It’s probably happened to you; for some reasons you had to be out of work and with the rising level of job unemployment, getting a job seems an even more daunting task. Although having an employment gap isn’t uncommon but an unexplained discontinuity in your career or work-history can impede the hiring process with prospective employers. First you need to assuage the consequences this would cost you and prospective employers and then you need to convince employers you deserve to be on their payroll. So here are a few facts you should know about employment gaps and some key things you should also consider:
Fact #1 Nobody wants to hire a “Used to be”, “wannabe” or Loser: Employers aren’t interested in candidates with little or no expertise, much less one with a screaming employment gap. You were laid off, you couldn’t secure a job 2 or 7 years after graduation, you had to take care of your baby or look after your sick grandmother; none of these were your fault but employers want to know what other interesting things you did while you were job hunting. Except recruiters find you valuable, they won’t hesitate to toss your résumé in the trash can; no matter how plausible or legitimate your reasons for having an employment gap might be.
- Employers may well understand why you’ve been out of the workforce for a long time but they don’t want to hear “Since I got laid off 6 months ago, I’ve been searching for a job” as your response to the question ” what have you been doing since you got laid off 6 months ago?” Internships, trainings and workshops, volunteer jobs, part-time jobs, or travelling experiences; these are some of the things recruiters love to hear from candidates with employment gaps. Basically, do something to fill up that gap; participate in non-profit organisations, take tutorials or teach topics in your field, attend seminars and workshops, take internship opportunities, blog or start a business. You can easily have interviewers’ ears itch for more from you with these experiences.
Fact #2 Your Résumé determines a lot in your job-search: As with all résumés, your résumé remains your sales pitch on paper. It’s important to look good on paper but you don’t have to lie in your résumé because you’ll get caught during the interview and even if you scale through, employers will find out while you are on the job.
- What did you do while you were seeking employment? Did you do any volunteer work? Did you attend seminars, workshops or trainings? Did you take professional courses or pursue a higher degree? Include them in your résumé, employers find them relevant as they add to your experience.
- Emphasize skills you honed or acquired during those periods.
- There are no fixed rules to writing a résumé, what matters is presenting your skills to employers- showing them you are the right candidate for the job. Ideally, the Chronological résumé format is the most preferred by employers because it allows them quickly scan through and evaluate résumés; although the functional résumé format is considered least effective of all résumé types, a combination of chronological and functional résumé format (also known as the functional résumé hybrid) can give you an edge in your job search if you have an employment gap.
- Recruiters however advise to only use the chrono-functional or functional résumé format if you have a large employment gap (say 5years or more), otherwise stick to the Chronological résumé format. Whatever format you use, ensure to emphasize your qualifications and target them to your prospective employer’s needs.
- Do not bother to include an employment gap in your résumé or cover letter if it happened a long time ago and you’ve had a steady career after that, but ensure to tailor the ones you have available to your employers’ needs.
Fact #3 A Cover letter is very useful to clarify an employment gap: A cover letter goes first in your application to; summarise your qualification, get prospective employers interested in looking at your résumé, perhaps convince them you are the right candidate before meeting you in person.
The cover letter also has the added advantage of having a slightly less formal tone than the résumé and when used effectively, can explain a résumé gap without making you appear less qualified for the job.
- Briefly state your reason(s) for being out of the workforce and the things you did to in that period of time to keep yourself updated in your profession.
- Do not tell stories in your cover letter, go straight to the point, and highlight your skills.
- You can also indicate interest by requesting for an interview opportunity.
Fact #4 You can ace an interview with an employment gap: How? By focusing on positives. Explaining an employment gap in an interview can be quite risky, interviewers may conclude you are out of date in your profession if you fail to explicitly describe your “out of work” experience, it goes without saying that you need to prepare to answer any question relating to your employment gap.
- Just as briefly stated in your cover letter, reiterate to your interviewers why you had to stop working for a while and what you acquired, learned, unlearned in the process- only work related experiences.
- If you intentionally quit your former job to look for more challenging or promising opportunities, assert it to your interviewers but be careful not to come off as lazy or too demanding to your employers.
- You can also harness non-work related experiences to fascinate your recruiters’ interests e.g, narrate a travel experience and apply it to a typical work situation, it shows your recruiters you have a broad perspective to work and can easily adapt to changes; which is a plus for any candidate.
The best approach to résumé gaps remains avoiding them from the outset. Improve your job search so you don’t stay out of the workforce for too long.
How would you explain an employment gap to a prospective employer? Kindly share your thoughts in the section below.