Roundtable: McKinley Team Members Discuss Gaps in Work History and Resumes

As a staffing firm our team has seen and heard it all. And though we tend to subscribe to the same school of thought concerning interviewing and resumes, we are hopelessly divided when it comes to one very important issue – how to address gaps in your work history.

Some job seekers ignore it altogether and leave a questionable gap while others include the reasons behind it on their resumes. Is there a best practice? Debra Abell, a staffing veteran with nearly two decades of experience, and Ruth Bradley, a relative newcomer to the recruiting team but who is already one of its top performers, sat down with Susie Aubuchon, Senior Vice President of Client Services, to find out.

Susie: When it comes to gaps in employment history it’s best to include them on a resume in a straightforward manner. Otherwise, you leave hiring managers and recruiters wondering what happened. This gives them the opportunity to draw their own conclusions, which isn’t always in a candidate’s best interest.

Ruth: I agree. It’s best not to lie about anything. Be transparent in your approach. After all, there are legitimate reasons for holes in work history. If I see a gap for longer than a year or two without explanation, it makes me wonder. I always ask about it during a phone screen.

Susie: Some people take time off to raise a family, travel internationally, attend graduate school, recover from an injury or illness, or even take care of a sick relative. These are all legitimate and acceptable reasons.

Ruth: And getting laid off can be a common reason. It’s okay to tell us you’ve been laid off. It happens. It doesn’t necessarily mean someone was let go for poor performance. Most of the time layoffs are for business reorganizations or financial reasons, and we understand that. Just be honest with us because a background check or employment verification will reveal the truth. We’ve had instances of people losing out on opportunities because they misrepresented their work histories.

Debra: I agree gaps need to be addressed but I don’t believe your resume is the place to do it. Use the resume to highlight your skills and experience. If you’re a good fit a recruiter or hiring manager will want to talk to you. Then, you can address the gaps in work history during the initial phone screen.

Susie: That can be risky, though. There’s a lot of competition in the job market and some job openings bring in hundreds of resumes. Realistically, someone has less than a minute to glance over a resume and decide whether to give the person further consideration or not.

Debra: I can see your point but I had gaps on my resume that didn’t impede me from finding jobs. My husband was in the military and I didn’t want to potentially be excluded from consideration because our family moved around a lot, so I didn’t mention it. Also, I took some time off to go back to school and to be with our kids. I didn’t want to call attention to either of these scenarios on my resume or in my cover letter but I always mentioned them during phone screens. I wanted hiring managers to focus on what I had done instead of what they thought was missing.

Susie: I would err on the side of caution and include something about the gap on a resume. You want to give people a reason to say yes and move you forward in the hiring process. I have seen resumes that list the years and say “personal leave” or “graduate studies.” Also, they can list the years and say something like “freelancing,” “independent projects,” “contracting” or “volunteering” and then provide more information in the bullet points.

Ruth: Those are great tips! I guess it really boils down to what you are most comfortable with and what gives you the most confidence. Searching for a job is unnerving, you’re constantly presenting yourself and your history for review by strangers and it can become a wearying process. The best approach is the one that makes you feel in control.

It seems there is no clear-cut answer or best practice for job seekers when it comes to addressing gaps in employment history. Just do what feels best. However, there are things you can do to make yourself more marketable. For starters, make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are current and they match. Also, you can beef up your skills by volunteering at a local school, church or arts center. Many nonprofit organizations need help and this will give you the chance to learn current industry trends and gain experience.

Also, reach out to a staffing firm such as ours. We can work with you and help you find a great opportunity in the marketing or creative space. Check out our current job postings today and let us help you find your next opportunity.

by McKinley Marketing Partners