Dealing with gaps in your work history

In the days immediately after the State of the Union Address, President Obama called on companies to revise their hiring practices so as to not discriminate against the long-term unemployed. I am encouraged that a sizable proportion of some of the largest companies in the US are agreeing to do so.

And yet, the stigma remains among many employers – if you have large gaps in your employment history, or are currently unemployed, then you must not be employable.

Many of us have gaps in our employment history. There are honest and legitimate ways to fill most gaps on your resume, to address gaps in a cover letter, and to explain gaps in an interview.

First, honestly assess why you have gaps. From there, we can devise a strategy:

I became ill / injured / took some personal time. If it is just a few months and a while ago, then don’t worry about. If it lasted several months, or is the reason for your recent unemployment, then you might address in a cover letter that you “took a personal sabbatical, but I am now ready and eager to resume my career as (POSITION), using my (SKILLS…)”.

I left my job to take care of an ill family member. You were a Caregiver, and you can claim so on a resume. If you are seeking a health care field, this is directly relevant and you can flesh out your Caregiving accomplishments.

If this was an interruption of your career, you might include only a line or two on a resume so as to concentrate more on your relevant experience.

If your family member passed away and you spent some time closing the estate, then you were an Estate Manager.

I was incarcerated. What did you do while you were incarcerated? Did you work in the library / commissary / laundry, even if only a few hours per week? Then you were employed by the State and can put it on a resume (check with a Career Developer for proper wording for your jurisdiction). Did you finish a degree or complete a certification course? If relevant to the position you applied for, then include it on a resume. NOTE: Do NOT include on a resume that you were incarcerated!

I have had jobs I am not proud of. I have had clients who have been exotic dancers, web-site models, drug dealers. I do not judge. You were Self-Employed, and should include on a resume. You do not need to include exactly what you were doing, but you can include your relevant transferable skills (marketing, appointment setting, delivery, sales, etc.). Be prepared, however, that employers are likely to be intrigued and will want to know more (self-employed people impress me, so I would ask), so spend some time thinking and practicing what and how much you want to say. DO NOT LIE! But you do not need to give the whole truth, either.

I was a homemaker. You were a Family Manager. List everything you did as a homemaker and translate into transferable skills (planned and prepared nutritious meals, purchased supplies and maintained inventory, established a budget and tracked spending, taught/tutored, etc. and etc.) You may not have been paid, but you do have a vast amount of transferable experiences.

It just took / is taking me a while to find a job. What have you been doing? Have you picked up a certification? Finished a degree? Volunteered in a capacity that furthers your qualifications for the position? Then include on a resume. Note that Volunteer work does not need to be listed under a section labeled, Volunteer. Just include it as work. No one needs to know you were not paid.

Did you write a book? Volunteer in a capacity that is not directly related to what you want to do? Whatever the case, you can say in a Cover Letter that, “While I have looked for my next opportunity as a (POSITION), I (DID WHATEVER YOU DID). But I am eager to resume my career and believe my skills match what you are looking for…” (and then tell them why.)

At no time will I ever advocate that you make up a job that you never did, or stretch dates beyond their actual time to bridge gaps, or otherwise provide false information. But I do advocate, you likely have more skills, qualifications, and most importantly experiences that employers seek. Use your full experiences to your advantage!

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

I want to hear from you. Connect with me on FacebookLinkedInand Twitter, or leave a comment below, and let me know what you think!

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