How do you explain gaps on your resume?

Photo by ell brown

The economy has been challenging for three years. People who had 5 to 30 year solid work histories now have “GAPS on their resumes!” Shudder! Perhaps as an employer, you could sit on your high horse and say “I want all my candidates to have solid  5 to 10 years with a company.”

As a job seeker you know that the reality is that there are more people who need to account for gaps then at any point in modern history. Recently, I have had a number of clients and prospective clients ask me how to address those gaps.

I wanted to make sure that you were not only listening to my opinion on this critical topic, so I contacted my friend and colleague, Dawn Bugni, to ask her opinion and get her strategy recommendations.

What can cause a gap in your  resume?

  • Long term unemployment – your industry has been hit hard by the recession: Financial services, automotive, and construction industries have all been hit hard and then if you are in a service industry that depends on those people as your customers – restaurants, hotels, retail, and travel, you are impacted too.
  • Injury or illness: You had a car accident or a serious fall or you had a heart attack. You are better now but you have a gap of 6 to 8 months just during the time you could not work.
  • Family member need: You took on the role of caregiver for a parent, spouse, or child who had an injury or illness. You filled the void for them but could not work in your old industry during that time.

How do you address those gaps?

  • Combine short-term employment: Both Dawn and I have grouped together short-term employment. I especially liked the phrase she shared: navigated volatile financial market with frequent aggressive career moves. This lets you tie together short-term assignments under one heading.
  • Showcase volunteer experience: Dawn had a recent client that took a professional sabbatical (yes, you can say that on the resume) and listed the client’s volunteer experience. This reminded me of a recent client with event management experience: Designed and deployed inclement weather Crisis Management Plan during events. Negotiated and managed food vendors, stating expectations and verifying health department regulations are followed. Create win-win situations for vendors to profit and provide food to competitors and volunteers.
  • List the work you did as a caregiver: I have had clients who handled everything for their aging parents from investment management to personal care to estate settlements. If you had to hire someone for all those roles, you would be paying large sums of money. It has value! Here’s a couple of notes from a client of mine: Administered estates of two elderly family members, including all aspects of estate settlement and probate. Conducted thorough inventory of each estate’s property and prepared properties for sale, including preparing seller’s real estate documentation.
  • Document professional development: If you were in the IT or financial industries, there is considerable changing information that you need to stay on top of throughout your career. Even if you were confined to bed with an accident or heart attack, did you fill your time by reading professional journals or the top blogs in your area of expertise? Stayed current with business trends and industry developments through dedicated reading and review of cutting-edge information.

This is just a sample of creative ways you can explain what you were doing during the gap.You want to demonstrate your value and how you weren’t just sitting on the couch, whining about your job loss, eating bon-bons and watching Oprah! (and if you were, now is the time to change that, see above!)

I know I will hear from recruiters and perhaps employers who think this is just another way to be sneaky and hide things on your resume. But honestly, we have hit crisis points in our economy and if you are unwilling to take a chance on someone who has all the attributes of an excellent employee but has a gap, you could be missing the best employee out there!

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  1. Dawn Bugni on December 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm


    I love it when our impromptu conversations turn into a blog post collaboration … right before my very eyes. 🙂

    It’s up to the resume writer (either professional or do-it-yourself) to take the reader by the hand and lead them down the job seeker’s career path. Filling in the gaps ensures no “potholes” when traveling down that path.

    Excellent post my dear (even if I do say so myself.)

    • Julie Walraven on December 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm

      It was only impromptu on your side, my friend. I have to have fielded 4 calls recently asking about gaps on the resume and how to handle them. I wasn’t going down the road alone so that’s why I asked for your opinion and collaboration. Thank you for the vote of excellent, I couldn’t have done it without you! 🙂 Oh, and the client I had mainly in mind this morning, loved our solution to his “gap.”

  2. Ed Han on December 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Ladies, it’s positively beautiful when you two put your heads together! I’m managing my own gap by volunteering: I know I’m exercising my professional skills by so doing & even developing new ones (e.g., social media).

    • Julie Walraven on December 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm

      Ed, we often do this, not always in my blog though the 6 misconceptions about cover letters is another Dawn / Julie combo post. But Dawn and I turn to each other often when we want to clarify or bounce something off each other.

      Your model as a job seeker is the one everyone should be following, Ed! You are truly inspiring… I’ll toot your horn any day!

      • Julia on December 1, 2010 at 4:17 pm

        Another great opportunity of this extended unemployment is enriching ones education. Community Colleges offer night and weekend classes that serve as refreshers and strength builders. While aggressively job hunting for over 18 months, I have been able to pick up 14 credits beyond my BS in math, science and excel training. It’s a shame that many firms prefer to take the employed from their competitors. I question the media’s coverage of this Great Recession as too many think the out of work are less worthy. But its a good fight and we will rally onward.

        • Julie Walraven on December 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm

          Very good points, Julia! Congratulations on the 14 credits, you’ve just made yourself even more valuable to an employer and an example of what Dawn and I were talking about in the post. If you fill that time with value, you may be the one employers need on their team even more than the employed person down the street.

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