How do you address resume gaps?
In an ideal scenario, your resume is a reflection of your accomplishments and work ethic: a continuous stream of positions with increasing responsibilities where each success builds upon your previous position. But life is sometimes not ideal, and you might end up with a resume gap. We define this as any time you’re looking for a job and you don’t currently have one. The problem is not just about having a big gap. Any time you’re unemployed, you’re fighting the same stigma: employers assume that the best people are always employed. One of the biggest factors that contributes to this stigma is timing. If you are laid off, the longer you are unemployed, the worse it looks. If you’re laid off and unemployed for more than 3 months, it can really look bad to a potential employer. So how do you address gaps in your resume when a hiring manager inquires about them?
Addressing layoffs on a resume
If you are laid off, the most important thing is to talk about what happened to the company. Recruiters will be concerned with how many people were involved in the layoff, what departments were affected, and who stayed. If the layoff involved just a couple people and the news didn’t make the papers, then that’s a bad sign. But if a large company is laying off 15% of its workforce, then that’s different. Also, timing is key. The sooner you can get back into the market, the better. So don’t take time off after you’re laid off. Hit the ground running, make sure LinkedIn highlights your most recent accomplishments, and grab another opportunity soon. During the interview process, talk about exactly what happened in the company without being too negative. Phrase it as this is business, and this happens. There shouldn’t be any bad blood or blame. The more likely you play the victim, the more likely it is to come across as negative to whomever is listening.
Explaining a sabbatical
On the other hand, if you left a job to take time off after a large project, then that just becomes one more part of your overall career narrative. Address this honestly and directly. For instance: “I left such and such a company to spend some time traveling, and now I’m ready to get back into work.” The worst thing you can do in the case of a sabbatical or a layoff is to downplay that and act like it doesn’t exist. And don’t substitute one for the other. The whole narrative has to be cohesive and true, because many companies will conduct extensive background checks.
Including Exact Dates?
Let’s add one more section also that talks about whether to include exact dates on your resume, There is one potential way to de-emphasize a current resume gap: including years instead of exact months on your resume. There is such a thing as being too forthright up front, because you risk being filtered by resume software. If you were recently laid off it’s ok to include years instead of dates, such as listing 2015-2017 as the dates of employment. However, you should still specifically address the layoff on the first phone call. That said, if you left a job voluntarily to travel, you should be very clear about that and include specific dates.
Remember the big picture
Overall, the key is to think of your career as a path to a successful finish line. The vast majority of steps you take should propel you down that path. But it’s possible to veer off a bit occasionally as long as you keep the finish line in sight.