Statements such as “everyone is working,” and “there are two jobs for every applicant” have become commonplace on TV and online news. But life happens. Recently, I have had calls from jobseekers that are not working. The reasons vary—pandemic breaks, family care needs, being terminated from jobs, workplace injuries, etc. Regardless of the reason, the jobseekers I’ve spoken to feel they have to move forward.
Here are some career development strategies to consider when addressing a career break:
- Tell the truth,
- Look forward, not back,
- Take action to fill your employment gap, and
- Reflect positive action, not your gap on your resume and profile.
File our ideas away if you are working now and have every reason to believe your job will continue. There have been three occasions in my own career when I’ve gone home anticipating I would have a job the next morning, and found this was not the case when I arrived at work the next day.
Tell the truth.
The most basic strategy, according to recruiters I’ve spoken with, is to be honest. Employers will verify your dates of employment so you cannot shift the dates to fill gaps in your work history. You will be terminated and create or extend your employment gap as a result.
Education is also easy for employers to verify. You cannot say you were attending school if you were not matriculated or registered in a program of study.
Instead of “making stuff up”—a strategy for getting in trouble rather than getting a job—it’s time to do the same thing our bosses want us to do on the job. Think creatively and “outside the box.”
Look forward, not back.
Another basic leadership concept most of us ignore at one time or another is to be forward thinking. Employers will not be interested in long stories about how unfairly your last employer treated you. They will assume you’ll talk about the unfair way you were treated at their company in a few years if they were to hire you.
Networking meetings and job interviews are not the places to dwell on past wrongs. For example, a jobseeker asked me how to address “unjust termination that I am currently litigating.” My suggestion for situations such as this is to simply say you were let go. Your exact wording may vary, but the idea is to keep your response simple and move on. Interviewers and industry contacts will sound empathetic if you go into details—and then they will not move you forward.
Take action to fill your gap.
Employment gaps are inevitable for some of us regardless of economic conditions or skill level. Research has shown that employers show less interest in job candidates that have been out of work for six months or more, as discussed in a previous blog post. Even worse, LinkedIn and other automated systems may eliminate you from employers’ search results when your resume or profile does not include a current job.
Kate Wendleton, founder of a national outplacement organization, advocated volunteer work as a way to fill gaps back in the 1990s in part because, in her view, “salary is not a resume issue.” As discussed in another post, I have volunteered my way into new jobs twice. Other jobseekers I have spoken with or worked with have done this, too.
It’s great when the organization that you volunteer with hires you but this won’t always happen. You are still doing productive work someone will vouch for when they are asked about you.
Volunteer work is not the only way to avoid a gap in your work history. An engineer I worked with several years ago reviewed business plans and proposals for family members while she was home with her young children. A fashion designer used her sketchbook and computer to design a marketable brand of sportswear while she was home. Other clients I have worked with and jobseekers I have spoken to have cared for family members or educated children during the pandemic. Yet another client sought a company he could purchase and run while he was between jobs. In other words, some or all of the activities you took on during a pandemic or other break can probably be thought of as a job even if you did not think of them that way at the time.
There are many benefits to staying active professionally during a career break. Examples include enhanced self-esteem, opportunities to maintain, build, and update skills, expanding one’s professional network, and creating new resume and LinkedIn profile entries.
Reflect positive actions, not your gap, on your resume and profile.
We cannot create content from whole cloth to fill gaps in your employment history, but we can reflect the positive actions you took while between jobs.
The engineer we worked with that consulted with local family and friends on start-ups and other small businesses used this language to fill her gap:
INDEPENDENT CONSULTANT, El Paso, TX, 2006 – 2011
This was a strategic consulting practice focusing on support for local entrepreneurs.
Offered business plan and new business development services.
- Reviewed business proposals and plans for new businesses leading to launch of several El Paso-area startups.
- Developed cost-reduction and related strategies to save and then grow existing family-owned businesses in the region.
In this case, the wording we developed with Martha did more than fill the gap. She eventually became a partner in one of the businesses she contributed to building.
While we cannot promise that the strategy you choose for filling your career gap will result in a highly successful career change, it will improve the chances that your resume and profile will not be overlooked. As a result, you may get a better job in less time.