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shutterstock 172002743Q. Would you please give us your thoughts on how best to handle employment gaps? Right now, I am looking for a new position and I very honestly listed the reason for departure from a position several years ago as TWINS. How would you recommend addressing these family gaps and still demonstrate that you are committed to your professional life even if you have a gap?

A. Gaps in employment on a resume can be a red flag for some hiring managers. They can raise concerns about why the candidate wasn’t working. Did he or she lack the ambition to secure a job? Gaps can also raise concerns about skill degradation. An office worker, who has not worked for the past several years because he or she has been raising a family, caring for a sick relative or other completely legitimate reasons, may be seen as lacking skills in current technology. If you have a gap in your employment history, you’ll have to decide how to handle it on your resume. Below are three tips that will help.

1. Be upfront – Candidates sometimes try to hide gaps in employment. They’ll do so by not putting dates on their resume. Sometimes, candidates use a format other than chronological to list their job experience, skills and qualifications. That’s okay. However, it is always a good idea to have a section on the resume that lists job title, company/organization and employment dates. If the chronology of your work history is not clear, most good interviewers will ask you to give them the information they need to piece it together. If they discover the gap, it might look as though you are less than completely honest. Hiding things that might not be favorable on a resume suggests to a potential employer that you will try to cover up mistakes you make on the job. In our opinion, it is better to be forthright.

2. Explain the reason – Be prepared to provide a truthful reason for gaps in employment. If you took time off from your career to care for your family, say so. That’s a legitimate life choice and few people will fault you for making that decision. Even if it simply took you an extended period to find a new job, you can offer a legitimate and acceptable explanation. For example, “The economy was bad, I didn’t want to move my family, and I wasn’t willing to compromise. I wanted to find a job that was a good fit.”

Even if the reason for the employment gap is not favorable, such as incarceration, we advise candor. In this case, we would suggest saying something such as, “I made a mistake. I paid for it, and I have learned my lesson.” If you try to hide something like this, prospective employers will find it when they do a background check and will eliminate you from consideration. If the prospective employer doesn’t discover it and hires you, you’ll have to live with this hanging over your head. If your employer subsequently discovers the omission, you could face termination.

Also, be prepared to explain your reason for leaving each job honestly. Particularly, if there is an employment gap, prospective employers will want to know why you left the position immediately before the gap.

3. Develop yourself – Developing yourself while you are not working will help you to address concerns about skill degradation. Further, it shows that you are an industrious self-starter. Take classes. Attend workshops and seminars. If you can’t attend physically, there are many online options. Read books. Listen to tapes. Conduct research and write articles in your field. Learn a foreign language. If you can show that you have invested in yourself during your time out of the workforce, it can change what might otherwise be a negative into a positive.

A lapse in employment can be a red flag for prospective employers. The three tips above will help you to address the issue and secure a good job.

“I HIGHLY recommend Polly and Doug. They have wonderful insight to help small business owners prioritize and identify strategies for growth and improvement. Wish I had met them 20 years ago!”

Sharon MaderePresident / Premier Pet Products

My team and I have had the privilege of working with Polly on our business. Polly's keen business insight and savvy is something special. She was honest, direct, and tactful about her observations and recommendations for our team and how to grow our business. It was a pleasure having her help us and I would tell anyone that’s serious about growing their business to call Polly. She’s great!

John O’Reilly, Broker/OwnerBase Camp Realty

“Doug and Polly, I want to thank both of you! The past few months have been enlightening and overwhelming all at the same time. Your guidance, direction, wealth of knowledge, and wisdom have exceeded all my expectations. No words could ever completely describe just how amazing of a “dynamic duo” you two really are!”

Dawn Beninghove, RN, CCM, CRP, PNChief Executive Officer / Companion Extraordinaire Nursing Network, Inc.

“Doug White took on an unfocused operation (in the financial services sector) and created an efficient, centralized system dedicated to excellence. He did this not by driving change from the top down, but by helping the entire team see how their part of the process could be improved. Doug then mentored us toward effecting the changes ourselves. He taught us all how to bring our “A game,” and how to take ownership and pride in what we do.”

Donna LevinVice President of Operations / care.com

"I have had the privilege of working with Polly White for several years on a variety of projects. She consistently provides clear direction on how to resolve a wide range of employment-related issues. I look forward to my continued relationship with Polly."

Elizabeth WilkinsBusiness Manager / Manorhouse Management, Inc.

I have known Polly for more than ten years. As an HR Manager, I have utilized Polly’s training expertise at my former company and with my current company. Polly exceled at assessing the needs of our management teams and tailoring training programs that resulted in visible positive change. I also know I can count on Polly as a resource on any HR topic or bounce ideas off of her when I need a second opinion. Polly has been a mentor to me and I have always appreciated her willingness to listen and offer valuable advice and expertise.

Leigh McCullar, HR Business PartnerUniversity of Richmond

I am truly impressed with the abilities of Doug and Polly White, thank you! What a difference your expertise have made in helping Associates grow in their careers. Your dedication to excellence through empowering the individual and strengthening the Company is enlightening. I do and will continue to recommend Whitestone Partners to the Executive Market.

Suzanne Pittman, MEd VAMAC, Inc.
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