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How to deal with a gap in employment?

It happens for any number of reasons and many people have it, but how exactly should you deal with a gap in employment? The first thing to remember is: be honest. Do not try to disguise the gap or lie about what you were doing when you were not working. Companies are scrupulous about checking references. The last thing you want to do is risk a potential job or start a new job with a lie. Lying on your resume, application, or as part of the hiring process is often a reason for dismissal at many companies.

You do not have to identify on your resume what you were doing during a gap in employment. Caring for a family member, relocating and trying to find a job in new city, taking time off to travel, or attempting to start your own business are all legitimate personal reasons to have a gap. Even though they do not need to be identified on your resume, you should be prepared to address them during an interview. You do not need to provide a bunch of personal details. Explain the situation, but do not include more than the basic facts. Then you need to explain how the situation is no longer a factor. Finally, you should reassure them of your interest and that you are ready to return to the workforce. Use the explanation as an opportunity to move the conversation to why you are particularly interested in the position and what you have to offer.

Examples:

  • “I took some time off to help care for a sick family member. We are now able to arrange for a full-time caregiver so that I can return to work. That is why I am excited to be considered for this position.”
  • “I was laid off and I have been looking for a position that will help me advance my career. I have had a number of interviews, but have not found the right fit yet. One thing I am looking for is a chance to supervise a team. I saw that in your job description, can you tell me more about that role?”
  • “I wanted to start my own business. I was very good at the sales part, but I learned I do not like the accounting side of being a business owner. That is why I have applied to this sales position. I know my strength is in sales and I believe I can utilize that strength to expand your business.”
  • “I took time off to raise my children. I was fortunate that I could do so and have that time with them. But while staying at home, I kept up my skills and contacts and I am now ready to return to the job market.”
  • “I took some time off for myself. I was spending 50 hours a week at my previous position, and I realized I was not happy with the work I was doing. I decided to explore and think about what I really wanted to do. I realized that my passion is customer service and I am excited about focusing on providing excellent service to my customers in my next position.”

How to deal with a gap in employment?If, however, you took time off to go back to school to get a degree or certificate, or to participate in other professional training, you should list that on your resume and “close the gap.” It will show that you were actively pursuing additional education to move you toward your career goals. While it is a gap in having an employer, it is very relevant to your skills and experience and it will not count against you in a job interview. But when the gap is due to something other than education you need to be prepared to address it one way or another.

When preparing to answer the gap question, think about the skills you picked up during the gap: communication, organizing, managing finances, adapting to the unexpected. Use these skills to match to the job description and mention them as a way to move the conversation back to the job.

Another option, if your gap is for less than three months, is to modify your resume to list only the years of employment, rather than month and year. Or you can have a skills and accomplishments resume. This format focuses on the skills you have and your measurable accomplishments, while leaving the actual employer information to the last section, but be careful with both these options as recruiters are adept at discovering if you are trying to hide something.

Ideally, you will not have many gaps in employment. If you have been out of work for a while, or think you might be, look for other options. Volunteering on a regular basis is a good way to help keep your skills up to date, or you could do some temporary work. Again, this shows you are still actively involved in the job market and keeping your skills current. When you list the temporary work, put all the assignments under the company that is placing you. This eliminates the gap issue between assignments. Plus, temporary work is a great way to expand your contacts and network.

Whatever the reason, be confident with your decision. You do not have to be embarrassed for taking time off, employers realize that life happens. Just be sure to highlight the positives learned during that time off and focus on your reasons for returning to your career.

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Topics: Establishing a Career, Volunteering, Re-Entering the Workforce, Gaining Experience, Changing Jobs, Interviewing

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