June 4, 2018

Low Unemployment Forces Recruiters to Stop Fussing About Resume Gaps


Oh no, it’s the dreaded resume gap! This candidate didn’t work for two whole years. Resume, meet trash can. Next!

In the age of technology, recruiters must sort through dozens or hundreds of resumes to find candidates they want to bring to the interview table, so it’s easy to find arbitrary reasons to dismiss an applicant. However, with unemployment at a steady low, qualified talent has become harder to find.

“I would argue that resume gaps have not become less important over the years,” says Len Friedrichs, senior vice president of human resources and administrative for staffing firm Addison Group. “Instead, the state of employment has simply changed. Unemployment rates are their lowest in quite some time, meaning that the economy is strong and the need for employees is high. A strong economy creates an environment that is driven by candidates, not by employers. This means recruiters are forced to think more strategically, dig deeper into their networks, and consider candidates they may not have looked at in previous years before making hiring decisions.”

If You’re Concerned, Just Ask

There are many reasons why a worker might leave the workforce for a few months (or a few years). Not working for a while shouldn’t be considered an indication that an employee is irresponsible or unreliable, as recruiters have traditionally inferred.

“It’s not the gap itself that looks bad on a resume,” Friedrichs says. “Rather, it’s the idea of the gap and what it represents that has the negative connotation attached to it. Unfortunately, many hiring professionals jump to conclusions or make negative assumptions when they see gaps on candidates’ resumes, when in reality many of these assumptions they make aren’t based on fact.”

The common reasons behind resumes gaps are hardly sinister. Friedrichs points out that in his experience, gaps are usually caused by professionally innocuous things like:

  1. Caring for a sick family member
  2. Dealing with a death in the family
  3. Maternity leave
  4. A sudden layoff
  5. Going back to school

Many quality candidates get passed on simply because they had an emergency or other life event that required them to step outside the workforce for a period of time. Recruiters and hiring managers struggling to find candidates might do well to loosen their standards until they have more information. If an applicant is qualified and has the proper experience, don’t let something as vague as a work gap on their resume ruin what could be a valuable opportunity for both parties.

Framing a Resume Gap

On the flip side, it’s crucial for candidates to properly frame their resumes so gaps don’t immediately disqualify them. For example, if you have a four-year gap while you were pursuing higher education, then make sure the dates of your time at school are listed. If you took time to care for an ill family member, you may even be able to list that experience to your advantage if it applies to the role you’re seeking.

“I recommend formatting your resume wisely to highlight your accomplishments, not just your day-to-day duties at each role,” says Friedrichs. “Also make sure that your resume is tailored to the specific industry and job description for which you’re applying and interviewing. Though this may take a bit more time — especially if you’re applying for several roles — it’s an important step that shows you’re a detail-oriented hard worker, which goes a long way in the hiring process.”

Ultimately, how much information a candidate wants to reveal is up to them. Applicants with resume gaps simply need to ensure their resumes focus on strengths and accomplishments that will help recruiters see them as viable candidates. Gaps can be explained in an interview, but first you have to get there.

Read more in Resume

Jason McDowell holds a BS in English from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. By day, he works as a mild-mannered freelance writer and business journalist. By night, he spends time with his wife and dogs, writes novels and short stories, and tries in vain to catch up on all of those superhero television shows.