As a career counselor, one of the most discouraging things I come across on resumes is a current unaddressed gap. Most of the time, these job seekers were either laid off or are returning to the workforce and are actively job-searching. I know this because it’s the first thing I ask when looking at resumes.
“What have you been doing since your last job ended?” It’s a viable question that employers will ask too. Unfortunately, many job seekers don’t have a good answer.
Despite the fact that many employers realize unemployment is not the job candidate’s fault, bias against the unemployed still exists.
Every career coach, counselor, or recruiter has their own opinion on how best to address workplace gaps. Admittedly, we contradict each other. The only opinion that matters is the person offering you an interview. If you can show that you’re productive during your period of unemployment, you will appear more attractive to a potential employer.
Regardless of the reason you’re unemployed, it’s important not to come across as negative or defensive on your resume. Here are some strategies to address unemployment on your resume (Note: there is no one correct strategy; research and knowing your audience is key).
1.) Explain the Absence Honestly. Whether the gap in employment is due to you taking care of children/elderly parents, health problems, or because you were laid off, the reader will know the gap isn’t due to your job performance.
2.) Use Volunteer or Part-Time Work as Experience. Paid experience isn’t necessarily the only thing that will land you an interview. The reader will see that you have real, relevant, and current experience that relates to the position you’re applying for.
3.) Use Education. If you were in school during your absence, use it to address the work gap. College, training, and learning new skills are very attractive to many employers.
4.) Start Your Own Business or Become a Consultant. It may make sense to become your own boss while you’re looking for a salaried position. Freelancing and independent contracting is becoming more and more common – and it keeps your skills sharp.
5.) Use a Functional Format. Reorganizing your work history to focus on skills and accomplishments rather than chronology will allow the reader to focus on what’s most relevant to the target position.
6.) Remove Months from your Dates of Employment. There’s no rule that says you have to list months on your resume. So if your last job ended in February, 2015, instead of “10/09-02/15”, try “2009 – 2015.”
Bottom line: The purpose of a resume is to get you an interview. Write to the person(s) who will give you that chance to interview. Each audience is different, and each has their own preferences and opinions about what makes an effective resume.