As you modernize your résumé for the New Year, one potential issue that arises is a lengthy gap in employment. We try to mitigate these “blank spots” by adjusting dates on our résumé, and thinking of clever ways to explain them away in interviews. But as it turns out, we might be thinking about résumé gaps all wrong.
First, think about why you have a gap in your employment history. Tech is competitive, so a long bout of unemployment when you were just plain unable to secure a job is potentially not a big deal, so long as other aspects (such as your skills and education) are up-to-date and fit the position. Leaving a job for personal reasons, such as a family health issue, is also okay.
“The most common résumé gaps I see on a day-to-day basis are candidates who take a break from work due to personal reasons, such as caring for a sick family member, dealing with a death in the family or to go on maternity leave,” says Len Friedrichs, Senior Vice President for Human Resources and Administrative at Addison Group. “Other common gaps are getting laid off, suddenly quitting a job, or going back to school.”
A résumé gap (especially if you’re in the middle of one as you read this) may also just be an effect of being off the recruitment radar. If you’re pursuing your first job, or you just haven’t looked for work in a long while, recruiters may not be familiar with you. Often, tech companies hire recruiters because they have candidate pools to choose from, and recruiters will look there first. From Friedrichs:
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.
Keep in mind that recruiters also rely on extensive web searches in order to surface the best candidates, so while you’re editing your résumé, you should also take the time to adjust your social-media profiles to put your best professional foot forward (for example, updating your past projects and jobs, if you’ve let that languish). Knowing the secret practices of tech recruiters can help you land a job faster, no matter what your issues.
Friedrichs also offers familiar advice: tailor your résumé to the job you’re applying for. If you’re highly specialized, for example, make sure to include the right keywords that emphasize your abilities and training. But job seekers should take that beyond adjusting a line or two. Framing your résumé to highlight accomplishments at previous jobs rather than a description of your day-to-day tasks can help. Managers are typically results-driven; highlighting that you are able to get things done helps them see you in a positive light, résumé gap or not.
A gap in your work experience isn’t critical. Be it personal or professional, the reason matters far less than the type of employee you could become for a prospective employer. Far more important to your career is that you don’t job-hop, so we suggest carefully eyeing whether a company will be the right fit for you.