Mind the Gap (in Resumes)

A career gap isn't a deal killer and providing details will reassure recruiters.

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The gig economy has changed the whole ballgame for workers in so many ways, and especially in the hiring category. Historically career-blemishing taboos now seem normal, from remote working to short tenures. Even the biggest no-no can get a pass: gaps in employment.

Recruiters say that today it is as common to see resumes with gaps of months or years between official positions as it is to see ones that hop from job to job. Workers are increasingly willing to leave formal positions to focus on side hustles, move to a consultant or contractor role for more autonomy, or freelance for a better work-life balance. Moreover, with digital transformation and increased competition leading to abrupt changes in strategy and business models, as well as more mergers and acquisitions activity, recruiters and hiring managers understand that job loss is collateral damage.

Career gaps no longer raises eyebrows for recruiters, so long as candidate can explain them.

But don't be fooled. While it isn't the career gap itself that raises eyebrows anymore, how a candidate explains it can be the difference between reassuring recruiters or being reassessed by them. "It doesn't have to be a negative thing at all," says Alyssa Gelbard, founder and president of Point Road Group, a career consulting and personal branding firm. "How you approach it influences how it is viewed."

Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. Before crafting the interview story, candidates first have to list out the plotlines on their resume or online profiles. If the employment gap is less than a year, one easy remedy for addressing it in a resume is to include only the years worked at a previous employer instead of the precise months (e.g., 2015 – 2018 instead of June 2015 – March 2018). Gelbard also advises job seekers to be balanced when describing companies and positions. "You can often tell what jobs people liked by how much information they include under specific jobs," says Gelbard. Conversely, an entry with just the company, position, and dates worked is a clear tell that something went wrong (unless that is uniform for every position).

The reason for the career gap also dictates whether or not candidates should provide further explanation in a resume, profile, or cover letter. If it is benign, such as not moving with a position that has been relocated or a strategic pivot that eliminated your role, mentioning it up front could help. Recruiters are keenly aware that some industries are subject to more systemic changes than others, after all. Similarly, if a career gap is related to familial events like having a baby or taking care of a sick relative, that too is worth mentioning.

A lot of candidates with employment gaps clear the resume hurdle but fall down during the interview. The reason is all in the explanation. Candidates know the career gap question is coming and even rehearse their response to it, but when the actual interview occurs nerves often take over to negative effect. "People get anxious and start over-talking or talking around the issue and end up creating something bigger than it needs to be," Gelbard says. If things went south at a previous employer, the interview can quickly devolve into a therapy session about how bad the company, boss, client, or colleagues were-and the recruiter will think your attitude rather than what you are saying, even if true, is most likely the reason for your employment gap.

"You don't want to create questions in the recruiter's mind, you want to provide answers," Gelbard says. "Be clear and concise, and explain how you filled the time during your career gap and why this particular company and position is the right next step for you."

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