Got Gaps? Three Tips for Handling Employment History Problems Print E-mail
By Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC
 
The department staff gathers around to celebrate a milestone for a staff member. It is retirement day for Joe Smith who has been with the company for thirty years. Management is there to present a nice gold watch to Joe along with a plaque commemorating his extensive service and loyalty to the company. The staff provides a nice cake and some soda. A picture is snapped of Joe smiling as he opens his gift from his co-workers.
 
Halt! That’s enough flashback to the past. While this is an iconic scene, it just does not happen anymore. Once upon a time, careers were fairly linear, fairly progressive, and fairly consistent. People worked for one or two companies within their lifetimes and a gap in between was a major red flag to a potential hiring employer.
 
That’s all changed now. Most people hold jobs for 18 months to 5 years and gaps in between are not unusual. Life happens to everyone. Layoffs occur, parents get sick, and people decide to go back to college for an advanced degree. A gap in between jobs of any length used to be a deadly problem but it is fairly common across everyone’s career paths these days. There are some ways to handle date gaps on resumes so you as the job seeker don’t feel there is a big flashing neon sign there that says “Unemployed!”
 
Years, Not Months
The simplest way to make date gaps “disappear” on a resume is to not include the months of employment on the job chronology but rather just use years. For example, Dave was laid off in February of 2008 from XYZ Company and spent four months job searching before signing on with a new company, ABC Inc., in June of the same year. He is now looking to make a voluntary move to a different company where he will have more growth potential. That four month date gap back in 2008 will not show if he notates his jobs with years of employment only.
 
Ignore It
Yes, ignore it. If the date gap was six months or less or if it doesn’t show when the resume is organized in terms of years of employment, why bring it up? Fairly short date gaps are not that unusual. A job search can often take weeks or even months to complete. If it doesn’t show on the resume, don’t worry about it.
 
Address It
Let’s say you’ve been out of work for a longer stretch of time in order to care for an ailing parent (or some other reason). Address that directly in the resume. Explain the time span. If you were on leave of absence or maybe you were just taking a sabbatical, give that information. A large gap is better explained in some way rather than ignored completely. The explanation given should not be elaborate or detailed. Keep it simple. If the reader wants more information about it, it can be brought up in the interview.
 
Career paths for US workers are far from the pattern of Joe Smith’s as described above. Careers do not travel on railway tracks straight through time with few diversions onto sidings. Careers in this millennium are more like the paths of ATVs – they go all over the place, up hills, around mountains, double back and criss-cross. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 80% of college graduates never work in their major. The average American changes jobs every three years, and changes complete career fields three times over a lifetime. Worried about date gaps? Stop thinking “train” and start thinking “four-wheeler”.