. Worried About the Gaps on Your Résumé?
8/6/2009 11:27:57 AM

Are your prospects dimming because you've been out of work for three months, six months, even longer?

I talk with job seekers every day about their résumé and job hunting strategies. Many are in this same boat and rightly concerned.  As the economy continues to tank, I predict that the out-of-work gap period will only grow longer for many job hunters, making the search even harder for them. 

In the past, when a job hunter was out of work for longer than a couple of months, they were viewed as "damaged goods" by many prospective employers.  In light of the sheer numbers of people devastated by this economy, it appears that hiring managers will be less inclined to automatically trash the résumé of otherwise stellar performers solely because they've been unemployed for several months.

A recent survey from Robert Half Management Resources seems to back up this theory.  In the survey, 150 senior executives from the nation's largest 1,000 companies were asked, "How long, in months, can a top manager remain unemployed before it hurts his or her career?"

The mean response was nine months.

Though the survey focused on top managers, it seems that this attitude will be reflected in the lower job titles as well.

Use this time wisely

While you may have a widening gap in your current work history, you'll want to make best use of this time and explain it on your résumé.

Most hiring managers recognize the economy has sidelined many outstanding people," said Paul McDonald, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources.

He added that employers are now capitalizing on the economic downturn to add experienced players who would have been unavailable a year ago.

If you're currently unemployed, you must stay relevant and marketable.  This means undertaking such activities as volunteer work, project work, taking classes or certification training.  While job search can seem like a full time job, you aren't on the phone or networking every waking hour of your day. Assign some of this time to activities that will allow you to stay current.  You may be unemployed, but don't give the impression that you've withered away during this period.

Explain your gap status

While it may be more the "norm" to see longer work gaps these days, don't leave this period unexplained.  Remember, your résumé should always be selling you, and this includes your current unemployment.  Use your time between jobs as an opportunity to spin your story in your favor.  It's unfortunate that you were caught in a major layoff not of your making.  But don't leave this situation to chance because employers will be more apt to select candidates who appear more "up to date".

If your unemployment gap extends for more than a few months, use your résumé to best advantage and briefly document some activity during this period.  No more than a brief sentence or so, include some action that a prospective employer might view as making you a better candidate for employment.  Taking classes is certainly one example.  Other strengthening life situations include taking care of an ill relative or spouse, overcoming a life crisis or taking a leadership role to achieve a positive outcome in your community.  Whatever you decide to include, it should answer the question: "How has this action made me more marketable, stronger or otherwise a better person?"

Once you select an explanation, boil it down to a brief sentence.  Even though it's most likely not part of your professional history, I would include it here because most hiring managers will quickly scan your work history chronology.  They want to know what you're doing now.  Answer this potential objection right now.  Don't bury your crucial explanation at the bottom of your résumé.  They won't bother reading that far because they're likely already reaching for that next résumé