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Managing unemployment gaps on the resume

Gaps that don't get addressed on the resume will turn into "black holes" if you are not careful. If you have any extended periods of time when you were unemployed, control the perception of this with honest explanations.

Large unemployment gaps of any more than 6 months are going to raise a concern. Unfortunately, documenting the reason for the gap on the resume itself isn't such a good idea. But you do want to have an explanation ready if you get to a phone or in-person interview.

Here's how to manage this situation when speaking with a potential employer:

Be proactive in bringing up your unemployment gaps

Bring this explanation up whether you are asked about it or not during the interview. If you don't, most hiring managers will jump to their own conclusions (most of which will not reflect well on you).

  • They assume you were having a hard time finding a job and that no one wants to hire you.
  • They assume you were lazy and not looking very hard to find a new job.
  • They assume you were being too picky up taking a new job.

Keep in mind that you are interviewing with a human being (who may have been in this very same position at some point during their own career). Most managers will completely understand  the underlying circumstances to why you may have been out of work for an extended period of time.  If you aren't defensive or insecure about it and can get in front of it, you can prevent the "sad sack" stigma from forming.

Don't use a poor job market as your sole excuse for being unemployed

Don't use the last recession as a "catch all" excuse. First of all, in some industries, the job market has improved and this condition doesn't really apply any longer. Secondly, it sounds really whiney. A tough economic climate certainly factors into the equation. But make sure to provide a more detailed explanation and context for why you've been out of work. Reference the tough economy, sure. But also be clear about any of the other factors involved in your time off work:

  • Being selective (taking time to find the "right" story and not just jumping at the first offer you get)
  • Relocating (taking time to relocate family due to a partner's need to move for their career)
  • Caring for family  (taking time off to care full-time for a loved one)
  • Medical issue (taking time off to recover from a pregnancy, serious injury or illness)
  • Personal goals (taking time to climb Mt. Everest, go on an African safari, visit family overseas)
  • Educational goals (taking time off to attend full time classes or an important certification program)

Don't be tricky about employment dates

By all means, don't try and obscure the facts by using only a year (without a month) in your dates of employment in hopes that they won't know when the actual dates began/ended. It's completely obvious what you are doing. And if they are interested in you, they are eventually going to ask and find out that you were laid off in January of that year. So putting down that you worked there through "2010" makes you look a little shady. 

Just be honest about your unemployment gap

Yes, even in the instance where you got laid off and took advantage of that situation to take 2 months off to ride cross country on your Harley with your best friend. And, hey, if your explanation is less interesting than this and the fact of the matter is that you left or lost your job and just couldn't get another one for a long time, tell them that too. Just make sure to explain that the reason it took so long is that you wanted to take your time and make the right decision and didn't want to just jump into the very next thing that presented itself. At least this way, you can come off as being somewhat selective and focused on the big picture.

Remember too that in being honest, you will humanize yourself and demonstrate some good qualities:

  • Loyalty (to care for your family)
  • Teamwork (in relocating for your spouse)
  • Personal ambition (to be brave enough to pursue a life goal)
  • Integrity (to not just take the first job you get offered, but really hold out for the right fit) 

Highlight any job or industry related exposure you had

Make sure to highlight any training you took, networking events you attended or any small project work you did that relates to this role. If you can explain that this hole wasn't a complete wash and that you haven't been "out of touch" from the industry, this will help.  

Bottom line, the manager just wants the truth. Provide a sufficient explanation for why you were unemployed (without getting into the hairy details) and speak about this briefly and comfortably. Remember, a contrived and spun version of why you've been out of work will come across as just that. And most importantly, deal with this the right way and quickly shift the emphasis off your unemployment gap and onto your applicable work experience!

References (5)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
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    Managing unemployment gaps on the resume - Candidate Advantage - Job Search Advice & Tips | Career Management Advice & Tips
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    Managing unemployment gaps on the resume - Candidate Advantage - Job Search Advice & Tips | Career Management Advice & Tips
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    Managing unemployment gaps on the resume - Candidate Advantage - Job Search Advice & Tips | Career Management Advice & Tips
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    Managing unemployment gaps on the resume - Candidate Advantage - Job Search Advice & Tips | Career Management Advice & Tips

Reader Comments (14)

I really fail to see how a gap in the economy the past two years can be held against someone.

I was let go in May 2009. 3 Months later, 700 resumes, 4 interviews later, I had a job.

After a year, the position was eliminated when the project was cancelled. Here I am 2 months later, close to 200 submissions, 4 interviews, nothing.

I'm sorry this is a tough market. I've already lowered my salary expectations, started to seek positions outside or below my skillset, etc. That is another problem. When you try to step down just to get back into the work force, your not taken seriously either or your perceived as someone who will be leaving as soon as things turn around.

You can find your self in an untenable situation rather fast.

September 20 | Unregistered Commenterem

If they are interested in you, they are eventually going to ask and find out that you were laid off in January of that year.
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