Gaps in Your Resume? Here's What You Need to Know

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When Marian Haggerty was laid off from her job in San Francisco in 2008, she expected to find another position immediately. It was nearly a year before the experienced administrative assistant found another position, and then, it was temporary. After several more temp gigs, she moved to Southern California to try her hand in the Los Angeles market, where she continues to work temp or temp-to-permanent positions. And like many job seekers in the post-financial-collapse job market, her resume shows the scars and the gaps of her spotty employment.

"I'm asked about my gaps in employment during job interviews, and I'm just honest. I tell them it's the economy," Haggerty says. "And most people get it."The days when an employee would stay with one company for the length of his or her career are so long gone that the idea is nearly mythical to today's job seeker. Whether they're taking time off to care for a parent or children, go back to school, take a gap year or recover from a layoff, many people will have some downtime in their employment history. But it doesn't need to be a deal-breaker when the time comes to re-enter the workforce.

Getting in the door. "If you have gaps of a few months or less than a year, it's easy enough to list years rather than months on your resume," says Michele Mavi, a New York City-based director of internal recruiting, training and content development for Atrium Staffing. "It'll be one of the first questions you're asked in the interview, but it'll get you in the door."

"If the gap's of a few years, it can be addressed right on the resume, like 'left to raise two kids' or 'took care of a sick family member.' That's a personal choice, whether to include it or not. It sometimes works, and it sometimes doesn't," Mavi says. "At the end of the day, it depends on the reader of the resume, and individual responses will be as individual as the person reading them."

To a hiring manager, the reasons for the gap can be less important if you're able to prove you stayed up to date with trends and skills in your field while you were out of the workforce. Volunteer experience, continuing education or simply staying abreast of news in the profession can demonstrate that the time off was a temporary setback. Touching base with the people in your professional network from time to time while you're out can also help ease the way back into the market.

Staying current. One of the easiest ways to prove your time off hasn't made you irrelevant to prospective employers is by staying current on the skills most valued in your industry. This is especially true of social media platforms and other digital tools, which change so rapidly that being adept on the latest platforms can mean the difference between appearing relevant or out of touch.
Social media tools can also be one of the easiest and cheapest ways to keep other skills sharp while you're out of the market. And there's hardly an industry in which these platforms won't be of use.

But even before you're in the door for your first post-gap interview, don't overlook the obvious social media tools for job searching.

"Social media is a great tool for networking and education, especially if you're changing careers or have a gap, and you're using social media to stay on top of tools and education opportunities," says Anthony Shop, chief strategy officer and co-founder at Social Driver, a digital and social technology agency.

Shop recommends taking advantage of webinars, workshops and Twitter to network with people in the company or field you're pursuing. Many prestigious colleges and universities also offer massive open online courses – known as MOOCs – in various topics, for free or little cost. Don't overlook YouTube as a resource; the video channel offers tutorials on nearly every topic imaginable.

Emphasize skills, not dates of employment. Andrea Stone, director of career services at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, says that even with gaps, job seekers should be prepared to steer the conversation in a nonlinear direction, especially if they're changing careers or industries when they return to the market. Rather than discuss previous positions one after the other in a chronological timeline, be prepared to discuss skills you used during your time away from the workforce or in a different career, and how they will translate to the position you're seeking.

"There are so many skills – being able to write, synthesize information, communicate – that can be applied to a bunch of different jobs. If you are changing careers, think about what you actually do, not the title or the industry that you're actually in. Think about what you do on a day-to-day basis. And ask yourself: Does it apply to the job I want to do?" Stone says.

Keep calm and use your cover letter. If your resume has gaps, address it in your cover letter, Mavi advises. "Keep in mind that recruiters only scan resumes for about six seconds on average before deciding whether or not to toss it in the trash," she says. "If you're worried about obvious gaps, be upfront about it in a cover letter, but don't let it derail your search."
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