How should you handle Long Employment Gaps on your Resume?
Recently I had the pleasure of working with a client who was in the process of restarting her career. She was looking for a position in Accounting or Bookkeeping. Although she had recently earned an MBA in Accounting, one major obstacle to her job search was the long employment gap due to being unemployed since 2007. “How do I compensate for this on my resume?” she inquired.
Before I could answer that question I had to take a closer look. Her resume listed work experience in chronological order; each of the top three positions listed were either part-time or essentially odd jobs. I quickly determined that none of the roles were going to be of particular value in helping to reach her future career goals in Accounting or Bookkeeping.
I continued to scan the resume. I was looking for value. Buried under the first three jobs was a 4th position. As I honed in on this role, it was clear that my client was a true difference-maker for the organization as an employee. She was a Senior Bookkeeper and Administrative Assistant for a major financial company located in Chicago, IL for more than seven years. She had a diverse mix of responsibilities and had also earned multiple promotions and pay raises along the way. “Why was this impressive position buried on her resume? I easily could have overlooked this!” I thought to myself.
“Tell me more about this role.”, I requested. As my client described her experience to me, she did so with enthusiasm and confidence. Not only was the role impressive on paper, but I could tell that this would serve as a valuable asset during the interviewing process too. After she finished describing her experience, I confirmed the impressiveness and noted the relevance of this particular job as it pertained to her future career goals.
“Why did you choose to list these part-time / odd-job roles on your resume?” I asked.
“I wanted to cover my seven-year employment gap” she said. “After getting laid off from my job in 2007, I had to take whatever part-time work I could find after that. I am scared to admit that I haven’t had full-time employment for so long. Won’t that be a huge red-flag?” she asked me.
I understood the reasoning. The natural instinct for masking a long employment gap is a real thing. Most of us have been taught that a long employment gap is looked upon by companies as a Scarlet Letter-esque “badge of shame”. We’re told that after being unemployed for too many years, we become tainted goods.
However, we know this is a broad generalization that certainly shouldn’t define who you are as a professional. Attempting to disguise your unemployment history is only a temporary solution. If a company thinks you might be a qualified candidate for their vacant position, just assume they will look deeper into your past and eventually discover your unemployment history.
“There is nothing you can do to change the past, you simply must own it,” I implored.
Here’s three reasons why:
Long employment gaps aren’t so rare:
When the 2007 – 08 global financial crisis struck, the U.S. unemployment rate rose doubled from 5.0% to 10% between January 2008 and October 2009. Hundreds of thousands of hard-working Americans lost their jobs through no fault of their own. This wasn’t just some minor incident. It was a major crisis that our country hadn’t seen the likes of since the Great Depression. This was so widespread and severe that most Americans can name at least one friend, family member, or colleague affected by it.
Takeaway: Keep the historical context of your long employment gap in perspective; instead of dwelling on your insecurities, seek to position yourself as one of the good ones that got away.
Masking your long employment gap may backfire:
Companies are flooded with hundreds if not thousands of applications for their vacancies; most hiring managers visually scan a resume for 10 – 15 seconds before making a “yes or no” “delete or save” choice as to whether you make the cut for further consideration. By diluting your resume with irrelevant and part-time jobs, you take away from the more important and relevant experience that you may have.
Takeaway: More isn’t always merrier when it comes to Resume Writing. If positions on your resume aren’t adding value, they are likely subtracting value. It is okay to pick and choose which positions you want to list on your resume. You are not obligated to list each job you’ve ever held on your resume.
You get to turn the negative into a positive:
Employers love problem-solvers and individuals who are willing to take the initiative; consider taking another approach to resolving your concerns. One idea is to create a script (pre-written and rehearsed message) for how you will address the long employment gap question during the interview. Career Coaching is an excellent option for help with creating a scripted response to even the “scariest” interview question.
Takeaway: Instead of focusing on the negatives, think about your long employment gap and look to draw on the positives. Maybe you enrolled in an MBA program (like my client), perhaps you got more involved in your community (volunteer), or maybe you feel refreshed and rejuvenated after so many years outside the workforce. Whatever your particular circumstances are, look for the positives and put those to work for you.