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.

Pre-Interview Personal Check List

Aside from doing your homework and researching the job you’re about to be interviewed for, here are some tips you can easily overlook that could make the difference between making a positive or negative first impression. Read the list, see what you think and make adjustments to your pre-interview routine as you best see fit. All the best to you as you pursue that next position!

  1. Footwear.

Get your shoes out the night before and spend 5 minutes polishing them. All shoe stores sell various polishes and protectants yet many buyers only leave with their shoes. When you sit down in front of interviews your footwear is often front and center; especially if you cross your legs and elevate one over the other, thus raising it directly in their line of sight. The interviewer can infer you don’t put much value in personal appearance if you’re footwear is poorly maintained and if this is you at your best, you might not be the person to represent the company.

2. Socks

Depending on the job you are going for, you can play it conservative and wear solid colours that match your outfit or you can go playful. If you’re unsure, opt for the conservative black, brown, grey etc. This isn’t the time or place to wear two different socks as the interviewer has a limited time period to ask you pertinent questions that relate to the job and one of them isn’t going to be, “What’s with the socks?” Therefore, they’ll be left to wonder if you’re just having fun, showing off your individualism, bucking the establishment or you just generally don’t recognize the occasions when you should dress appropriately.

3. Tattoos And Piercings

The general public once associated people who displayed tattoos as being criminals and sailors, piercings as being for punkers and those into self-mutilation. Today, people in all walks of life have tattoos and they’ve become mainstream. However, you have to use common sense when making up your mind to expose or cover up your personal artwork. Knowing the culture of the company you are applying for, anticipating the reaction of the customers, clients or end-users of the companies services and products can all help guide you in your decision. Of course, the tattoo itself and what it communicates has to be paramount. You can always remove piercings for an interview, or even the job once you’ve got it if it’s important to you and add them back when hired or on your own time.

4. Shirts, Blouses, Pants, Skirts And Dresses

Notice I didn’t include shorts and neither should you. Get out what you’re wearing the night before an interview or if you’ve got your favourite interview outfit, check it out now rather than later. Look for obvious signs of wear and tear such as frayed cuffs and hems. When standing in front of a mirror, have you gained or lost weight and the fit isn’t what it once was? Aside from stains that can come out in a wash, have the garments faded and now look drab? Have you any loose or missing buttons that need sewing?

5. Brush Your Teeth

Whether you’re a smoker or not, brushing your teeth before the interview not only removes any stuck food but can improve your breath and impact your confidence. Head out to a pharmacy or grocery store and pick up a small tube of toothpaste, a small or collapsible brush and a mini bottle of mouthwash. These you can stash in your purse, glove compartment box or even an inner jacket pocket of your coat.

6. Hygiene

Shower, use deodorant and if you’ve got annoying sweat lines under your chest or under your armpits, dust yourself with some baby powder after the shower dry off. The baby powder will help reduce those sweat lines and give you one less thing to worry about. Clean and trim your fingernails; trim the nasal hairs too.

7. Perfume and Cologne

These days someone in the company you are applying to is likely to have some allergy to fragrances. It might even be a company policy that you arrive without a scent; what’s pleasing to you might be deadly to someone else and that someone could be the person prepared to interview you. Some applicants are told that the interview can’t proceed unless they can wash off the fragrance and rescheduling may or may not be possible. Don’t lose the interview and thereto the job over this.

8. Hair Care

If you’re the applicant who out of habit plays with their bangs or locks, get it back and out of reach. If it constantly falls over your eyes and you have to continually toss it back or move it off your face with your hands, choose a hairstyle that eliminates this. Ensure it’s clean, groomed and this goes for beards and moustaches too.

9. Business or Business Casual?

Before the interview, check the expected attire worn each day by current employees. Does the company have a policy or dress code you could adhere to right from the interview? Find out.

10. Accessories

You want to impress them with your knowledge and your answers. Too bad if they can’t hear you over the jewelry on your wrists or they can’t get over the distracting earrings or necklaces. Keep your accessories to a minimum as they should highlight you not the other way around. Clean your glasses ahead of the interview as well.

What’s So Special About You?

Billions of people on the planet, spread from land mass to land mass, and not two identically the same. Even those born who get to be call identical twins have unique personalities, desires, interests and challenges. So what is it that makes you uniquely different from ever other person who has ever lived and will live?

If you don’t look too hard, you’ll note the ways in which you are similar to every other person. “There’s nothing special or remarkable about me.” And it’s a good thing that we are on the surface, very alike others around us. We are similar enough to each other so we can find common ways to get along, common needs that bring us together and allow us to work towards these common purposes.

However, while needs like producing and consuming food, building and living in shelters unites us, there are many things which differentiate us from others. Some of us seek leadership, power, fame and fortune, others desire solitude, tranquility, peace and quiet. Some want cars as status symbols, and some with cars drive them out of necessity not choice. Some want to work in the hustle and bustle of the big city, while others want the close proximity of the suburbs without the congestion of traffic, and others still seek the rural life.

Every person is uniquely designed, and while we may share certain values, and seek out others during our time on the planet who share those values, we are not clones of each other, thinking the same thoughts, wanting the same things, acting the same way.

So it likewise stands to reason that when it comes to work and employment, we do not all want the same jobs, derive the same satisfaction out of completing the same work, nor are we qualified in identical ways from those with whom we find ourselves in competition with for those jobs. So what’s so special about you? A provocative question meant to be answered rather than just contemplated.

In a job interview, you may be asked some version of the question, “Why should I hire you?” The entire interview of course is really an expanded version of this question. There are x number of other candidates applying for the position you covet, and this is your chance to sell yourself, explain what it is that makes you unique, and then complete the answer by demonstrating how that uniqueness is something that will bring value to the employer.

And this is the challenge for the person making the hiring decision. There may be numerous people who according to their resume alone would be aptly qualified to win the job. If this were the sole criteria, personal interviews would be deemed unnecessary and a waste of time and money. However, most of us agree that there is value in meeting potential candidates in person and conducting interviews. In these conversations, the interviewer and the applicant get a chance to meet face to face, and sell each other on how they the preferred choice; the company for the applicant, and the applicant for the company. It’s a two-way, rather than one way street. Both have needs.

If you are job searching, and have yet to really figure out what it is that makes you uniquely qualified for a certain position, good advice would be to give the matter some thought now rather than later. It’s not so much about a course you’ve taken, or a degree you hold, nor about some past position you’ve held. Others competing with you may have the same credentials. Broken down simply, it has to be something in addition to these that makes you uniquely qualified, or as stated earlier, they’d just look at your CV or resume and hire you based on that.

How important are interviews? Significantly critical and nothing less. Why do companies in some situations not only have an initial interview but second, third and sometimes fourths? Put plainly, they are bringing in stakeholders to the conversation that have higher stakes in the hiring decision. Those people cannot be spared to sit in a large panel interview with every candidate, and so as the candidates are removed from the shortlists, and the applicant gets closer to being offered a position, those assembled in the conversation have more at risk.

It may be chemistry, a diverse background, previous accomplishments, the passion in one’s voice, the vision one expresses, but there is something special about one applicant that in the end will propel that person into being perceived as the ‘right’ choice. And this is the part that unsuccessful job seekers most often miss. They will lament afterward that they met the requirements on paper for a job and can’t understand why they finished out of the job and were passed over. In all probability, they did not demonstrate how they were uniquely qualified to bring the maximum amount of value to a position. Their competition did a better job of marketing themselves, clearly articulating their value, sharing their vision and passion.

It may be to you it was a job however, to your competition it was never about a job at all, nor was it about a job to the employer. It was always about sharing a vision, adding to the chemistry and value of the business. To some applicants it is only about adding to their resume.

So, what’s so special about you?

Knowing when to be quiet

There is an effective technique that many interviewers use that centers around the use of silence.

 Has this happened to you? You’re in an employment interview and after you’ve given your answer to a question, there is an extended period of silence from the interviewer. This silence is sometimes used by interviewers to purposely create tension; to gauge your reaction to a stressful situation so they can actually see first hand how you will react. Other times, the interviewer is collecting their thoughts, mulling over your last response, internally checking to make sure they have correctly heard what you have just said, digesting your answer as it were.

There’s nothing worse than feeling your anxiety rise in response to the stress, and then just as the interviewer appears to be ready to ask another question, your mouth opens and a, “and” or a “um”…. comes out. Now you’re backed into a corner of your own creation, as the interviewer posies their pen ready to right down the next insightful comment you make – and you’ve got nothing. You couldn’t outwait the interviewer and now have to wing it, trying to dig deep into your past experiences to come up with another example to support your last point, or even perhaps another way of answering the question last asked. If only you could have relied on your first answer and outwaited the interviewer!

This, “gotcha” moment can be avoided if you first do a few things and learn to trust in a process. First of all, do your homework and know both yourself and the position you are applying for. Standard stuff really, but know how your skills and personal attributes will fit with the company. Secondly, listen to the question and give your brain a moment to reflect on the question asked and then the various options for choosing the answer the question. Once you have decided how to answer the question, proceeed with confidence. When you have said what you wanted to say, fight the urge to add a few things more, and exhale slowly.

If you do think of something that is critical to add to your answer, then allow it to appear as if you were giving the interviewer a moment to complete writing what you’ve just said earlier, and avoid starting your next point with the dreaded, “uh” or “um”. In other words disguise your next and last point as having always been intended to be shared, not just thought up on the spot under pressure.

Sometimes you may be able to gauge the strength of your answer from the reaction of the interviewer via a smile, a wink, a nod, a laugh. Sometimes interviewers keep the expected answers close to their chest giving away nothing. Either way, don’t get distracted from your main focus of intelligently answering questions asked with confidence, a smile, some enthusiasm, and do your best to project an image of that of someone who will be a nice addition to the company you are applying to work for.

Knowing when to stop talking is just as effective as what you DO say.