Gaps on your CV can pose a problem – but only if they are unexplained. Put a good spin on breaks in employment and they can actually work to your advantage. Here’s how to plug common resume holes and turn negatives into positives.
Spot the holes
Cast a critical eye over your CV and look for any gaps or issues which may raise questions – or better still, ask someone whose opinion you respect to look over it. You can’t prepare a good response or turn negatives into positives unless you spot the issues yourself first.
‘Be brutal when looking for gaps or problems,’ advises John Lees (www.johnleescareers.com), career coach and author of Just the Job!
‘If there is something important missing, don’t simply hope for the best – include compensating evidence in a covering letter (for example if you lack a specific qualification, talk about experience which has given you a similar knowledge base).’
‘If you’ve been made redundant or you have been out of the market for some time, think carefully about how you’re going to deal with that.
‘As well as gaps in your work history, think about how you will explain changes of direction, or a course you dropped out of. You’ll almost certainly need to spend time dredging up good evidence from your past, and polishing it up to look good.’
Don’t hide anything
There is no point trying to hide gaps in your work history. It’s one of the first things a recruiter looks for, so make sure you cover each relevant period of your work history.
‘If you don’t, a recruiter may assume all the wrong things, such as a long and difficult job-search period or lack of focus and direction,’ warns John.
Here are some of the main reasons you might have gaps in your CV/covering letter and John’s suggested ways of dealing with them:
Job searching: Write positively about your job search and any work you have done, including unpaid work. e.g. “kept my skills up to date on voluntary assignments and enjoyed the opportunity of investigating a wide range of organisations”.
Undertaking temporary work: Consider each temporary job as work experience providing skills and sector knowledge. Write briefly about and how each role has added to your employability.
Study: If it was study around a subject that is not strictly related to your career, spell out the transferable skills acquired.
Travel or other career break: This is a great opportunity to write about what you did, what you learned and how you did it. Negotiating a career break and doing something interesting may be what makes you distinctive.
Family commitments: You may have had to take time out because of family responsibilities. Here again, be absolutely straight about what you did (possibly referring to what you learned in the process) rather than leaving a blank.
Other difficulties (suspended from work on misconduct grounds/prison): Take advice about what you have to say legally then convey a simple message: that was then, this is now. Demonstrate current skills and valid reasons why you want the job.
Demonstrate your on-going commitment
If you have kept up to date with industry developments during your time away from work (taking an online course, networking online, attending industry events, temping, reading industry publications), make sure you highlight that. Showing that you’ve remained professionally engaged shows commitment to re-entering the workforce.
Make the most of transferable skills
Even if time away from work necessitated a complete career break, you will have undoubtedly gained valuable experience and transferable skills. For example, raising a family requires organisation, diplomacy and patience. Think laterally and honestly about your personal growth – you won’t want to include all that information on your CV, but having a strong positive story prepared will undoubtedly help at interview.
Plug gaps on your CV – not at the interview
Gaps in your history should be dealt with on your CV – but if you should find yourself put on the spot, John’s advice is to keep interview answers brief and positive rather than defensive.
If the reason was personal, say: “I spent some of that year looking after a relative in the last stages of her cancer. It taught me a lot about personal resilience, and the important things in life…”
If you had a long job search: “I was working hard at finding a new role, and also took the time to keep my skills up to date….”
If you took time out to see the world: “I made the decision to take a career break. It was a great experience, required a lot of organisation, and really added to my skills…”
If you dropped out of an academic course: “I made the decision not to finish the course as it wasn’t giving me what I needed, so I gained work experience in a number of temporary jobs, picking up skills and knowledge along the way…”
Keep it positive
Remember, how you portray situations is hugely important. Yes, the redundancy was tough, but it’s taught you resilience and given you the opportunity to reflect on your skills and what you want – and you’re looking forward to making a success in a new career direction.
With the right attitude and a good explanation, you can turn gaps on your CV into positives – and who knows, could even help you stand out against other candidates.
Just the Job! – by John Lees is published by Pearson and available in June 2013