During the job search process, one challenge many people need to address is gaps on their resumes. The best way to do so is to be as honest as possible while balancing the risk of potentially opening yourself up to discrimination. Consider this mantra: an interviewer can always ask for more detail, but if you say too much, you can’t take it back.
I recommend finding someone you trust who is knowledgeable in career development and HR issues, getting their feedback on your proposed response, and then fine-tuning your response based on their feedback. Sometimes, people just need to tell their story out loud in order to alleviate some of the pressure and stress.
As a career counselor, I have fulfilled this role as advisor. I specialize in career transition, and I have survived this situation myself, having been a stay at home parent and a graduate student. When someone entrusts his or her story to me, we can reflect on the situation together and can come to an agreement about the simplest way to convey an answer that satisfies the question while still providing the minimum amount of information required to explain the gap in the most positive way possible.
A few recommendations on keeping active during a gap so that you are still an attractive potential employee to hiring managers and recruiters:
- Maintain involvement in volunteer activities or pro bono work. This may only take a few hours a week, and it provides continuity to your presence in the workforce. Volunteering your time is work, paid or unpaid, and it’s deserving of a spot on the resume. Your skills may expand and even make you more marketable once your gap time is completed and you enter the workforce.
- If you were laid off and consider the time off an opportunity to explore a career change to something that offers more satisfaction or opportunity, budget a specific amount of time to explore and set goals for each week or day as to how time will be spent. You will feel a sense of accomplishment and know you’re not settling for just any job; rather, you can take pride in your exploration and embrace your conclusions as to what your next career move will be.
- No matter what the reason, continue to maintain and build your professional network during a gap. Keep in touch with your people. Your personal contacts, in particular, have your best interests at heart and want to see you succeed; reach out to them and see if they can help you with your transition. Take them up on offers to introduce you to others in their network that can help you achieve your career goals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t forget to return the favor when your network helps you get to the next level.
- Create a Twitter feed of people who are pertinent to your industry, and keep up to date on trends and news. Keeping up on the latest news can give you conversation starters and lend expertise to your professional life.
The job search can be a full-time job in itself, and often job seekers can greatly benefit from a strategy session with a career counselor like myself if they feel stuck and need to take their search to the next level.
Note: If your reasons for a gap are due to health issues or caring for a loved one, and you encounter discrimination by a potential employer because of it, you should consult with a reputable employment attorney for advice on what is and is not legal to ask during the interview process.
By Wendy Saccuzzo, Career Strategist with the Personal & Career Development Institute. Follow Wendy on Twitter @aboutworkstuff.