Resumes at a Glance – Mind the Gap

On my last trip to London, I rode the London Tube (a.k.a. Subway or Underground) on several occasions as I traveled throughout the city. There were signs posted all over the stations that reminded people to “Mind the Gap”, which referred to the space between the train platform and the train car which passengers must step across when boarding the train.

In the world of resume writing, the phrase “Mind the Gap” is applicable to the job seeker that has an extended gap or several gaps between jobs. There are various reasons for the gaps — time off for family issues, unexpected business failures, layoffs, education, and even incarceration. While a short gap (up to 60 days) on your resume is often completely ignored by recruiters, the larger gaps can become a problem for the job seeker. The challenge is for you to eliminate the gaps, minimize the gaps, provide for a simple explanation of the gaps, or get the recruiter to ignore or accept the gaps enough so you can get to the interview.

1. Try hiding the job gaps or making them less obvious

The first strategy is to look at the dates and decide if you can hide the gaps by merely adjusting the way the dates are presented on your resume.  If removing the month from the dates results in no year gaps, then this might be the quick-n-easy approach. For example, if you have a job that ended April 2007 and the next job started in October 2007, then just listing the year for the two jobs would show no gaps.

10/2007 – Present, Brain Surgeon, Federated Hospitals, Salinas, CA
02/2003 – 04/2007, Ditch Digger, Acme Construction, Armonk, NY

— vs —

2007 – Present, Brain Surgeon, Federated Hospitals, Salinas, CA
2003 – 2007, Ditch Digger, Acme Construction, Armonk, NY

Notice how the gap in the second example is not as evident. This works because the first job terminated in the same year that the second job started. The recruiter probably won’t give this a second look. However, it’s really only effective if the jobs on each side of the gap were held for at least 2 or 3 years each. If you have very short employment durations (where the job starts and ends in the same year), or you have multiple gaps, or you still have a gap even when you use just the years, then avoid this method, as it actually piques the interest of the recruiter as they wonder if you have an employment challenge they need to know about.

If the gaps were a while ago (10 or more years), then it probably isn’t a real worry. You can do several things to smooth these out if you really want to. Consider limiting your resume to less than 10 years. If you’ve held 3 or more jobs over the 10+ years, this is a good strategy. If you’ve only held 2 jobs in 10 years and have gaps on either end of your most current job, this can be a detractor.

2. Try filling the job gaps with other career activities

The filling approach starts when you realize that your job hunt will be longer than 2-3 months, so you take proactive steps to fill the gap with something relevant to your career. For example, if you don’t have any viable opportunities or at least one interview per week, then you need to begin looking at doing short-term consulting work – either independent or for an agency – in your career field. You might also find opportunities to speak or write about your career.

TIP: Register your consulting business with your state — recruiters give more credence to a consultant who has a registered company or a consultant that can at least provide solid business-client references during the gap.

Another strong idea is to sign up for a degree program relevant to your career. Beginning a Bachelors, Masters, or a Professional degree (even if you are just starting in the program) is a great way to fill the gap. Consider both online and local colleges, but make sure they are fully accredited. (And yes, college loans can be considered, but be cautious you don’t get too far in debt.)

In certain fields, you can also pursue professional certifications (PMP, MCSE, Six Sigma, etc.) that can strengthen your hiring potential. Many firms value these certifications, but some are difficult to achieve in mere months. Still, just listing them as being in-progress on the resume often succeeds in piquing a recruiter’s interest since this shows signs of self-motivation and professional growth.

3. Try plugging the job gaps with any worthy activities

If you can’t find the right career-related activity, at least focus on doing something that the recruiter will consider worthwhile:

  • It might be time to do the “stay-at-home-parent” bit or take care of an aging parent and let your spouse work for a while. In many cases, a short family-related absence (under a year) is easy to explain. It’s probably not appropriate for this to be in the work history portion of your resume, but it could be something you allude to in your cover letter or summary statement.
  • Volunteer work (at least 30 hours a week so it can be considered “full-time”) with a reputable agency or organization. Avoid roles that might be considered “off limits” to putting on your resume – church work, political campaigning, race-specific groups – unless these are significantly related to your job search.
  • Start a small business. It doesn’t have to be related to your current profession. Many people have that “itch” to start their own business — and recruiters respect this, even if the business doesn’t succeed.
  • See the world. Sometimes a long vacation (multi-week or multi-month European tour, etc.) is something that people sometimes do right in the middle of their career. This is fine and recruiters usually see this as better than being idle. But if you do decide to travel, blog while you are on your trip or create a website with highlights of the trip when you return. This does two things — shows you are detail oriented and provides evidence of the actual trip that you can reference if needed.
  • Keep a daily journal/blog of everything you do while you are between jobs — most people have done “job worthy” activities over the gap, but can’t recollect what they were when writing or updating their resume. Having a gap filled with even a few “assorted” activities is better than an empty gap.

I’ll post more ideas on this gap issue later, but let’s close with a very important point — be truthful! Don’t make up stuff to hide the gaps and don’t stretch your dates to meet one-another, as those lies or stretched truths may haunt you in the future.

Bottom Line: Gaps happen. You need to be proactive as soon as possible. Try consulting, take college courses, start a business, volunteer, or pursue professional certifications. For shorter career gaps you might be able to hide the gap by dropping the month on the job dates, but be aware that it only works for some cases. When asked, be prepared to explain how you used the work gaps effectively by focusing on how you bettered yourself or served others, not just wasting time spinning your wheels in the job search.

. . . .

See the Index of all my Job Hunter articles on the Backlog tab.

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