Space Filler

By Sharon Naylor

July 21, 2014 6 min read

To land your dream job, your resume has to stand out. Include impressive details about past positions and responsibilities, special skills and other qualities that will make you a dream employee. Never give them a reason to reject you.

You could have phenomenal credits in your resume, but if you have any sizeable time gaps between jobs in your employment history, prospective employers will wonder why. As you prepare yourself for your next go-round of job applications and interviews, be ready to explain those unemployed gaps between jobs wisely.

Alison Doyle, the guide to job searching, says that "People take time off of work for all kinds of reasons -- caring for an ill relative, being ill, continued education," and interviewers know that you may have an excellent reason for that big gap in your employment history. The key is explaining your reason in a way that accentuates the positives and eliminates the negatives. Explained correctly, the reasons for your time off could actually impress your future employer and elevate you above competitors.

Doyle says that explaining gaps in your resume can be done in your cover letter, within your resume and during your job interview:

*In Your Cover Letter

"When you have employment gaps that don't fit on your resume (you took time off to care for an aged parent or to raise a child,) use your cover letter to explain the gap. That way, the employer will know that there's an explanation for you being out of the workforce," says Doyle.

*In Your Resume

"When listing dates on your resume, you don't need to list the month and year if you were in a position for over a year or if your position spans multiple years. For example, you could say 2008 to 2014 (rather than May, 2008 to February, 2014) which would give you some room to cover the gaps," says Doyle. For instance, if your prior position in the scenario above ended in December 2007, you'd simply put the prior position ending in 2007 and your next position beginning in 2008.

"As you can see, the resume doesn't specifically say when the candidate started and ended employment, which can cover an employment gap," says Doyle.

You can also design your resume to minimize gaps in your employment history, says Doyle, who suggests not bolding the dates of your employment and using a smaller font that the one you use for your job title. "Start your resume with a summary statement and career highlights section so you are highlighting your skills and accomplishments, rather than when you did what," says Doyle.

Add a section in your resume that lists what you were doing when you weren't employed, such as freelancing, volunteering and consulting. Have it in the same format you use for your official jobs. "If you took a class, list that in your education section,' says Doyle, and if you volunteered, add the details of your volunteer position, especially if you were a team leader or innovator within your projects.

*In Your Interview

"Explaining a gap in employment during an interview can be tricky," says Doyle. When you are asked about gaps in your employment history, and you will be, address the reasons in a direct and forthright manner, providing a clear rationale. If you took time off to care for an ailing parent, approach that like you would explaining a job position, outlining the skills and strengths you used to provide assistance and support to the patient and to your support team (your family,) such as maintaining schedules and organizing tasks, researching options and handling paperwork. Make clear, though, that the reason for your hiatus has passed, without delving into how hard it was to be a caretaker. The interviewer will admire you for your dedication and note the strengths you brought to your caretaking team.

The same goes if you spent months job hunting. What were the organizational and research skills you developed during this process, the ways you turned a stressful task into a positive?

If you took time off for education to improve your workplace skills, such as getting your MBA or getting accredited in a specialized skill for your industry, be prepared to share details on the courses you took and what you learned, as well as how they will make you a better employee.

If your employment gap was the result of downsizing, proceed with caution. Doyle says that if you were laid off due to a workforce contraction, provide any evidence of your strong performance during your time with that company, and never badmouth the company. Provide any recommendations from supervisors, colleagues and customers confirming your excellent work skills. Doyle suggests adding these to your LinkedIn profile as well, since many interviewers research prospects' social media listings for valuable details.

Emphasize the constructive activities you did during your time off, such as taking or teaching workshops, and especially express enthusiasm to return to the workforce with your new skills and experiences -- even if you simply took a sabbatical to travel the world. Prepare yourself for interviews by practicing, so that you are comfortable explaining the reasons for your job gaps and your resulting strengths as an employee.

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