How to explain on your resume

How to explain on your resume – why have you been out of work for so long?

The job market, since around 2007 has been an oxymoron—it simply did not exist. Employment gaps, formerly a difficult hurdle to surmount on resumes and interviews, are now quite common.

While recruiters and hiring managers are less concerned about these gaps, they still want and expect explanations from candidates regarding these periods. There are many, many people seeking jobs, a large number of which will also have one or more employment gaps. While your gaps are not unique, in many cases, the candidate with the best explanation may receive the job offer.

Hide or Disclose Gaps?

While there are ways to “disguise” employment gaps, it is not a good idea to deceptively hide these periods of joblessness. Employment continuity is important, but hiding or falsely claiming employ dates is easily discovered.

Should an interested employer make one phone call to a previous employer to verify dates you worked, your deception will take center stage. While this may not, by itself, be a job offer killer, H.R. personnel will often wonder what other information on your resume is incorrect or exaggerated.

You need not emphasize these gaps, however. For example, if you went some months without a job, simply list the years with an employer, without noting the exact start and stop dates. If you left one job in March and didn’t find another until September of the same year, just note the end date of one and the start date of another by stating the year. No obvious gap will appear and upon verification your dates will be confirmed.

If you acted as a consultant—even if you never secured any clients—or did some volunteer work, list this during your gap. Remember work, even if you didn’t earn compensation, is still work.

Turn the Recession into an Advantage

Many employers are more sympathetic to candidates with employment gaps since the recent deep recession. Dangerous warning signals will not sound as they normally would. With average job search periods as long as 12 months, with some taking much longer, hiring managers are not nearly as troubled as usual about employment gaps.

Use the many recession lay offs and downsizing activities to your advantage. Job searches lasting six months to one year are currently the rule, not the exception. Employer sympathy, however sincere, will not, by itself, get you a great job offer. However, if you have a solid resume, perform well at an interview and follow up properly, you may even have a small edge over candidates who have been continually employed.

Minimize Employment Dates

As noted, do not hide employment dates--not even "little white lies." However, if your employment gaps are longer than a year, just eliminating months from your resume may not work.

Instead of featuring dates highlighted on the left or right side of your resume, you might unobtrusively just place them in or near text instead of in the margins. This minimizing of dates keeps your resume honest and truthful, without bringing problem dates to H.R. attention.

How to Handle Early Career Job Gaps

If you’re a veteran of the workforce, you may have had employment gaps early in your career. Should these gaps be over 10 to 12 years ago, at a minimum, do not stress about these issues. Few employers will be concerned about these older periods of unemployment.

If you’ve been consistently employed for the last decade or more, you have two options. One is simply listing the dates of earlier employment as they were, while having a prepared response, if you’re asked. Another option is to eliminate the problem job(s) from your resume. Most employers have little interest in that historical data.

They will have great interest in your skill level and potential contribution to their staff. Your most recent position(s) will carry far more weight than those first two jobs you had over a decade ago.

Explaining Gaps

Since you cannot “explain” obvious employment gaps in resumes, your first step is to minimize these events to get an invitation for an interview. However, you will need a well-constructed explanation at this treasured interview.

If you were laid off or downsized, let the interviewer know. Plan to expand, in a positive manner, on the simple fact of the act. If you were laid off or terminated for non-performance-based reasons, e.g., recession-generated lay off, design an answer that reassures interviewers.

While there is no “one size fits all” statement, you can indicate that the down economy lay offs were wide spread, with no upturn in sight at that time. Therefore, you took some time to reflect, refocus and consider new career (employer, position, etc.) directions.

You spent time investigating industries, companies, along with economic and job market projections for long-term career decisions. Your analysis indicated this company (your interview) scored very well, which is why you are so interested in this interview and position.

Do not become a “drama queen,” relaying too many details or becoming overly emotional or theatrical. While experienced interviewers are interested and may feel sincere sympathy and empathy, they are more concerned with how you will contribute to their company now and in the future.

Explain clearly any recent employment gaps, but stay focused on displaying your expertise, personality, confidence, self-esteem and potential “fit” into the employer's corporate culture. Be careful not to open any new “doors” for interviewer questions about employment gaps for which you may not have prepared answers. Your explanation should be clear and complete, hopefully ending the "gap" part of the interview. Both you and the interviewer will be more comfortable and you just might get that job offer you have been craving.

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© 2014 Kelly Services, Inc.