When updating your resume, you may have stumbled onto this familiar, yet potentially big problem. Whether you have formatted your resume as chronological, functional, or somewhere in between, there is one thing your resume is missing and you won’t know what to do with: the gap in your employment.
It’s been said time and again by hiring managers and recruiters that an employment gap in a resume is a red flag for candidates who lack experience and are not the right fit for a company. However, is an employment gap really a clear and justified indicator of qualification? I like to believe the answer is “No,” because every candidate has a viable reason. You need only ask, or your company risks screening out those with amazing talent.
Company layoffs are abundantly common, often appearing with little time to prepare. Individuals go months, sometimes a year or more, without securing a new job due to factors that go beyond their talent. You can argue that employees should always be on their toes looking for the next job opportunity while currently employed, although what does this say about your employee’s loyalty? Sure they’re go getters, but is a job hopping mentality a better alternative for your company’s development?
Not every experience is included on a resume. There are individuals that possess 10+ years of experience, but being taught a resume should never exceed two pages with that caliber of expertise, they will opt to exclude some of the positions they’ve held. They choose instead to pick and choose what they view as relevant experience. After all, job experiences can’t be seamlessly chronological on paper. And explaining gaps in cover letters can be counterproductive when resumes are the first documents to be screened. The same can be said for new job seekers who are encouraged to have a one-page resume.
Lacking job experience straight out of college can lead to further inexperience and unemployment. Many graduates come out of college with a boundless enthusiasm to enter the workforce and change the world. Unfortunately, they are also entering it for the first time without much experience. Getting through their first door can pose a challenge, regardless of searching early. Now overqualified for retail jobs, they are additionally considered under qualified for company jobs (“Hello I’m a Recent Grad” comic), which doesn’t help their ever expanding employment gap.
Life experience is just as good as work experience. It shapes one’s attitude and personality. Whether it’s taking care of your children or sick family members, or traveling around the world, all life experiences teach us skills we can’t learn from school or from holding a job. They teach us to be positive, flexible, worldly and adaptable. They are the inspiration for our creativity. To an extent, tasks can always be taught and trained. But a candidate’s life experiences? They can be as applicable as work experience despite the presence of an employment gap.
In a perfect world we wouldn’t have employment gaps (or at least, no long ones). People would go from one job to the next, developing skills, growing as individuals, and making a difference without struggling to make ends meet. No doubt the job market is competitive, but screening a candidate’s resume for something as trivial as an employment gap seems unreasonable. Every candidate has the potential to bring something extraordinary to the table.
Regardless, all job candidates should be ready to fill in the blanks of their unemployment when the situation arises. Unpaid positions, volunteer activities, community involvement, special projects, consulting engagements, continued education, all of it counts. Just be sure to communicate why such experiences are significant to the job at hand.
When it comes down to it, employment gaps are ambiguous. The best recruiters will know this. The best recruiters will also put less weight on it. Instead of red flagging employment gaps, we should be focusing on the bigger issue: how to truly assess talent. Employment gaps are the thing of the past. Let’s keep them there.
Laura Hong is a Media and Public Relations graduate student at the University of the Pacific, and completed a social media internship at SmartRecruiters. Hire Her!