Don’t Let Career Gaps Derail You

employment gaps
By Yvonne Milosevic

Have you had to hit the pause button on your career due to health issues, or to care for a child or ailing family member? Absences like these can happen to anyone at any time. But take heart. Long-term resume and career gaps don’t have to spell doom for your future career prospects. When you’re ready to get back into the workforce, review these tips to help smooth the path for your re-entry.

Be honest about career gaps

First, explain the gap with confidence in both your resume and (fingers crossed!) the interview. Be as transparent as possible, and don’t leave anything open to interpretation. Tell what you did or learned during the unaccounted-for time. That way, you remove any ambiguity that could otherwise lead to adverse inferences. Showing how you adapted to challenging circumstances or forged a new path during a unique period in your life can work to your benefit.

Shine a spotlight on skills

When you refresh your CV, consider using a skills-based resume format rather than a chronological one. Highlight specific skills and experience that support your qualifications for the position. Employment history still appears at the bottom of this type of resume. But a functional resume format can help camouflage career gaps.

career gaps

Where possible, highlight new skills gained during the gap period. Remember, growth doesn’t stop when you’re no longer active in a 9-5 capacity. Did you take any professional classes or pursue a certification? What about volunteer work, freelance gigs, or professional organizations?

Also, don’t underestimate the importance of soft skills. These include communication and problem-solving skills, teamwork, and the ability to perform under pressure. Provide clear examples that show how you continued to hone these skills during that time out of the workforce.

Maximize the powers of LinkedIn

Give plenty of time and attention to networking during your re-entry research phase. “LinkedIn is a gift to relaunchers and transitioners; it helps you find all those long-lost people from the past and provides a low-key way to reconnect,” relaunch expert Carol Fishman Cohen tells Insights for Stanford Business.
Reach out to contacts and explain that you’re in “information-gathering mode” right now.  This approach, Cohen says, “reassures your contact that you’re not looking to ask for a job.”
Wharton professor Adam Grant also talks about the value of “dormant ties” in this piece on networking tips for Inc. Dormant refers to the people you used to know but have lost touch with, likely during your employment gap. This type of contact, says Grant, can be better for networking than weak or strong ties.
Strong ties give you “redundant knowledge,” he explains, because it comes from people doing the same things you do. Dormant ties, meanwhile, have a more diverse network. “Research demonstrates that when you need advice on a project, you get better information when you reach out to someone you used to know than someone you currently know,” says Grant.
“They’ve been meeting different people and learning different things in the last few years, so they can open up whole worlds you didn’t know existed,” he notes.

Prep for the camera

Given the pandemic, a potential employer’s first impression of you will likely happen over Skype, Zoom, or HireVue. Have a pre-rehearsed script ready to discuss those career gaps or transition goals, suggests Cohen. (Check out her scripts for how to explain a variety of career break scenarios.)

Most important: practice succinct responses for all the common questions. Record yourself as you answer. Next, have a friend review your responses and give feedback on you how you’re coming across. Then, tweak your style as needed.

“When you first start having these conversations, you might not sound that good,” Cohen says. “These are interview rehearsals. The more you have, the better you’ll sound when it counts in the interview itself.”

With a little bit of confidence and ample preparation, your responses can make the hiring manager think, “We just have to meet this person!”

So, relax and have faith in both your career successes and detours. It’s all in how you paint the picture.

main image credit: Álvaro Millán (CC BY-ND 2.0)