A reader recently asked a great question in response to our post about telling the truth on your résumé . She asked what to do when you have a spotty work history with many employment gaps but for good reason. We think this is a great question.
Employment gaps happen to a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Those who’ve been stay-at-home parents, had the opportunity to travel, attend school, serve as a volunteer, or be a care-giver for a loved one, often choose to return to the workforce after a period of time. Unfortunately, because employment gaps are typically associated with poor performing workers, employers tend to look negatively on all applicants whose résumés reflect a large period of time without work. This can make it tricky to get in the door for an interview and show that you’re a qualified candidate.
But, there are some résumé techniques you can use to highlight your capabilities and not the gaps.
1. Focus on skills. Using a skills-focused résumé can help you emphasize your qualifications over your work history. Try opening your résumé with your objective and then give bullet points with key skills or qualifications you possess and those you’ve attained while on hiatus instead of launching into your employment history.
2. Use a functional format. Instead of relating your work experience in a chronological format like a traditional résumé, use the functional style. This type of résumé groups experience not by chronological order but by relevance to the position at hand.
3. Highlight unpaid experience. If you served as a volunteer for a religious or civic organization during your employment gap, list the position you held along with the title “volunteer” and describe the transferable skills you used in that position to show that you have unpaid experience in the field you’re applying for.
4. Don’t fudge on the dates. It’s critical not to exaggerate or lie about the dates of employment you’ve held. It’s easy for employers to verify employment dates, and fudging the facts will only make matters worse.
5. Send a cover letter. It’s typically not appropriate to write “Stay-at-home-parent, June 2004-August 2007” on your résumé, but you can talk about your situation in a cover letter, if you feel comfortable doing so. Don’t get into the nitty gritty, and whatever you do, don’t complain about your situation. But you can explain your situation, highlighting how it pertains to the position at hand. For example, you could say that for three years you used time management, care-giving and financial skills by maintaining the family budget and caring for your child at home.
Be honest with prospective employers about the reasons you have a work gap, and keep in mind that if you’ve been busy with other pursuits while away from work, you’ve probably gained a variety of transferable skills that may make you a prime candidate. Your break from the work world may just make you the perfect candidate for the right employer. In fact, recruiters are beginning to look for returning workers with past experience to fill the void of Baby Boomers who are beginning to retire. Using these tips to highlight everything about you that makes you the right candidate can help you make sure recruiters look past the gaps and see what you have to offer as an employee instead.