Strategies for Explaining Employment Gaps

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For every professional whose career is a straight road, always gradually sloping upwards, neat and tidy, from promotion to promotion, there are a dozen people whose path not only oscillates up and down like a heartbeat but whose straight road has a few bridges out and big gaps between.

The employment gap, no matter how long ago, no matter the totally and completely justifiable reason for its existence, is the bane of job seekers everywhere. Maybe you took time off to go back to school or raise a family or take care of a sick relative or just couldn’t find a job for a few months during the last recession… that empty space on your resume seems to grab the eye of every recruiter, HR professional, and hiring manager who looks at it, demanding a complex and harrowing explanation.

But if gaps affect so many people, there must be some way to handle them properly? A few experts weigh in on how best to deal with this difficult topic:

Be Honest

Whatever the reason for your time away from work, honesty is always the best policy.

Don’t hide it; explain it. During the entire process of conducting a job search, maintain your integrity and demonstrate it. Jobs come and go, but being known for being truthful—and conversely, deceitful—can last a lifetime.

An example: When a candidate went for an interview recently, she was certain the gap would come up, and it did. When she told the potential employers the truth — that she’d wanted to be home with her children and felt fortunate that she was able to do so — an excruciating silence followed. In an attempt to lighten the mood, she joked that during that time she’d done some freelance work, but she also spent a fair amount of her day tackling mountains of laundry. What happened next surprised her: They laughed and thanked her for her honesty.

“You have no idea how many people come in here and fumble through telling us about some extended project they were working on,” one of the interviewers scoffed.

So even though you might be tempted to invent some elaborate story explaining away your employment gap, it’s best to keep it concise and honest and hope the company understands, rather than running the risk of getting caught in a lie.

Be Prepared

Stuttering and stammering your way through your first sit-down is as unimpressive as showing up late or calling your female interviewer “sir.” Just as you’d prep to discuss your previous positions, employers are going to ask about your time off, so be ready to address that as well.

Whether you managed a household, co-chaired an event that raised much-needed funds for charity, or trekked across the globe, chances are you picked up some important skills along the way—think communicating persuasively, becoming a master organizer, or adapting to unknown situations. Identify them, think through how they apply to the job at hand, and craft a short, compelling statement you can use in interviews.

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Be Confident

While the thought of discussing how you came to be unemployed, especially if you were let go or fired, might make you uneasy, don’t panic. Resume gaps are not as uncommon as you might think.

If a company doesn’t understand what has happened to our economy since 2008 and the impact on individuals, well, you likely don’t want to work there anyway.

So, while answering questions about any period of unemployment can be uncomfortable, know that you’re not alone. Just be sure to prepare for whatever questions come your way, maintain honesty in your explanations, and have confidence in the skills you’ve attained during that break. Taken together, this can go a long way to bridging the gap with poise and professionalism.

Good luck!

How to Explain the Gap in Your Resume With Ease | Elizabeth Alterman via The Muse

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