Among the common questions I hear as a recruiter is, "Why do companies always want to know why a person has job gaps in their work history?" Knowing the answer is essential to creating a resume that gets you through to an interview.
Employers invest a lot of money in the people they hire. To receive a return on that investment, they want candidates who are dedicated to the position and who plan on staying for the long term, or at least the duration of the assignment. Job gaps are concerning because they may indicate the applicant is a job hopper who can't commit to a project or a company, that their skills have gone out of date, or the candidate has a tendency to burn bridges and wants to keep some job history a secret.
There are certainly some very valid reasons an applicant may have job gaps:
- They were laid off (typically due to downsizing or outsourcing)
- They were out for medical reasons
- They took time off to take care for children or elderly parents
- They left the workforce to attend school
So how do you deal with this on your resume? First of all, you don't need to explain every reason you've left each job – recruiters are more concerned about longer gaps, usually 2 years and more. Considering the economy in recent years, a few months off between jobs isn't uncommon.
The key is to give a short explanation of the gap, including how you kept your skills up to date while you were not working. Be careful not to give out too many personal details, as that could raise more questions than it answers. Here are a couple of examples:
Example 1: Web Design applicant out of work for major surgery:
Took time out for personal reasons that have now been resolved. Maintained skills by volunteering my web design services for Free Geek, expanding my Dreamweaver expertise.
Example 2: Technical Illustrator who took time out to take care of children:
June 2009-August 2011
Stay at home parent, kept my illustration skills sharp as an active blogger documenting my restoration of a vintage Harley. See attached portfolio for work examples done during this time.
A recruiter who is interested may ask for more details, so have a brief answer ready, and include the skills you've used during the gap so it doesn't seem like lost time.
You can make yourself marketable despite gaps in your employment. Focus on the skills you utilized during that period which are relevant to the positions you are applying for. And if you are in one of those gaps now, be sure to keep those skills up to date!