Looking for a job after taking time off, either by choice or circumstance? You’re not alone. In the recovery years since the Great Recession, career gaps have been stubbornly common. While an employment gap can make finding a new job trickier, there’s no need to panic. Experts say there are plenty of ways to get your foot in the door.
It’s always important to tap your social and professional connections when job hunting, but even more so if you are facing the headwind of getting back into the workforce after an absence. If you find your network has shrunk in recent years, make new connections by joining a professional organization or meetup in your area and attending local events. Volunteer work is also a great way of expanding your professional skills and network. A job recommendation from the right connection can help answer an employer’s questions about your dedication and capabilities before they even get asked.
Go back to school
One of the big worries employers have about people who haven’t worked in awhile is that their skills will be out of date. Getting a graduate degree, taking a certification course, or even just attending a continuing education class in your field can quell those concerns. This activity also shows that you’re serious about returning to work and not just fooling around. Best of all, attending some kind of training gives you a recent activity to list on your resume, pushing the work gap lower on the page.
Look for a “returnship”
Some companies, including Goldman Sachs and Sara Lee, have offered these short-term jobs as a springboard for returning workers getting back into their careers. If you can’t find a returnship, consider an ordinary internship, especially if you want to change or shift your career role. Yes, it could be humbling to compete against college grads and possibly work for no pay, but it’s a lot better than doing nothing and letting the gap widen.
Write your resume carefully
One of the first images a potential employer sees of you likely comes via your resume, so it’s important to use this as a tool to stop the door from being slammed in your face. (See also: 10 Resume Mistakes That Will Hurt Your Job Search)
Don’t be super specific on dates
If your employment gap is a matter of months, not years, there’s no need call attention to it by using the month that you started and ended each job. Say you started at XYZ Corp in June of 2012 and were laid off in August of 2015: Just list it as “XYZ Corp. 2012–2015.”
This is not being dishonest with the hirer; you can disclose the gap if it comes up in the interview. But it could save your resume from being discarded before you get the chance to have that interview.
Include temporary jobs
So you made lattes or answered phones when your job as a graphic designer ended. You may want to include these gigs on your resume rather than leave a gaping hole. And expect the subject to come up in the interview as well. “Regression” in job responsibility and pay is not taken lightly by employers, but it’s still better than a gap.
If you did freelance or contract work in between jobs, you could cover that period with a heading that conveys this. If you have a company name, list the company as the employer. The fine line here is to avoid misleading the hirer, or to appear to be engaging in puffery. Give yourself credit for achievements in self employment, but don’t try to make it seem like more than it was.
Just list the gap
If your gap was more than a few months, and you weren’t working a temp job or working for yourself, you’re still going to have to address the gap. You don’t want to jump right from a job that ended in 2015 to the present with no explanation.
That doesn’t mean you have to title it “unemployed” and leave it at that. You could title it with a substantial volunteer position you held during that time, or any training courses you attended.
Another idea is to describe what you were doing, without going into unnecessary detail about anything that’s not relevant to your job search. If you spent your employment gap caring for children or other family members, or recovering from an injury or illness, simply leave it at that.
Look beyond the resume
While the resume will be just the facts, the other information you provide to your potential employer can offer context.
The cover letter
The great thing about this document is that you’re not tied to a chronological format like with a resume. The cover letter is your sales pitch, so start with why you’re excited about this specific opportunity, and sell your skills and achievements. Then, take a line or two to explain your career lapse. Keep it upbeat and forward-looking, and never apologize.
If you’re lucky enough to land an interview, expect to address the career gap. Recruiters and managers give the following tips for dealing with employment gaps in an interview: Be prepared with a list of talking points about the gap. Don’t act surprised or defensive when it’s brought up. Be honest, even if you were fired. Dishonesty is a big red flag. And whatever you do, don’t dwell on negativity.