Whether you’ve been out of work, took off time to raise a child or have been on a sabbatical, gaps in your resume can be an interview killer. Left untouched, unexplained gaps raise red flags and the quickest way to land on the bottom of the pile is to have any questions about your resume.
“Some companies have stringent hiring practices that would clearly frown on gaps,” says Susan Ruhl, a managing partner at OI Partners–Innovative Career Consulting in Denver. “If there is a gap, recruiters/hiring managers tend to become a little suspicious and so they must be explained.”
Every company is going to treat resume gaps differently. For instance, if you have sought after skills a company may be willing to overlook your gaps. But if you are in a field where there is a lot of competition, any lapses in your resume are going to hurt you big time. Regardless of the type of gap, experts say you have to treat them the same way. And that starts with explaining them rather than hoping nobody will notice them.
“Don’t be tempted to lie about the reason for time off or fudge the dates of your employment,” says Bill Driscoll, district president of Accountemps, the temporary staffing company. “It’s not only unethical but, if discovered, would eliminate any chance you have of getting a job with that company.”
According to Driscoll, the best defense is to be proactive and honest up front by providing a brief explanation for the gap and then transition into how you kept your skills current during the time in between jobs. Let’s say you were terminated from your last position and were out of work for a few months. Driscoll says you can address that by saying on your resume that you were let go because you weren’t a good fit. Right after that Driscoll says you can then explain how you’ve taken several course to develop your skills. If the gap is because you left the workforce to raise children, Driscoll says to explain the gap by saying you took time off to raise your kids but at the same time you kept your skills current by doing x, y and z. “Your explanation can be included in your cover letter or, if you’re applying online, within the body of your email or the space allotted on a website for ‘comments,’” says Driscoll. “Usually two to three sentences are sufficient to alleviate any concerns and express your desire and ability to return to work.”
While people have gaps in their resume for different reasons if the case was because of a termination or because you were caring for children or a loved one a great way to stay relevant in your career and at the same time have filler for your resume is to volunteer. Volunteering doesn’t have to be a full time endeavor but if you are able to use your skills for a few hours a week that will not only take care of the gaps but it will likely impress hiring managers and recruiters because it shows you stayed current even when you were out of work. If volunteering isn’t an option, try to use your skills in other ways whether that means blogging on your own website or creating budgets for your family and friends. While it may not seem impactful, it’s better to have that on your resume then a big blank section with nothing to show for that time off.
According to Ruhl If you remain active during your time off it will be easy when it comes to finding new work. Often the problem occurs when someone gets a large severance and decides to take off for six months to a year before returning to the workforce. Doing that is “such a huge mistake,” says Ruhl. “I see this all the time and when they do decide to look for a job, they are already in explanation mode.”
The last thing you want to do when dealing with resume lapses is to lie about it. While it may be tempting to stretch the dates you worked for a company or add a position that may not be real, if the recruiter or hiring manager does his or her due diligence, which they likely will, they will uncover the lies and there goes any chance of landing that job. Worse if you are applying for a job in a small industry; the word of your lies will travel and tarnish your reputation for years to come. “Be honest, be prepared to explain it, don’t take too much time off if it can be avoided,” says Ruhl. “If the gap is long term…i.e. motherhood, don’t expect to jump right back in where you left off. You may have to take a step back to move forward. “