Mar 29, 2008

Gaps in employment? Explain clearly, tell the truth in interview

Published on Wednesday, Mar 26, 2008
So you have gaps in your employment history, well who doesn’t? The pertinent question is what will you do about it?
Most people have a rocky job history marred by a gaping hole or two. The gaps can be due to various reasons like the regular layoffs, firings and resignations, time off for higher studies or travelling abroad to even personal issues like having a baby , ill-health, sick relatives, death in the family or divorce.
The glaring gap ups the employers’ antennae with worries over the candidate’s stability and reliability. Even applicants cringe at the thought of marring their resumes and ruining their job prospects with these ‘non-working gaps’.
But, the ‘unaccounted period’ will hurt your job search only if you allow it to. It’s actually less of an issue than you think, in fact employers are open and willing to accept reasonable and true explanations. Therefore, it’s how you present your case that can make the difference.
How long were you between jobs?
Nobody needs to know that you were out of work for a few months. Small gaps can be easily camouflaged by listing years of employment and eliminating the exact months.
Some career experts suggest that opting for a functional resume that showcases your varied strengths, talents and experience rather than the standard chronological one can help cover lengthier periods of unemployment. But, savvy recruiters are wise to the strategy and it raises further red flags that the candidate may be trying to hide something.
Again, a relatively earlier gap can be safely ignored, especially if it is followed by steady career progression and the rest of the resume reads well. It is more the recent interruptions in your work history that can cause grief.
What did you do while you were not employed?
List out what you did during your time of unemployment, i.e. if you haven’t whiled it away watching TV all the while!
If you were pursuing some courses, they can be listed in the education section of your resume.
Activities like voluntary work; temporary jobs, freelancing, consulting, mentoring, special projects and community involvement do count as well and can be included in the experience section along with the job title, company name, description and dates.
What you should do is try to put a spin on the situation to capitalise on the gap and present yourself in a new light.
Show that you have expanded your horizons, widened your experience, built a skill set or updated your job knowledge during the phase. Even trying to set up a new business exhibits your ability to take risks and accept failure. Caring for a baby, relatives or elders reflect on your values and interests.
Else, indicate that you have been actively searching for a suitable new role and this is a positive opportunity to identify a position in which you will thrive.
As a career coach rightly observes, “Talking about positive things you did during a period of unemployment won’t erase the gap in a resume, but they do provide the chance to move the conversation past the gap, while offering proof that you are ready and able to work.”
Shifting the spotlight to your skills and accomplishments shows your value, taking the emphasis off your work chronology. The underlying principle is to assuage the hiring manager’s fears that you are not dependable.
You can address extensive employment gaps in the cover letter with a simple and succinct explanation that is not mushy with excessive personal details. Be ready to discuss the same straightforward clarifications in the interview too.
While the exact response will depend on your individual circumstances, never lie or embellish the details as they will only come back to haunt you; prospective employers can easily work out the truth during background and reference checks.
Apart from this, maintain a positive perspective during the job-hunting period. There is nothing wrong with being out of work for whatever reason and interval, regardless of what the employer thinks. So, do not be apologetic or defensive over the same.
What you should do is be positive, confident and prepared to answer detailed questions on your unemployment stint.
Show that you are optimistic, diligent, responsible and most of all, eager and excited to return to the workforce.


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