Mind the Gap

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You see that sign all over the place in the London Metro (or tube). It’s even shouted over the loudspeaker. Similarly, when recruiters, hiring managers and HR professionals see a large gap on a resume, they know to proceed with caution, carefully stepping over that pesky open space. And while some jobseekers know this and it’s practically a mantra at Recruiter U, it’s become an even bigger issue post-quasi economic crumbling. At a time when even experienced, talented, tenured and aggressive employees were out of work, resume gaps are more common than in the heady days that ended in the fall of 2007.

So have recruiters changed their minds about gaps? Or are they treating the CV equivalent of a black hole with the same biohazard suit as usual? CNN Money gives this advice: 

An inconsistent work history could be viewed as a red flag to potential employers, and applicants should counteract that with an explanation under the employment section of their résumé.

Perhaps it’s time to reimagine the advice we’re giving our candidates. Namely, the trite old bag of finger waggings we trot out whenever we can. Here they are, for your perusal:

Volunteer– This is usually the first advice we give those with a gap on their resume and it’s actually pretty good advice. There are fantastic ways to put your skills to good use for non-profits, charities, houses of worship and political organizations while also helping you to network with those in your community and give you some filler for your resume.

What’s wrong with it? Lots of headhunters, recruiters and hiring managers can see right through a volunteer stint on your resume, so be honest about why you were doing it and don’t try to frame it as an actual gig. Also, be very careful about what your volunteer stint says about you.

Interning– Industry wisdom states that no job is too big or small when you’re trying to keep your skills fresh in a crummy economy. As hiring picks back up, recruiters are looking for interesting experience that speaks to the job requirement, so picking up an internship can be a great option.

Here’s the rub, while internships can be great for experience and networking, it’s possible to stay on the bottom rung of the ladder if you choose a low-level or non-paying position that doesn’t apply to your chosen field. Another way to botch an internship is by not volunteering for special projects during your time.

Just admit it. In the absence of an internship or volunteer stint, solid dates and transparency are the advice of many HR pros but how well does this really serve the jobseeker? While we preach total honesty regarding gaps in employment, in an industry that prizes the passive jobseeker above all others, do we really value it? Perhaps not, consider this advice from Careerealism: 

First, it is not necessary to give the starting and ending months for a job. If you held one job from January 2003 to April 2010 and held the next from June 2010 to the present, simply omit the months from your resume. List only the years (2003-2010, 2010-present).

In a long career, a gap of a month or two is of no interest to recruiters.

Perhaps better advice would be to encourage out of work candidates to start consulting to gain valuable skills once they hit the 60 day mark and to create a resume that reflects skills instead of gaps. Recruiters should also coach clients on how to respond to hiring managers who notice and comment on the gap, encouraging jobseekers to be honest and upbeat about what they learned during the gap instead of making excuses.

By Maren Hogan