Are you constantly feeling that the 1-year gap in your resume is preventing you from realizing your potential?

You are not alone.

More than 90% of the professionals in the US have been unemployed at some point in time. And it's perfectly natural - if you'll have a working life of ~40 years, surely you can't be working non-stop throughout that duration?

And you know what? The recruiters know this as well. For them, it's not a deal-breaker if there's a gap in your professional trajectory. At the end of the day, they're only concerned with the value you can deliver. Which is why it doesn't make sense for job-seekers to be so overtly afraid of this.

Even if you have a gap of a couple of years in your resume, don't let that stop you from applying for that dream profile.

A couple of years? Is "Are you serious?" the first question that popped in your head?

Let me explain.

What is the impact of career gap on callbacks?

In a study conducted by ResumeGo to identify patterns in interview shortlists and resume gaps, the key conclusions were:

  • While the shortlists went down for applicants with a gap of >3 years, applicants who provided a reason for the gap received ~60% more interviews.
  • For applicants with a gap of 0-2 years, there was only a slight dip in shortlists. The number went up with each successive year of unemployment.
  • 11.3% of the jobseekers with no career gaps were shortlisted for the interview, as opposed to 9.8% for those with a 2-year gap in their resume - not that significant.
Graph showing a dip in callback with each successive year. Credits: ResumeGo

To conclude, 2 years seems to the acceptable gap that the recruiters can tolerate, provided:

  • You don't belong to an industry wherein a 2-year gap can mean your existing expertise has been rendered obsolete - and you did nothing to prevent that from happening.
  • You have explained the reason for your absence in your resume/cover letter.

Then there's Deanne Mulligan who took a 2-year sabbatical when she was in her prime and is now the CEO of Guardian Life Insurance. This is a significant departure from a decade ago when a gap of even 6 months could spell doom. What changed? One can speculate:

  • Recruiters know that in most cases, your earliest jobs are a mix of ignorance resulting in bad choices. It's only when you've been in the professional world for a while do you realize what is it that you really want.

  • A stringent labor market facing both unemployment and a shortage of skilled workforce is forcing companies to at least think about considering resumes with gaps. From their perspective, one can understand why they are hesitant in hiring applicants with a gap of more than 2 years - the rate at which tech is evolving is rendering Moore's Law obsolete.

  • There is a cultural shift underway wherein more people are increasingly accepting unconventional career options. This means that if you want to leave your plush investment banking job and become a skiing instructor instead, you can do it.

The world is changing while you were busy sulking. Time-off is not that stigmatic. On the contrary, you'll be seen as someone who can quickly adapt to new things.

What if you're a working mother who took a gap of more than 3 years - say 5 or 7 - and are now looking to reenter the job market? If you're not defensive and if you can confidently justify the gap, the focus then changes to the contributions you can make in the future. Recruiters are now realizing that on-boarding someone who has a gap of >2 years is not as risky as it once was. For the companies, the difference between 'regular' employees and people with gaps is negligible.

How to address career gaps in your professional trajectory?

While gaps in your career will not necessarily prevent you from going up the corporate ladder, the recruiters will expect a justification. What to do in such a case?

  • Be prepared: Don't be caught off-guard if you're asked point-blank questions regarding your time off. It's the recruiter's job to identify the reasons for your absence and understand if there's a cause of concern. Be prepared for any or every question that might be thrown at you.

  • Honesty is the key: In the spirit of honesty, the recruiter is already looking at you with narrow eyes before you've even said a word. And it's natural to do so on his part. Flowing from the point above, there's only an extent to which you can 'prepare'. If you're honest, you won't have to 'prepare' - it'll just reflect in your answers and demeanor.

  • Professional Engagement: The fact that there was a gap is not important. Were you curled up on your couch for a year, or were you somehow engaging with the world? Did you volunteer or pursue any relevant certifications/training? Did you network or freelance? It's different if you were absent due to health reasons, but just because you weren't formally employed doesn't mean you can't be professionally engaged.

  • Focus on your contributions: If there are personal reasons behind the gap that you don't want to go into, you can always shift the conversation back to your professional contributions. Focus on how you can add value once you join - if the recruiter is insistent on probing deeper and deeper into your absence, you know it's not the place for you.

Resume hacks if you have a career gap

Interview tips are okay, but how to address career gaps in your resume? We have a few tips.

  • Functional Resume: There are 3 resume formats, of which the reverse chronological resume format is the most popular. However, for professionals who want to mask the timeline of their trajectory, they can opt for a functional resume. However, at Hiration, we don't really recommend going for this format as there's no point in misleading the recruiter at any stage of the hiring process.

  • Cover Letter: A cover letter is your friend if you want to justify gaps in your career. Instead of filling up your resume with explanations, send a crisp cover letter wherein you are justifying your absence in a few lines. Remember, the broad focus should be on your contributions, not the absence.

  • Additional Sections: It doesn't matter if you volunteered, freelanced, took up independent projects, acted as a consultant...don't hesitate to include that in your resume. Something is better than nothing. A recruiter won't help you if you give him nothing.

  • Training/Certifications: This becomes especially important if the gap exceeds 2 years. You need to tell the recruiter that you're still relevant, that you won't be left scratching your head once you join, that your peers won't be handholding you. A brilliant way to do that is to show recent certifications and training programs in your resume.

How to Justify Career Gaps

  • Health: Nothing comes above your health and personal well-being. If your health deteriorated for any reason and you took a break because of that, you can be completely honest and mention the same in the cover letter/interview.

  • Personal: If there was a crisis in your family because of which your full-time presence was deemed to be a necessity, any recruiter worth his salt will have no problem with it. There might be cases wherein the interviewer is probing deeper into your personal issue - only oblige if you're completely okay with it.

  • Laid off: No industry is able to save itself from layoffs. It's natural if you were at the receiving end of it. Though the recruiters know it, it's your job to reiterate that your skillset is still intact and that the factors leading to the eventual outcome were beyond your control. Quite often, the top leadership is the reason why there are layoffs, in which case you need a balancing act wherein you are not overtly critical but also downright honest.

  • Fired: If you were fired for unethical reasons, don't think that the fact will be overlooked in your next company. It's an SOP in most companies to do background checks and you can't escape that fact. A prudent choice would be to avoid bringing that up but being honest (in case it is) at the same time.

Before you return to work after the break

  • Find out what you're passionate about, what cause drives you, and sign up for a volunteering initiative in the same.

  • Start reaching out to professionals in your network and renewing old contacts. See if there have been any changes or updates in your chosen role/industry.

  • See if there are short-term training, courses or certifications you can sign up for. This will ensure that you haven't been completely away from your role and are abreast with the latest trends.

  • This one's important: Don’t apologize for your time away. There might be people harping on it, but it's your job to be confident about your choices and only look ahead.

  • You've been away for so long. Now that you're back, make sure the energy levels are at an all-time high. This will ease all remaining doubts anyone might have regarding your ability to rejoin.

That's about it for now! For crafting a recruiter-friendly resume that is bound to give you an edge over your competition, you can always head on to our famed online resume builder. To date, we have helped over 30k+ professionals across 170+ countries land their dream jobs through these resumes. You don't want to be left behind, do ya?

Feel free to drop in a line at team@hiration.com if there are any questions or concerns.


This article first appeared on LinkedIn.