A classic expression in marketing and advertising is “if you can’t avoid it, feature it.” For example, a yogurt manufacturer cannot avoid the fruit sinking to the bottom in its product, so they promote “fruit on the bottom.” We can apply a similar idea to a gap in employment, sometimes called a career break, on our resume and LinkedIn profile. It’s better to deal with it than ignore it.
We looked at career break strategies about a year ago and, as a result of a video that came to my phone’s home screen last week, I thought it was time for an update. The strategies include:
- Be honest,
- Look at the future, not the past,
- Act now to fill your employment gap, and
- Show employment—not a career break—on LinkedIn.
Although the media continues to report historically low unemployment rates, I speak frequently to jobseekers that are between jobs and have to deal with their gap in salaried work.
First of all, recruiters say jobseekers must be honest on LinkedIn profiles, their resumes, and at interviews. 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 career break.
Instead of “making stuff up,” think creatively. Think about career-related activities you can get involved in without a full-time job.
Look at the future, not the past.
A jobseeker began discussing her career break with me by saying her gap resulted from “unjust termination” that she is now litigating. Networking meetings and job interviews are not the places to dwell on past wrongs. My suggestion for situations such as this is to keep it simple. Say you were let go. Your exact wording may vary, but the idea is to keep your response succinct and move on. Interviewers and industry contacts will sound empathetic if you go into details—and then they will not move you forward.
Your goal, then, is to close off the potentially negative conversation about your recent past so you can move on to the future.
Act now to fill your gap.
Employment gaps are inevitable for many 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. She stated that, “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. Volunteer work, then, is a useful strategy for filling employment gaps.
Of course, 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.
Another powerful career break story emerged when we discussed the time a client spent caring for a relative. She was also tutoring her relatives’ children in Language Arts, essay writing, and research skills. Her education included a master’s degree in English literature, and she did tutoring during graduate school, so it made sense to add a new tutoring entry on her resume.
In other words, some 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 beyond creating resume and LinkedIn profile entries when you stay active professionally during a career break. Examples include enhanced self-esteem, opportunities to maintain, build, and update skills, and expanding your professional network.
Show employment—not a career break—on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn appears to recognize the value of filling career breaks on your profile. The site offers a “career break” option for use in your experience section. We have learned, though, that hiring teams using LinkedIn’s talent solution software will not see your career break, according to a YouTube video Melanie Woods, a recruiter in Houston, TX, recently posted. As a result, recruiters will not see any of the great relevant activities you have been doing, such as consulting, volunteer work, or job-related training. They will only see a gap in your work history—and may not see your profile at all—when they search for candidates with current job titles matching their job order. So, enter your activity as a job. Do not use the career break option.
Fill your career break with relevant activity whenever possible. 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. You may get a better job in less time.