Until recently, executive recruiters and employers shied away from candidates with long employment gaps . . . especially if those gaps were current.
They were more attracted to people who were employed or didn’t show gaps in their past employment.
The pandemic opened many hiring professionals’ eyes. More of them are now more willing to overlook gaps.
And they’re more likely to be understanding about job seekers who had to put their jobs on hold to care for family members or themselves.
Let’s take a look at the thinking these days about employment gaps.
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Recruiters Discuss Employment Gaps
According to recruiter Jeramy Kaiman:
“The fact of the matter is, there are far more jobs in the U.S. than there are people to fill them right now.”
As a result, he added, employers have had to become more willing to consider applicants who had been out of work for a while.
But even when the worker shortage eases, labor experts express optimism that employers will care less about employment gaps than before, partly because the pandemic has made hiring managers more sympathetic.
Some, like chief people officer at Upwork Zoe Harte, are calling it a societal shift:
“It’s become more and more evident that opportunity isn’t equally distributed, and so it’s important for us as people who are creating jobs and interviewing people to really look at ‘What can this person contribute?’ as opposed to ‘What does this piece of paper say they have done in the past?”
Scott Bonneau, vice president of global talent attraction at the hiring site Indeed, said employment gaps are “not a part of our consideration.”
“I think there is the beginnings of a movement to stop focusing on employment gaps entirely at least in certain parts of the employment world.”
According to LinkedIn:
“The stigma of employment gaps is already starting to fade. While 72% of job seekers believe there’s a stigma associated with having a career gap, 79% of hiring managers today would hire a candidate with a career gap on their resume.”
More recruiters who now overlook employment gaps
Recruiter Joel Lalgee posted this on LinkedIn:
“‘We’re a bit concerned at how jumpy they’ve been the last few years…’
This phrase started to creep back into conversations a few months ago.
If this is your mentality and how you exclude candidates, you’re going to miss out on some great talent.
I suggest leading with an open mind when discussing the last few years with candidates.
It’s been a difficult few years for many.
I’d love it if we could move past saying things like this and focus on the value a candidate will bring to the organization going forward.”
Comments on his post include these from other recruiters:
“COVID is a major contribution to employment gaps within these last couple of years, so please consider that before we exclude a considerably great candidate. The impact of COVID, death, mass lay-offs, cut-hours etc., have led to communities of people experiencing depression, lack of motivation, worthlessness, unemployment, grief from death etc. and it’s important to consider that before judgement.
A worthy candidate who fits the need of the role is worthy of a call to find out there [sic] story. The workforce has tremendously been impacted by this pandemic and recession, so please remember to have some compassion and grace for our applicants who’ve gained the courage to get back out there and assert themselves, after these past trying years.”
“Gaps have become less stigmatized over the last few years as employers are more empathetic due to the instability of the market and acknowledgment of life changes impacting our availability and time.
I recognize not everyone believes it’s an employer’s business to ask or know about the reasons behind gaps/jumps, but acknowledging and controlling the narrative of our journey (rather than leaving it up for assumption) may provide a better outcome. The focus should be on how you add value rather than dwelling on the gap.”
“There are many reasons a person may have a job gap. It doesn’t mean that they won’t be an amazing employee. If I love their experience, I could care less if there is a job gap. There is generally a good reason for it and I am not the one to judge.”
But here’s a cautionary note from recruiter LeShan Witherspoon:
“Wait, the phrase went away? Not in my world. Much to my frustration and dismay. If I had a nickel for every time a hiring manager has said the phrase:
“they look too jumpy”
“There’s no stability on their resume”
“why are there gaps in their work history”
I could have bought Twitter.
It’s like no one knows that the world shut down then got flipped on its side and shaken.
It was annoying in the ‘before times.’ Now it’s just ignorant.”
How To Deal with Employment Gaps
Even though more hiring professionals are less concerned with gaps these days, that could change.
We could go back to the unfair practice of valuing employed candidates over those who are currently unemployed or have previous gaps.
And there are still enough recruiters and hiring managers who DO let gaps weigh heavily in their decision making.
Overll, it’s best to cover those gaps, if at all possible to legitimately do so.
I’ve outlined some ways to do that below.
Options For Various Kinds of Employment Gaps
Are you a stay-at-home caregiver?
If you have an employment gap because you’ve been caring for a family member, Marc Miller of Career Pivot has some suggestions:
“Employers are presently more accepting of a career gap. That is as long as you can explain you were doing something productive, gaining new skills, and staying competitive. You will need to reframe your year(s) of being out of the workforce in job-related terminology.”
He noted some of the multiple employment roles with transferrable skills that caregivers typically fill:
- Project Manager – They have to coordinate with the many tasks dealing with Medicare, doctors, hospitals, nursing facilities, medication, and many other arcane complexities.
- Transportation Coordinator – Many who are caring for their parents also have children still at home. Figuring out how everyone gets to where they need to be while at the same time caring for an elderly parent can be mind-boggling.
- Financial Planner – If you’re the caregiver of an elderly parent or relative, you’re probably managing their finances. And anyone who has had to probate a will or act as the executor of a will can tell you how incredibly complicated it is.
LinkedIn has options for stay-at-home caregiving and other employment gaps
To accommodate all the people who have temporarily stopped working for a wide range of reasons, LinkedIn has added Career Break options to fill the gap.
You can add a new profile section (click on “Add profile section” in your introduction section at the top) and choose from these options (in the drop-down menu under “Core”):
- Career transition
- Full-time parenting
- Gap year
- Layoff/position eliminated
- Personal goal pursuit
- Professional development
- Voluntary work
According to LinkedIn:
“You can select a specific type of career break or leave the career type blank and add details in the description section. Adding a Career Break is optional and will be visible to logged-in LinkedIn members.”
Other employment types to fill gaps appear under “Add experience”, after you click on “Add profile section” and then “Add position”, including:
The self-employed and contract options will apply to you if you’re doing consulting work to fill the gap.
Career Experts Discuss How To Overcome Employment Gaps
Several career experts, recruiters and hiring managers weighed in on LinkedIn on how job seekers should approach breaks in work history:
- Be transparent about any breaks in your work history resulting from the pandemic.
- Prepare a narrative around how you spent the time outside the workforce.
- However, consider the pros and cons of mentioning the reason for the gap in your resume.
The NY Times columnist Roxane Gay noted:
“People with resume gaps don’t have to share very personal reasons they stepped away from their professional lives, but they do need to account for that time in some way.
If, during an employment gap, you started a business or went back to school or engaged in some other form of professional development, talk about that. If you focused on raising children, or cared for sick relatives, share that information. If you took time off and played video games or learned to knit or gardened or otherwise cared for yourself in ways employers might not value, be creative in your explanation without lying.
Employers mostly care about gaps because they want to trust that a new employee will be reliable and a worthy investment.”
A Simple Tip for Employment Gaps
It’s difficult to fill in past employment gaps, after the fact. Savvy executives plan ahead to accommodate or shorten potential gaps, should they arise.
But I can offer one strategy to downplay past employment gaps:
On both your resume and LinkedIn profile, use years for employment length, not months.
This is standard practice and can cover up fairly long gaps.
For example, if your career history includes a gap like this:
Company X – May, 2008 to February, 2017
Company Y – September, 2018 to Present
Switch to years only:
Company X – 2008 to 2017
Company Y – 2018 to Present
The actual gap of more than one year is not at all obvious. Of course, never lie about dates. And be prepared to discuss any gaps in interviews.
Preemptive Tactics To Avoid Employment Gaps
Ideally, you want to be compensated for any work you do, but that may not happen.
Because your goal is to fill those gaps on your executive resume and LinkedIn profile, do your best to find work that is consistent with your personal brand and unique value proposition to your target employers. Then this experience will be of greater value to them.
Here are some suggestions:
- Go back to school, either online or in-person, and take courses or earn certifications to upgrade relevant skills.
- Secure temp work.
- Find consulting gigs or interim work, or set up a consulting firm and take on relevant assignments.
- Volunteer at charities, schools, hospitals, civic groups, etc. Even though you probably won’t be paid, this kind of work definitely counts as professional experience.
Why volunteering is a great option for most job seekers
Organizations almost always need volunteers. You can probably slide into this kind of work very quickly.
Beyond closing employment gaps, here are a few of the many benefits of volunteering:
- Volunteering affords some terrific networking opportunities.
- Serving on the Board of Directors of an organization, or in some degree of leadership, may put you elbow to elbow with people who are hiring decision makers or connected in some way to your target companies or industry.
- Volunteering takes advantage of one of the essential and most powerful principles of networking – give to get.
- Your generosity and good work build good will and evangelism for your personal brand and keep you top of mind with your network and your community. People who see evidence of your efforts, especially if you don’t shy away from the grunt work, will likely be happy to help you out when you need them.
- Volunteering builds your credibility and reinforces your subject matter expertise.
- You may already be known as the “go-to” person within your industry for your functional areas of expertise. Spread that notoriety across your network. Be sure to post updates on LinkedIn and other social media regularly about your experience.
Volunteering can lead you into more rewarding work
You can never underestimate the good feeling you get from sharing your expertise to help others. And won’t it be gratifying if you get something tangible, like a solid lead or two, in return?
Your volunteer efforts may open you to new career directions that you had never considered before.
If you’re at an impasse in your executive job search because you’re dissatisfied with what you’ve been doing, or jobs within your industry have dried up, it may be time to reinvent yourself and re-think your approach to earning a living.
The new connections you make through volunteering can lead to a transition into a more rewarding career.