Employment Gaps: Beyond the Explanation

My friend has been out of “work” for several years after a layoff and is now looking to return to the workforce.  When she asked me for help, her primary concern revolved around “covering up” the six year employment gap on her resume.

My overly simplistic, first response was to recommend a functional resume.  “This type of resume will emphasize your skill set instead of pattern of work history” I told her.  As soon as I hung up the phone, I realized that I gave her a form answer and discounted the breadth of experience and skills she amassed during her “time off”.

I was speaking with someone who during this six year period started her own company and successfully provided consulting services for start-up companies as well as major brands in addition to returning to school to earn her MBA. She does need to try and hide this gap, she needs to leverage the successes achieved during this period.

Whether it is a planned or unplanned leave of absence from the traditional work environment, think about how this time can be used to hone a particular skillset or how you can accentuate the work you do during this leave. Here are some suggestions for how to do this.

  1. Return to or engage in an academic environment.

This suggestion has many applications outside of committing mentally and financially to the standard college routine.  Furthering your education can certainly impact your career prospects in a positive way however if time and finances are a concern it may not be feasible.  However, there are a variety of options including free, online classes and low cost, workforce development courses offered through community colleges.

I have enrolled in several Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) over the past few years.  I don’t always finish the course but it is free, the course content is available for me to read and digest at my leisure, and it is a great way to meet (virtually) people with similar interests.  A number of universities (some from the Ivory Tower) offer free and low cost courses to earn certificates.  While it is not an accredited degree, it could be helpful to showcase a certificate earned from Harvard.

  1. Do not discount the time and effort job search takes

If you were laid off and your primary focus in re-entering the workforce, think about qualifying statements on your resume such as “self-starter” and “motivated” with your job search metrics.  If you are connecting with 50-100 people per day (even if it is virtually) and submitting 200 application packets per week this is a great way to SHOW that you possess these soft skills.

  1. Remember, all work experience can be meaningful

Always include skills that you may have picked up working small jobs for friends or family members.  If your family thought that having your plan this year’s family reunion was a great idea because you have the time, embrace this as an opportunity.

As the chief event planner, you are working with vendors, negotiating contracts, and acquiring skills in e-commerce (you may have them pay for t-shirts via PayPal).  Don’t draw such a hard line between the personal and professional. Skill sets overlap.

You don’t have to earn a PhD or start your own business while you are out of work however you must keep track of all of the work and skill development taking place while you are “off”.  Before you think about covering up or explaining a gap in employment think about how to take full advantage of this time.  You may walk away with a new career trajectory.

Have you stepped away from the traditional workforce? Did you give yourself credit for all of the work you did while you were away?

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