Ask AFD: Gaps in Employment

“Courtney: When looking at my work history you’ll see regular gaps in employment.  Some for 2 months, and others for more than 6.  Most recently, I have been out of work for 5 months and am still searching.  A friend recently told me this is the reason why employers are not calling me back? Does this look badly? What can I do? I’ll take any advice.”  ~ Stressed In Job Search

Stressed In Job Search:  I am so glad you asked, since your gaps may be one factor in why you aren’t getting the call backs you hoped for. First off: you are not alone. Almost all individuals have some gap when between jobs. How you choose to show these gaps, and if a gap has a negative impact, depends on a number of factors. Outlined below are different ways to minimize various gaps in employment.

PREVIOUS GAPS IN EMPLOYMENT

Only List Years: Most resumes only need to include the year you began to the year you ended a particular position.  This set up will immediately remove any gaps in employment occurring within the same year.  For example, if you were in your previous job from April 2013 – June 2015 and your current position is September 2015 – Present you can eliminate the gap by only sharing years: 2013 – 2015 and 2015 – Present.
Have An Appropriate Timeline: Your work history should only go back 10 – 15 years. This is the time frame that employers consider current enough to be relevant.  Any gaps previous to 15 years ago are a non-issue.
Identify Alternative Experiences:  Often times, people have gaps in their work history because they were taking care of their grandparent, parent, or close friend full time.  This experience can be shown on your resume just as any other job. Determine your job title (Caretaker, Personal Assistant, etc) and put “Private Family” as the company.  Then, just as with any position, list your duties and responsibilities highlighting those that relate to your preferred field of work.  Note – this does not apply to stay at home parents.
Update Your Format: Various resume formats can help to minimize gaps in employment.  A Functional Resume, although only appropriate for certain types of employment histories, can be used for this exact reason.  Also, breaking your resume into “relevant experience” and “other experience” sections can potentially remove the gappy timeline by taking the format out of chronological order.  If you are unsure if your format works contact a professional for a free consultation.

CURRENT GAPS IN EMPLOYMENT 

Active employment gaps over 4 months begin to look badly to employers.   If approaching or past the four month marker, use one of these techniques to more recent and ongoing dates on your resume. Show the world you are staying engaged.
Do Something:  Employers are more likely to hire currently employed individuals. Period. Getting engaged in some sort of “work activity” whether contract, temporary, or volunteer shows the employer that you are still desirable and can perform work duties: showing up on time, following directions, and working towards a greater goal (among other things).  If you can volunteer in your field (providing pro-bono IT services for a local non-profit), awesome!  If you cannot, do something to fill that gap.
How you showcase the volunteer work on your resume will depend on if its in your field, how long you’re out of work, and other resume components.
Educate Yourself: Use this “free time” to gain new skills that are critical to your field. For example, take advanced Excel classes or earn an industry related certification. Many local libraries offer free computer-based training, as well, your local workforce center may have access to funding for certifications that will elevate your career. Click here to find out more about access to short-term, federally funded training.
Participate: Many people wish they were more involved in their career’s local  or national association chapters. Now’s the time!  Attend conferences, meetings, and other networking events.  Can’t afford the cost?  Look into scholarships.  Showing engagement within your field is the perfect way to minimize your gap.

 

The goal of minimizing your gaps is to diminish employer concerns as to why you “are not employable.”  Continued, formal engagement combined with strategic document formatting will help do the trick.

Please note: resume rules and formats vary based on your specific career field, work history, or desired position.  As well, rules that apply to resumes (your marketing tool) do not always apply to filable applications.