Cover Up Awkward Employment Gaps

How To Write A Resume For The Singapore Market…Article # 6

Typos, spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, unprofessional e-mail addresses, tiny fonts and coffee stains – include any of these things on your resume and not only can you kiss your chance of receiving a job offer goodbye, but your resume won’t even make it through the first sift.  Another way to count yourself out of the running which isn’t perhaps so obvious though, is by leaving yawning employment gaps in your resume.

Despite the fact that there are hundreds, if not thousands of perfectly legitimate reasons why job seekers might have one or more gaps in their work histories, still nothing is more likely to act as a red flag to recruiters.  Gaps, after all, are just made to be filled, and if you leave recruiters to fill them on their own, they are quite likely to imagine that you were unemployed as a result of being fired, bumming around the world or serving time behind bars, when in fact you might have been raising a family, taking care of a sick relative or doing something else that was equally as commendable.

How you deal with gaps in your resume will depend to a great extent on how long you were out of the workforce, how long ago the break in your employment history was, how else you spent your time when you weren’t working and the reason for your career break.

Here though, are a few ways to handle some of the most common situations surrounding employment gaps.

  1. Short employment gaps –  If the periods that you were in employment lasted a year or more, only list the start and end dates by year rather than by month and year.  In this way, if you left one job in April for example, but didn’t start the next until October of the same year, the recruiter won’t be any the wiser.
  2. Employment gaps earlier in your career – Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to include every job you’ve ever done on your resume.  If the gap in your work history occurred more than 15 years ago, then simply leave your earlier work experience out, bunch them together, or give minimal details (and exclude dates), so as not to draw attention to it.  Where senior roles are concerned, recruiters wouldn’t normally expect to see details for more than the last 15 years of your work history anyway, and in the case of high-tech jobs, even the past 10 years’ experience is sufficient.
  3. Employment gaps containing other valuable experience – Think back to your time away from the workplace.  Were you engaged in any kind of voluntary, freelance or consulting work?  If so, then go ahead and include it in your resume just as you would your other paid employment.  If you took time out to study, meanwhile, then include your study dates in the Education section of your document.
  4. Longer employment gaps – Longer employment gaps resulting from raising a family, caring for sick or elderly relatives or even travelling the world to build your life experience, should be addressed and explained properly.  Remember, most recruiters don’t have a problem with legitimate gaps in candidates’ work histories.  What they do have a problem with though are unexplained gaps, so use your cover letter and/or resume, both to explain your absence from the workforce and to tell the recruiter about all the wonderful skills that you developed during that period.  Think, for example, about the organizational, time management, problem-solving and teaching skills that you needed to draw on while raising your family or the qualities that you needed when caring for others, such as patience. Also mention any activities you engaged in, which helped you stay in-tune with your field, such as short courses, seminars, research/reading, regular networking and so on.

If you can’t easily account for employment gaps in your work history using any of the above methods, then another completely different way (which is often not ideal and should be the last resort) to approach them is by using the functional rather than the chronological resume format.  Unlike the latter which puts your work history up front and includes your employment dates, the functional format focuses on your skills and achievements and gives relatively little attention to your work history.  If you want to disguise employment gaps or frequent changes of job, just list your past job titles and the names and addresses of your past employers in reverse chronological order, under the heading of Experience and leave out the dates of your employment.  The theory is that by the time the recruiter has read all about your great contributions to your past employers and your tremendous skills and achievements, he will be more inclined to give you the opportunity to account for the missing dates at an interview, at which time you are likely to be able to account for any gaps much more easily/effectively.

Recruiters nowadays are pretty switched on in terms of the various methods used by job seekers to disguise gaps in their work histories and it is well worth bearing in mind that many will ask about them outright.  Always be sure to prepare your explanation in advance and if you are asked, never feel tempted to lie.  Most employers simply want to be reassured that there is an acceptable reason for your career break / employment gap, so just stick to the truth and, if possible, turn the situation to your advantage by letting them know how they will benefit from what you learned during your absence.

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