped between wanting to tell the truth and knowing if you do your chances of getting this job are gone. There just doesn’t seem to be a good answer to your personal situation. Well, let’s see if we might come up with some helpful suggestions.

Before we get to the content or what you’ll actually say, I urge you to deliver this particular question with confidence. Interviewers you’re no doubt aware, are well-trained to observe people’s body language and facial expressions. Whenever you are telling an outright lie or exaggerating the truth greatly, a person’s body language gives them away.

It’s highly likely that because this question is one you are uncomfortable answering, you might naturally mimic the same body language as those that lie or greatly stretch the truth, and this you want to avoid at all costs. So do your very best to speak with confidence, look the interviewer in the face as you answer the question and squash any sheepishness in your delivery.

The second thing I’d like you to remember is that times have changed. In the past, anyone with a gap in their résumé stood out more. Individuals often worked at companies for decades and there was greater pressure on people to keep working while dealing with personal problems. Things have changed though; it is more common these days to have a gap as more people are experiencing lay-offs, plant restructurings, downsizing and people themselves are just more mobile than ever. Changing jobs is much more common. So it  isn’t necessarily the huge disaster you might think it is to have a gap on a résumé.

Okay so you need a good answer. The key here is to be truthful and at the same time feel good about the answer you deliver. Coming up with a good honest answer can dramatically change the entire interview largely in part because you won’t be waiting in a heightened nervous state for this question. This is going to have a positive impact on the rest of the interview as a result.

Now honestly, to best coach you through this question, I’d need to know – (and so would anyone you are consulting with for help) the real reason for the gap. Knowing the truth helps tremendously to tailor a response that is personal, believable and deliverable. So no matter who you are working with, open up, lay it out and then with the worst on the table, you can together build an answer that you can confidently deliver in the real world.

So, not knowing your specific reason for the gap, here are some common situations: time off to raise a child, previously fired and unable to mentally cope with the experience, marriage breakdown, significant death in the family, uncertainty over career direction. Now you might have one of the above or you might have something else like jail time, caring for an ill family member, recovering from surgery or a health scare or possibly you just stopped looking altogether due to some depression or frustration.

For a number of the answers above, something could have been simultaneously going on in your life; trying to figure out what your next career move would be. There is and always has been a number of people in most people’s lives who unknowingly cause us anxiety asking us constantly what it is we are going to be; what we are going to do with our lives. While we’re busy just trying to stay afloat and cope with things in our Life, we’re just not ready to plan out the road map of our next 30 years when everyone else seems to have their own master plans perfected.

Herein could be part of our answer to the gap period; time spent figuring out what steps to take re. career direction. Could we honestly say something like, “The period in question is time I took to check what it was I really wanted to do moving forward. Rather than take a short-term job which would have robbed me of the time to thoroughly research my next move, I pulled back and put my energy into assessing myself, including my interests, skills and experience. I found that what I really want to do is __________ and after further investigation this organization emerged as a good fit for me personally. This is the reason I sit before you today.”

If this works for you, I’m glad and feel free to extract what you can. You see, an answer like the one above might actually be some of what was really going on even though it’s not the only thing that was going on. You might well have had a personal issue to walk through, but there’s nothing that says you have to share 100% of all the reasons you have a gap on your résumé. Not unless you had to swear on a bible to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth at any rate!