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.

Looking For Work?


Looking for a job or the next step in your career can be a stressful experience. While you may want a new position, you’re not at all looking forward to the résumé writing, online applications, rejections, flat-out being ignored altogether when you apply for a job you really want and then of course the interview process. The rejection and ups and downs of the job search thing is frustrating, nerve-wracking and for what? A low-paying job doing something you’ll dread, working for people who don’t care about you but only how much they can wring out of you before you quit or your fired?

It doesn’t have to be this way, nor should it. If this has been or is your experience, no wonder your desire to look for a new job is pretty weak. Let’s look at some ideas to keep motivated during this search.

First of all it’s a good idea – even if it seems completely obvious – to know why you want a new job. Are you burnt out in your current job, looking to put your recent education to use, looking for a part-time job to supplement your income or perhaps looking for a promotion? Knowing clearly why you want a new job is critical because in the moments when you feel frustrated and just want to chuck it in, you’ll want to remind yourself why you started looking in the first place.

A successful job search is planned out just like any meaningful project. Whether it’s building a house, running an ad campaign, raising funds for a charity or designing marketing materials, planning is critical. Too many people unfortunately start their job search randomly looking at employment websites. That shouldn’t be your first step.

After you’ve determined why you want a new job, assess what you’re starting with. Anyone starting a journey takes stock of their supplies and identifies both what they’ve got and what they’ll need to acquire. In the case of a job search, what are your assets? Examine your education, past and current experience including paid and volunteer work. Objectively take stock of your job-specific and transferable skills, your financial resources and the extent you’re willing to travel to work.

Now to decide what kind of work to actually pursue. Looking at that list of your assets, what jobs are you qualified for now? Do any of these jobs appeal to you? If so, great! If not, are you willing to invest time and money upgrading your education to acquire the academic qualifications you’ll need to compete for the kind of jobs you might really want? This could involve some research with local College or University Guidance Counsellors to help you out.

By the way, if you feel you’ve got time and youth on your side, don’t fret about finding the perfect job that checks off all your wants and desires. If you’re light on experience, there’s a lot of sense in doing a variety of jobs to help decide what brings you happiness; what you like and don’t like. A variety of jobs gives you perspective, might even appeal to an employer if you place yourself later as having broad first-hand experience. So if you can’t settle on THE job, relax and give yourself the green light to explore several jobs for say, the next 5 years.

Now what’s important to you? Are you after job satisfaction, money, a certain kind of environment to work in or a job that involves travel? What do you imagine is the kind of boss you’ll work best with? There are many factors that you should look at to find what’s important to you and if you need help doing this, get yourself connected with a local Employment Coach, Employment Counsellor or Career Specialist. These are the people who can best help you look at the factors that will ultimately bring you happiness in the work you do.

So with some job or career loosely or firmly in mind, turn to looking at the organizations that have these kind of positions. Taking the time to see how they differ from each other, what they rank and value, the atmosphere they create for those that work there is time well spent. You don’t want to find you love the job but loathe working in the atmosphere that surrounds it.

At this point you’ve got a career or job goal in mind that you’re skills and experience align with, and you’ve identified one or more companies that you’d like to be a part of. Now is the time to look at applying. Just because there are no current postings doesn’t mean there are no opportunities. Networking and initiating conversations with those who do what you want to do, work where you want to work and hire people like you is essential and often overlooked. Get known.

Once you’re connected, keep focused. Sure go ahead and ask about opportunities but do seek advice on what you could be doing in the here and now to strengthen your chances when a position is advertised. Positioning yourself to succeed shows them your keen and gives you momentum when otherwise you’d feel stalled.

Whether your 25, 45 or 60, take stock of what you’ve got, what you want and why you want it.

The steps above will take some time to transition through; varying for each person. Skip a step as unnecessary and you might be looking for some time.