Overcoming the Resume Gap: Strategies and Success Stories
Addressing a significant gap in your resume can be a daunting task. To help you navigate this challenge, we’ve gathered eight insightful tips from professionals, such as Career Coaches and CEOs. From embracing authenticity in addressing resume gaps to providing a two-part explanation, these experts share their best advice for showcasing your skills and experiences despite a career break.
- Embrace Authenticity in Addressing Resume Gaps
- Be Upfront About Family-Oriented Career Breaks
- Use Unemployment for Self-Reflection and Growth
- Leverage Skills-Based Resumes and LinkedIn
- Highlight Skills Gained During Career Breaks
- Explain Employment Gaps Directly on the Resume
- Don’t Apologize, Highlight Gains Instead
- Provide a Two-Part Explanation for Gaps
Embrace Authenticity in Addressing Resume Gaps
In navigating a resume gap, I have found that authenticity is the best way to go. I took a five-year career break mid-career, just after my maternity leave. A sudden personal tragedy introduced an unexpected twist, dramatically altering the course of my professional journey.
Honesty is a quality valued by most employers, so my advice, based on my personal experience, would be not to attempt to conceal or distort the gap’s existence. Instead, offer a transparent yet positive account for the significant gap.
When I was open with new employers about what had happened, they pleasantly surprised me. Although there was a gap, because I had a good reason for it, it wouldn’t go against me. So, whether it was for personal growth, pursuing further education, embarking on adventures, or passionately pursuing personal projects, convey it with clarity and brevity.
This shows not only your commitment to integrity but also your ability to adapt, learn, and embrace life’s challenges.
Be Upfront About Family-Oriented Career Breaks
I faced a gap in my resume when I took time off to have a baby. I chose to be very upfront about it on my resume. I listed the time period and stated, “Career break to start a family.” To me, this was much easier to discuss during an interview, and many people can relate to it—especially today. Honestly, I realized I didn’t want to work for an employer that saw a career break to take care of my family as a mistake.
Use Unemployment for Self-Reflection and Growth
Personally, other than maternity leave taken when my children were born (“many moons” ago), six years back, my then-company undertook operational changes which led to my job and portfolio becoming redundant, resulting in retrenchment. This led to a period of about three months of some uncertainty, and navigating tough, yet important, decisions. “Do I want to stay in corporate or follow my passion and start my own business?” A very daunting position.
However, this process taught me the importance and necessity of reflection, introspection, to reconnect with my strengths, values, and passion. I was very blessed to have incredible support, and a mentor, and soon realized that I did not want to go back to working in corporate. Over this period, I started to learn what it means to be uncomfortable and push forward, which contributed to my personal growth.
Leverage Skills-Based Resumes and LinkedIn
Prior to 2020, the gap in employment was a “red flag,” but following the Great Resignation, this gap is significantly less of a concern. This gap is more normalized now due to layoffs, employees prioritizing mental health, and job seekers implementing LinkedIn’s features of adding a career break.
With that said, regarding how to showcase skills and experience to best address the gap, individuals can choose to create a skills-based resume, where it focuses more on skills versus the traditional chronological resume.
As someone who has previously faced gaps in my employment, the best piece of advice I recommend is providing a strong summary and keyword headline to show to employers the type of role you’re targeting and how you’re qualified—why should they hire you?
From there, I suggest implementing the LinkedIn profile section “Career Break” and choosing from the applicable category (examples include: laid off/position eliminated, career transition, health & wellbeing, etc.).
Highlight Skills Gained During Career Breaks
Absolutely, I’ve experienced a significant gap in my resume. After several years in my industry, I took a five-year hiatus to focus on family commitments. Initially, I was concerned about how this break would appear to future employers.
However, I realized that my time as a stay-at-home parent equipped me with unique skills invaluable in the professional sphere. To bridge the gap on my resume, I focused on the competencies I gained during this period, such as time management, agile methodologies, multitasking, problem-solving, and, significantly, resilience and patience.
In interviews, I was candid about my decision to pause my career, emphasizing the enrichment of my soft skills, adaptability, and refreshed readiness to re-enter the workforce. My top tip for anyone in a similar situation is to own your story with confidence. It’s about how your journey has fostered growth, not the gap it created.
Explain Employment Gaps Directly on the Resume
Job seekers often worry that a significant gap on their resume will result in them being passed over for employment opportunities. One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic was that companies are more understanding of employment gaps. Importantly, though, you need to be ready to address the gap in employment, preferably on your resume, rather than waiting until the job interview.
When writing your work experience on your resume, include a start date and end date for your employment gap. Then, briefly explain the reason for the gap. The key here is to be brief and alleviate any potential concerns the employer may have.
For instance, if you cared for someone who was sick, you can state, “Took a purposeful break from employment to serve as a full-time caregiver for a family member’s one-time health concern.” If you pursued any certification or advanced training, you can mention this on your resume. You can also include any time you spent volunteering or serving on a board.
Don’t Apologize, Highlight Gains Instead
Taking time off to parent my children left me with a gap in my resume. As the owner of a female-majority recruiting firm, many of my workers have faced the same issue. I give them the advice I give any and all candidates with a gap on their resume: don’t apologize.
Showing contrition is a natural response to what feels like a failure in our career-oriented society, but framing it this way only exacerbates the potential negativity. Instead, be upfront about what you gained in your time off work.
For me, motherhood imbued me with additional patience and better time-management skills. Those who took a sabbatical might reference feeling refreshed and ready to work. Workers who took time off for schooling have an obvious plus to focus on.
The exact reasoning is less important than the fact that you have validation handy. By presenting your time off as a benefit, not a misstep, it’s more likely your interviewer will see it similarly. So, take charge and set a positive tone.
Provide a Two-Part Explanation for Gaps
Like most family men, I’ve taken time off in the past to focus on personal matters, leading to gaps in my resume. As a recruiter, I’ve seen many candidates facing the same issue, sometimes with gaps of a year or longer.
Whether it’s a small or multi-year gap, hiring managers want to be assured of one thing: it won’t happen again.
This means having a two-part explanation handy. First, you want to have a good reason why you took the time off in the first place. Second, you need to explain what’s changed in your life since then, and why you’re fully committed to work now.
Make it as personal as needed—vague answers risk making you look like you’re hiding something, and that’s a big red flag.
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