If you are one of 14.8 million Americans who are unemployed, you may be dealing with how to explain your absence from the working world to potential employers. No hiring manager likes to see big gaps between jobs, but there are several good explanations that you can offer to minimize the job-gaps on your resume. Follow these tips to avoid gaping holes in your resume. (Learn more in Top 8 Ways To Get Your Resume Thrown Out.)
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You can adjust the formatting of dates to eliminate the appearance of obvious unemployment streaks. For example, change any "Month/Year" references to state only the year.
| Server: June 2003 – April 2005
Sales Associate: February 2006 – May 2007
| Server: 2003 – 2005
Sales Associate: 2006 – 2007
Suddenly, that 10-month period of unemployment doesn't seem so obvious. Of course, if you're asked for particular dates, you're busted, but this method reduces the chance of having to explain prolonged unemployment.
Fill In the Blanks
If you do have significant gaps in your resume, it isn't the end of the world. Consider what you did spend your time doing during those periods. Did you volunteer, learn new skills or were there extenuating circumstances that kept you out of the workplace? This can all have a place on your resume if it adequately explains/justifies a prolonged absence.
For example, upon graduating, you may not have been able to get a job right away, but if you volunteered in a position related to your desired field, the mention of it turns a negative gap into a positive sign of devotion to your career path. If you were downsized but spent your time out of work taking classes or freelancing to update your skills, that's another great attribute. Listing these activities helps to paint you as a proactive person who, even if down on your luck job-wise, continues to actively seek ways to improve.
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Don't feel like you have to account for 100% of your time from your childhood on. It is perfectly acceptable (and in many cases, in your best interest) to keep your listed work experience to only those jobs which are relevant to the position you are applying for. If you were out of work for a year during high school, this isn't going to be a big strike against you. Just be sure to include any activities, such as education, that would keep you from working.
Answer Honestly …
If you were let go because of a problem with your performance, and your interviewer asks for specifics, be honest. Explain what the problem was, but focus on what you did to resolve the issue or to ensure it didn't happen again. If you were out of work because of health or personal issues or because of a personal crisis (a parent taking ill or passing away, for example), mention it succinctly and again, focus on what you have done to remedy the problem (or how you are keeping it under control) and how the experience has improved you. Don't feel like you have to volunteer this information, unless it is an extremely obvious gap on your resume and even then, be concise – your employer can always ask if they need more details. (Learn more in 6 Tips For A No-Experience Resume.)
… But Don't Play the Blame Game
Always answer questions concerning sensitive issues diplomatically - no bad-mouthing former employers! Doing so will make your interviewer wonder if you'll do the same thing to them in the future. Before you even submit your resume, make a list of all the gaps you are concerned about and write out what happened, how you resolved it and why it won't happen again. If there was an issue with a former co-worker or boss, don't name names. If there was a personal issue, don't go into detail – simply state the basic facts of what happened and when.
Remember, employers are looking for stable employees, but that doesn't mean issues won't arise. A stable employee is one who can handle the hurdles life puts up and learn from the challenges they presented.
The Bottom Line
Be upfront and confident - life happens. Employers aren't looking for someone who never experiences challenges; rather, they want someone who is capable of handling them. More often than not, the gaps in your resume are nothing to be ashamed of. Just make sure you highlight the positive from every situation. (For more, check out 7 Ways Your Resume Dates You.)
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