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Addressing Gaps In Your Work History

Q. I read your article on how to deal with short duration jobs on your resume. 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.

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