If you’re concerned about how a resume gap will be perceived by employers, here’s some good news: you can usually reduce or eliminate the harm it can cause your job search. Plus, in many cases, the gap will not be viewed as a big deal to begin with. How much of a problem the gap poses depends on:
- How much time has passed since you were last employed: Every month beyond two months makes filling the gap more important. The larger the gap, the greater the likelihood of concerns about your usefulness to others, motivation, or how up-to-date you are in your field.
- Your work history: If you have lots of gaps and short tenures in roles, then being out of work could signal a problem to employers with either your ability or your motivation. On the other hand, if you show a steady rise through the ranks, with the only gap being the current one, then employers aren’t going to be as concerned. Keep in mind that one-time gaps from many years ago shouldn’t pose a problem.
- How often things change in your field: For example, one client was targeting Chief Information Officer roles. She needed employers to see her as up-to-date in her field given how quickly the technology landscape changes, so filling her current employment gap took on greater importance. For another client, an SVP of Business Development, being up-to-date was less important than being able to bring a strong network to his next employer.
How to fix the problems caused by a gap
The first two options listed below could help if you’re currently unemployed, while the latter three can help you to address gaps that occurred at any time in your career.
1. Get involved in an Association. Joining the right association, one with an active membership at the right seniority level and in the right sector, can give your job search a big boost if you’re unemployed (or when you’re looking to make a career change). But don’t just join, get involved. Run or help run a committee, or get on the board. Once you become known to leadership and the membership, you’ll easily get informational meetings which could lead to interviews. That is, a recent resume gap will no longer matter because they’ve experienced your capabilities first-hand. You’ll also be able to list this unpaid volunteer experience at the top of your resume’s “Experience” section. Don’t diminish this real, relevant experience by relegating it to the “Volunteer” section at the end of your resume.
2. Take classes. If you’ve been out of work for a while, you may need to show that you’re current in your field. Consider taking some online courses. Then, put these courses at the top of the “Experience” section where the gap would normally show. Do the same thing on your LinkedIn profile. Clients sometimes use “Continuing Education” as a job title, and then list the course titles, which usually are rich with keywords that will resonate with an employer. Remember, no law says that these courses can only be listed in the “Education” section at the bottom of your resume or profile.
3. List unpaid work as experience. For example, unpaid “Consulting” is a great gap filler, as long as employers believe you actually had clients. That is, employers quickly see through so-called consulting that doesn’t involve any actual client work. You need to reference at least one client project.
An SVP in HR who had recently left her job was still fielding her former colleagues’ questions and helping them address issues weeks after her official last day. She legitimately considered this work “consulting.” Another client, out of work as a portfolio manager, was trading his own portfolio as well as advising friends and family. So he used “Portfolio Manager (own portfolio), Financial Consultant” as an interim job title. A third provided interior design services to family and friends for free while she was out of work, so she listed “Interior Designer” for her own business, which helped her to land an interview.
4. Don’t list the months. If you have a gap of months between jobs, just show the years on your resume so the gap is less obvious. For example, one client listed “February 2015 – March 2019” for one job, and then November 2019 – present” for her next role. She changed the first job to “2015 – 2019” and the second to “2019 – present.”
5. Answer questions about gaps positively and concisely, then change the subject. Talk less, not more, and without negativity. You will not get the job if you say “I quit because I didn’t like my boss/my boss didn’t like me,” even if your reasons were understandable (they’ll think maybe you won’t like them either). Leave out or re-frame that negative part, then pivot to the things they care about – why you want to work for them and how you can help.
One client said: “After working non-stop for 20 years, I took a break to manage some family issues that have now been fully resolved. So, I’m ready to jump back in and am excited to be speaking with you because…” Then she told them why she wanted to work for them and asked a question about how she could help. That is, she kept her answer concise and as positive as possible – no need to explain what the family issues were – and then changed the subject back to discussing what they really care about.
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