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What if I have a gap in my employment history?

In a dynamic and competitive job market, your employment history is a key factor in determining your candidacy and suitability for a role. Your employment history, whether it’s a resume or LinkedIn page, provides a profile of who you are to potential employers. What’s there – and what’s not – is often under scrutiny by a hiring team in making employment decisions. What if you have a gap in your employment history? We’ve all heard the adage “it’s easier to get a job when you have a job” so it raises reasonable feelings of concern and uncertainty in us. However, employment gaps aren’t necessarily a bad thing and it’s important to frame them positively and as another chapter in the narrative of your career.

Defining an Employment Gap

An employment gap is a period of time where you aren’t actively engaged in work. These gaps can be anywhere from weeks to years. Work hiatuses occur for a myriad of reasons, but common reasons include:

  • Personal – time away for starting a family, health issues, caregiving, mental health concerns, or other matters not related to the work at hand.

  • Career changes – time away to undergo training, pursue certifications or additional education, assess career goals, or transition to other career paths.

  • Involuntary – time away from loss of job for reasons beyond their control including company reorganization/restructuring, layoffs, or business closures.

  • Voluntary – time away for traveling, a career break, or taking a sabbatical.

Addressing a Gap in Your Employment History

Employment gaps happen and are a normal part of your employment history! Rather than stigmatizing the gap, let’s look at strategic ways of framing this chapter in your narrative. Here are some important things to keep in mind when addressing an employment gap with a hiring team.

Be Honest

Honesty is the best foot forward when it comes to interviewing. Acknowledge the gap and provide a succinct explanation. There’s no need to be apologetic about it and, most certainly, do not try to hide or deflect from addressing it.

Be Strategic and Positive in Framing the Gap

Consider your personal and professional development during the employment gap. Did you learn new skills through personal initiatives or engaging in new coursework? Did you volunteer? Did you take that time to reflect on personal growth and decide on the next steps in your career? These are all productive and positive uses of an employment gap that you can highlight to the hiring team. More importantly, taking this time to learn new skills demonstrates initiative rather than a willingness to accept stagnation to potential employers.

Highlight Diversifying Your Skill Set

It is not uncommon to volunteer or take on freelance and consulting work in between regular work engagements. If you took on personal projects or freelance work, highlight them! Share your achievements, challenges you overcame, or skills you obtained during this time. Are your volunteer or freelance activities outside of your technical field? If so, then you’re expanding your professional horizons. Getting outside of your comfort zone is an excellent way to learn resilience and demonstrate adaptive skills.

Showcase Transferable Skills

If you have worked in different sectors, chances are that you’ve acquired transferable skills that are universal for any new position. These can include soft skills such as interpersonal communication, negotiation, emotional intelligence, creativity, and adaptability to new challenges. Teamwork, time management, and problem-solving are skills that are needed everywhere.

Maintain a Positive Mindset

Look at employment gaps as opportunities for growth! Take this time to explore interest in different career pathways, network, and stay abreast of trends in your industry and job opportunities. This a great time to build a support network with others in your field or even engage outside of your area of expertise (e.g., volunteering and taking on new projects). Leverage your LinkedIn network and reach out to professionals both in and out of your field.

While gaps in our employment history can be challenging to navigate, they can become a positive part of your career trajectory and narrative if you approach it as a period to grow, challenge yourself, and explore new skills. While it’s easier said than done, refrain from self-criticism or stigmatizing the gap. A positive mindset and confidence in your decisions will translate in your attitude to future employers. Career paths, much like any other path in life, are not always linear. Embrace the detours, take in new sights along the way, and remember that it’s about taking the next steps forward in your career path.

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