Mind the Gap! Addressing gaps in employment in your resume

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I’ve written previously about addressing gaps in your resume.  This month I want to discuss it in a little more detail. This follows a discussion in an expat social media group where understandably it’s a topic of concern to many. Here are some things to keep in mind if you have gaps in your resume that you are concerned will affect your chances of success.

Tailor your resume

Regardless of whether you have gaps in your resume you should be tailoring your resume to each job you apply for.   I wrote about this in an earlier post.  Tailor your resume to the job you’re applying for making sure you hit all the requirements of the job  and show the employer why you’re a great fit. If you have periods of time where you haven’t been employed or when you’ve been employed outside your chosen field (those of us that move around often most likely do) then just as anyone should be doing when they are writing their resume you want to make sure that your resume is presenting you as positively as possible by matching your skill set to the job requirements.

Use a Combination Resume

A combination resume (a resume which emphasizes both skills AND work experience) is, in my opinion, the best way to go. It doesn’t omit the chronological employment history that most employers expect to see on a resume but it does present your skills and qualifications ahead of this aspect by including  a professional summary and a summary of your skills and qualifications.

Include a Professional Summary at the top of your resume

A well-written and appropriately pitched professional summary will capture the hiring manager’s attention right at the beginning and highlight why you are a great candidate for the job.  This means you are not presenting gaps in your work history at the top of your resume and hopefully by the time they get to your work experience they will have deemed you a contender and won’t be too concerned about any gaps.

Your professional summary is an approximately 5o word overview of your skills and qualifications for the role you’re applying for.   This is your “elevator speech”.  As this article by Forbes describes it this “summarizes who you are, what you do and why you’d be a perfect candidate”.   Include your job title/occupation (keeping it relevant to the job at hand) and the number of years experience.  Your job title doesn’t need to be specific. e.g if you have worked in various jobs in the retail and service sectors you could call yourself a “customer service professional”. Tailor your summary to the job you are applying for and include keywords where you can. Highlight the skills you will bring to this job.

Whilst I never advise including a career objective if you are re-entering the workforce after a break and/or switching fields this is a good place to include a “career objective” line.  Make sure this objective is not self-focused but rather outlines what you hope to deliver to an employer or target group.

Include a summary of your Skills and Qualifications 

Use bullet points to list the qualifications you have that are required for this job as outlined in the job description.  This includes the skills, experience, education levels and anything else (e.g citizenship, work authorization, security clearance, drivers’  licence etc) identified as “essential” or “desirable” in the job description.  This is where you should be drawing on all your experience and may include the skills and experience you gained while not in paid employment (e.g from volunteer work, travel, living overseas, managing personal real estate properties etc.). Often the skills required by an employer are “soft” skills such as communication skills, adaptability, problem solving etc. which don’t necessarily require paid employment to develop and which you have probably cultivated by moving around.

Use years rather than months and years in your chronological work history

Usually being less specific and stating the year of employment rather than months draws less attention to gaps.  For example

Retail Sales Associate  Employer A        2011-2012

Retail Associate             Employer B        2013

vs

Retail Sales Associate Employer A        March 2011-Nov 2012

Retail Associate            Employer B       Feb 2013-Nov 2013

Be honest here- don’t try and pass of 1 month of work as a year but if the gap between jobs was minimal you are better off not drawing attention to it in the first instance.

Don’t limit your experience to paid work

If you had a volunteer role that had a clear title and description and which you engaged with in much the same way as you would a paid position then include this in your employment history with a note that it was a volunteer role (so as not to mislead the potential employer).  I usually just include the word “volunteer role” in brackets after the position title. If you’ve done project work in between jobs include the information in this section.

Place your Education section wisely

If you don’t have recent work experience in the field you are applying for but have recently completed a certificate, degree or professional development course or have been studying a relevant qualification whilst out of the workforce then bump your education and training section up above your work history. This has two benefits- it highlights a directly relevant qualification in the top half of your resume and also indirectly explains any absence from the paid workforce.

What not to do

Here are some things to avoid in your resume when you have gaps in paid employment:

  1. Don’t make up job titles and descriptions or otherwise mislead a potential employer.  Doing so may raise a red flag if your referees are contacted and they refer to your position by a different title. If you are including an unpaid role only include those that had a job title and description etc.  For example, one of my volunteer roles was as a family representative for an advocacy group.  The position had a job title, description, came with an expected number of hours per month and I reported to a supervisor so I include this. Avoid giving job titles to roles that were personal e.g household manager. You will lose credibility with the potential employer.
  2. Don’t try and hide gaps. Not drawing attention to your paid employment gaps is different to trying to hide them and deceive a hiring manager.  This is one of the main reasons I advise against functional resumes because employers are automatically wary of what you are trying to hide.
  3. Don’t be apologetic.  If you are applying for a job because you have the qualifications for it and are a viable candidate then put your best self forward and be confident.  Whilst you want to avoid focusing on gaps in paid employment (it is after all an employer bias we have to accommodate) your lifestyle comes with a lot of benefits that can be also be a benefit to a potential employer.  If the tone of your resume is apologetic or negative this can influence the recruiter.  After all, if you’re doubting yourself shouldn’t they?!

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