Ways to navigate and overcome employment gaps

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(Image: Standsome)

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, searching for a new job followed a strict and specific set of rules. One rule that was written in stone was that significant employment gaps – say six months or longer – were a red flag for recruiters.

As with so many other things in our society, COVID-19 has changed that perception.

Employers have become much more understanding about employment gaps. They understand that these have increased due to a variety of reasons. Downsizing, illness, taking care of family, and childcare are just some of the contributing factors to employment gaps. 

If this has happened to you – what should you do?

First, keep up with your industry. If it is not economically feasible to invest in your professional development, the least you should do is stay abreast of trends in your industry. Seek out online sources that provide updates, set up Google alerts, and keep in touch with contacts.

Second, create a simple – and brief – explanation for the gap. This is something you would want to include in your cover letter and be prepared to explain in an interview. Meet this situation head-on because your potential employer will ask you about it.

Third, update everything. Make sure your LinkedIn profile matches your resume. Any inconsistencies can be seen as red flags. The perception could be that you are covering up something or you lack attention to detail.

A job interview is a two-way process. While the recruiter is trying to determine your fit within the organization, you are also trying to decide if the organization is a good fit for you. The way that an interviewer handles your employment gap will give you insight into their thought process: Do they approach it with skepticism? This could signal a trust issue. Do they seem empathetic? This shows they care and are interested.

Of course, all of this depends on your complete honesty.

One other point to consider is your emotional state. Was your employment gap a personal decision, or were you downsized? 

The first situation puts you in control: You can pick the right spot and approach the process with a sense of calm. 

The second situation is gut wrenching: Finding yourself out of work and in absolute need of another job is frightening. I’ve been there. It is difficult to manage the fears and desperation you feel while putting on a bright “hire me” face. A potential employer will be wary: Are you looking to join the organization because you want to, or because you need to? The latter reason would make a huge red flag.

As we mentioned earlier – the best policy is to approach this situation with honesty. Again:

  • Address employment gaps in your cover letter.
  • Be prepared to give a solid answer when the question of employment gaps is posed in the interview.
  • Focus on why you want this job, considering all the right reasons. You’re not just looking for a paycheck: You want a future.

There are a lot of pressures that come with seeking a new job – especially if you are currently unemployed. Fortunately (and ironically), we have the pandemic to thank for pushing employers to become much more understanding about employment gaps. Use that to your advantage.

Steve Allan is a digital marketing strategist and owner of SMThree, which specializes in content development for nonprofits and small businesses.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on Goodwill of Greater Washington’s Working Capital blog.

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