Gap in your resume? You’re not alone. More than two in three workers surveyed by Indeed Flex said they have experienced an employment gap. Three in five said they think an employment gap in their resume has made it harder for them to find full-time employment.
So, should you address it? Hide it? We asked our recruiters for their thoughts and advice on presenting an employment gap. The good news is that it seems many employers are forgiving, particularly since the pandemic. However, there are still certain ways to handle it that are better than others.
WHEN AND FOR HOW LONG?
The HT Group Recruiter Lindsey Morehart admits that her resume review process can be impacted by gaps. However, it mostly depends on where the employment gap occurs and how long it lasted.
“For example, if there is a gap from three or four years ago, I probably wouldn’t notice, or I could easily write it off in my own head as something related to life circumstances. Plus, if it’s far enough back in time, they hopefully have good tenure in their most recent experiences to make up for any past gaps,” she explains.
A more recent employment gap can be due to COVID layoffs or constraints, which is certainly understandable. The question there often becomes: How long is the gap?
“My view on resume gaps is if a candidate was unemployed due to COVID anywhere from a few months to a year, that is ok,” says HT Group Recruiter Savanah Stanley. She adds that if the gap is longer than a year, that’s when recruiters begin to wonder what the motive or motivation was behind such a long period when so many employers were seeking workers.
Morehart agrees that leaving the recruiter or employer in the dark about the reason for the employment gap can be much more damaging than being upfront. Are you struggling to find another job after leaving the last one, and, if so, did you leave on bad terms, on short notice, or did you get fired from your last job? Did you take a break for personal reasons like mental health, family needs, or another circumstance? Without anything else to go on, good recruiters will try to pick up clues from the rest of the resume to determine if there is a pattern, she adds.
DON’T MAKE THEM GUESS
These risks above can be avoided by addressing a long employment gap directly.
“For candidates who have gaps on their resumes due to COVID, I would recommend attempting to fill in the gaps, if possible, or at least write ‘Unemployed due to COVID,’ ‘Laid off due to COVID,’ or something along those lines. Usually, when I see a gap in a resume during 2020 or 2021, I assume it is from COVID, but it would be nice to see it on the resume to be sure,” says Stanley.
Being upfront can be helpful for other reasons as well. “I just read a resume where there was a 2-year gap from 2016 to 2018. That’s not so recent that I’m worried about it because the most recent experiences had good tenure, but it was also helpful that person wrote in the gap a note about childcare/childrearing. That helps me to answer the questions already going through my mind about what the gap was and why,” says Morehart.
Now, that being said, we need to throw in caution here about offering up those personal details (like pointing out that you’re a caretaker or have a chronic illness) when job seeking. We know how The HT Group feels about it, but the truth is that discrimination—either conscious or unconscious—is out there. That’s when working with an outside recruiter like Morehart and Stanley can be invaluable. These types of recruiters are advocates for both the employer and candidate: In short, we want both to succeed. So, we can have those types of conversations with candidates, work out the hard truths and reasons behind gaps, and can help frame it to employers in the best light.
For a more complicated employment gap that may subject you to bias, we also love these tips from the National Council on Aging. “Whether you’ve been out of work for six months or 10 years, the key is being prepared for employers’ questions,” writes the National Council on Aging. NCOA’s tips include being honest first and foremost. Making up jobs and employment dates will backfire for sure. However, that doesn’t mean you need to highlight the gap. If you’re an older job seeker, for instance, NCOA suggests listing only the jobs that are relevant to the position anyway, which may create even more gaps. To counter that, consider leaving out employment months and use other formatting “tricks.”
THE BIAS MAY NOT BE HUMAN
It’s also important here to note that artificial intelligence (AI) may not work in your favor when it comes to an employment gap. A 2021 Harvard Business School and Accenture study found that three-quarters of U.S. employers and 99% of Fortune 500 companies use automated hiring software. As we know, with all the recent buzz about ChatGPT, AI is advancing quickly. But many of these employers are still using “basic” systems with a very “basic” understanding of how to use them and how their use affects their results. So, “although these programs were designed to help, they might be doing more harm than good,” points out The Business Journals. “During resume scans, an employment gap or lack of specific degree can trigger elimination. Nearly half of companies reject candidates with resumes indicating an employment gap, typically of six months or more, the Harvard report revealed.”
“Corporate hiring practices can be convoluted and too reliant on machines, and many applicants aren’t being realistic or strategic enough in their work search efforts,” adds Recode by Vox’s Rani Molla and Emily Stewart.
It’s another reason to consider working with an outside recruiter who can help you overcome the AI barriers to finding work after an employment gap. And if you’re currently experiencing an employment gap, you may want to consider temporary work or a contract-to-hire job that can help you stay in the working world while you consider your next move.