It used to be that resume gaps of several months or longer concerned both job seekers and hiring managers. Some hiring managers believed longer periods of unemployment signaled a candidate wasn’t hirable. Alternatively, they might have been out of touch with trends in the field.
However, this attitude towards periods of joblessness was falling out of favor even before the pandemic. The Wall Street Journal found that 76 percent of workers ages 24 to 38 took at least a month of voluntary leave at some point in their careers.
But the pandemic has encouraged hiring managers to be even more open to candidates who have gaps in their work histories. The New York Times recently profiled a boss who was skeptical of candidates with resume gaps – wondering why they weren’t able to find jobs for so long – but recently hired six employees who had been out of work for six months or more.
The newspaper argues that candidates who have been jobless for months or years in the pandemic era are being more thoughtfully considered for positions.
“That’s a break from the last recession, when long-term unemployment became self-perpetuating for millions of Americans. People who had gone without a job for months or years found it very difficult to find a new one, in part because employers avoided them,” writes Sydney Ember.
Part of the reason that the so-called “resume-gap” stigma is fading is because of labor shortages during the pandemic. What’s more, companies are more willing to recognize all the factors contributing to long-term unemployment.
For instance, quality candidates could have been laid off in the travel industry simply because of pandemic constraints, not because there was anything lacking in their job performance.
So, if you have been out of work for a significant amount of time, what can you do to make yourself more desirable to hiring managers? Here are some ideas to reduce the resume-gap stigma.
Use “relevant experience” rather than a chronological format to highlight your skills and reduce the resume-gap stigma
A chronological resume emphasizes an employment gap in a way that an alternate resume style does not. Instead, use a “Relevant Experience” header to replace the more common “Work History” subheading on your resume. Then, include the most relevant positions at the beginning of the resume. You can also add more bullets to describe your successes in these positions.
Later in the resume, you can include a “Related Experience” section where you can list other positions with less connection to the job you’re applying for.
Explain the reason for your resume gap
At the same time, you’re not trying to arrange your resume so hiring managers won’t notice your resume gap. Rather, you want to explain why you might have been out of work for several months or longer, likely in your cover letter.
“Personally, it depends on the span of the gap on the resume or CV, and if there was a brief explanation given. The hardest challenge for me is when no reason is offered by job candidates on their resume or CV as to WHY they were unemployed,” said HR Executive Phidelia Johnson.
You don’t want to be apologetic in this section either. Instead, share what you learned or the skills you acquired that will help you be a stronger candidate.
Identify the skills you have for the job you want
If you have been unemployed for a longer period, some hiring managers may be concerned that you have let your skills lapse. Make sure that you are keeping up with the competencies necessary in your field by reading LinkedIn profiles or job listings for the types of positions you want.
Then, decide if there are skills you need to develop or practice while you’re job seeking. Perhaps you could volunteer somewhere to keep your competencies fresh, or take a class to develop an ability that has become more important in your field than it was before.
With these skills under your belt, you’ll not only be more confident and reduce the resume-gap stigma – you’ll be able to use the jargon and focus on key competencies when writing your cover letter and interviewing for the position.
Finding Employment After a Job Hiatus
Managers and bosses are more sympathetic to job candidates with significant employment gaps in their resumes. The pandemic has created a cultural shift where companies are more sympathetic to circumstances in candidates’ lives – from getting laid off to caring for an ailing spouse. At the same time, labor shortages encourage hiring managers to focus more on the skills candidates can bring to the table, rather than on time away from the workforce.
So, if your resume gap has been a cause for concern, recognize that you don’t have to bring a deficit mindset to your next job interview. Rather, focus on maintaining your skills with part-time or volunteer work, consider taking a class to stay abreast with trends in your field, and submit employment applications with confidence.
Recruiter Taryn Stastny took a yearlong sabbatical when she had a baby, and now she appreciates when candidates have taken time off to care for family.
“I will never, ever consider a family gap, a mental health gap, a travel year gap, and especially a parenting gap a ‘problem.’Take that time and be a human,” she shared.