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It’s been a while!

image I recently received an email from someone who’s been reading my blog and is looking for advice on his situation. He’s currently been out of work for nearly 3 years. Certainly his predicament isn’t unique, so I thought it would be helpful to discuss it here.

His email stated (edited for brevity):

I had a question about something I didn't see addressed on your blog… A (Current) Employment Gap.

I've managed to have a pretty good one: it's been about 3 years since I've worked, though I have a solid 20 year work history before that. How'd I come up with such a long gap? Good question. I moved from another state, to take a job with a friend's company. The friendship, in a work setting, turned sour, culminating in me being let go after a year.

Needless to say, all of this left a bad taste in my mouth and it took a while to get my feet back under me. I eventually got my resume back together and started applying for things. As I see now, though, I was really going about it all wrong, given today's job-seeking climate. Putting your resume online and applying to things you see on job boards just doesn't work anymore.

So, is my gap a deal breaker, necessarily? I'm hoping not.

My basic question is: how can I present this gap in the best light? I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that, in all honesty, I haven't done much with my time, except decompress. I haven't done much but apply for jobs, more and more intermittently as I've gotten discouraged at points. I did join (a professional association) about a year and half ago.

Any thoughts on this? Any advice?

Being an opinionated kind of guy… I do have thoughts on this! Go figure!

It is a difficult situation. There’s no easy way to shove the issue under the rug. However, there are some things I believe can help to still gain traction with potential employers.

First things first, however.  Before you will be able to present yourself as an attractive candidate to any employer, you must be sure you are projecting a positive attitude. You do have a liability on your resume compared to many other candidates they may be seeing. One way you can make yourself viewed as a worthwhile risk is by exhibiting an upbeat, can-do, attitude. That means you MUST be sure you’ve put any bitterness about your previous situation behind you and demonstrate a ‘ready to jump-in’ and be productive impression. Making excuses, complaining about a raw deal, or dwelling on difficulties you’ve had will all sabotage any conversations you have. Read ‘The One Best Thing You Can Do for Your Job Search!’ for more help.

During the time it may take you to still correct your attitude, and during your still ongoing job search, it would be worthwhile to begin pursuing some relevant certification, seminars, or other related coursework to your field. If money is an issue, scour the paper and online resources for free seminars and events.

Regarding the resume, it will not get much consideration if your gap is prominently listed as the first (most recent) entry near the top of the first page.  A more functionally oriented resume that emphasizes the relevant experience you’ve had for the position you’re applying for may be more effective. You must still include your chronological work history. However, it can be listed on the second page. Your current time off can be shown simply something like:

Personal Sabbatical                                              2006 – Present
Ongoing participation in (professional association)
Currently pursuing (relevant certification) and coursework.

Networking is critical! It is highly unlikely that you will get a call based solely on your resume. In most cases, your resume is getting considered along with perhaps dozens of others, many of which don’t have the situation yours does. You will be able to stand out only if you are able to make personal contact and present a professional image. Most people merely send in a resume and wait for a call. However, companies don’t hire data from their online database or email, they hire people. Someone that professionally follows up and makes a concise and compelling case why they should be considered will have a tremendous advantage over those that don’t. A little homework and preparation are key. Here are two posts that may be of help:

Not enough connections to make LinkedIn useful? No problem!
I’ve got a contact name! Now What???

Finally, minimize the explanation. Most people with a liability on their resume or in their background spend way too much time trying to explain it. They often give far too much detail, and tend to dig the hole deeper as they go. An old proverb says: “When you’re in a hole… stop digging!”  If you’re asked a question about the gap, address it briefly and move on!

Create a 10 to 15 second explanation of your current situation. Keep it positive, and when you’re done with the explanation ask them a question that gets the conversation moving in a different direction.  Write out your answer in advance and practice it until it flows smoothly and with confidence.  Your answer may be something like:

“Three years ago I moved from out of state to take a position that unfortunately ended in a year. At the time, I took time for a personal sabbatical after 20 years of work life. Unfortunately, by the time I began a new search, the job market had turned dramatically south and I’ve been finding it a challenge to land in the right new opportunity. In order to be active during my job search I’ve gotten active in (professional association) and am currently pursuing relevant courses in the field. I’m looking forward to jumping into a new organization and becoming productive quickly. Can you give me an idea what the first 30 days would typically be like for this role?”

Short, upbeat, and it moves on.

An extended absence from the workforce can be a challenge, particularly in this market. However, handled professionally and with preparation, it can certainly be overcome!


Ronnie Ann said...

I love this answer to a really tough and more-common-than-ever situation. Agree with every point. There's always a way...but a great attitude (and well-phrased story) do help!

Mark Anthony Dyson said...

Recently I heard a podcast that the expert suggested:

Your name (consulting)

I have a client that has that dilemma, and we'll try it to see if it holds up.

Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, MRW said...

Dynamic post, Harry! Whether the job gap is 3 months or 3 years, a gap is a hurdle.

Stepping out of the quagmire of the situation and being proactive and upbeat is not only necessary, it's CRITICAL to success.

I agree with your resume strategies, and moreover, that a focus on networking, extending beyond the 'email my resume to hundreds and see what sticks' mentality is needed.

Like you articulated so well, it's about building a compelling (and concise) case to initially hook in employers and other decision-makers involved in the process. Focus on the 'go-forward' and the value you add NOW and in the future (not on over-explaining the gap!)

Nicely done, as usual!


Ed Han said...

Excellent answers to the questions, Harry!

Unknown said...

Thank you for posting this. I have spent the last 6-7 years in and out of work in totally unrelated fields and have only recently discovered a love of all things digital marketing. Starting out in a new career with barely any experience and few contacts is hard enough, but the gaps in my employment history have been seriously hindering my resume writing efforts! Yours is the first post that I've found that offers useful advice in this situation for people who were unemployed and maybe didn't spend that time being career-productive. Advice on job hunting strategies for the unemployed tends to default to "volunteer" or "join a professional organization", which is great advice, but it doesn't really help someone who has been unemployed for some time. So thank you.

Susan P. Joyce said...

Great post, Harry! Love the closing and moving on...

If someone did volunteer work somewhere, even unpaid, or spent time helping an elderly releative, I'd use that to fill in "the gap" too.

Anonymous said...

Well said!

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