In past years, having resume gaps was taboo in the eyes of hiring managers. But the professional world is rapidly changing, and those changes were further accelerated by the pandemic. Whether it’s due to health reasons, caring for children or loved ones, pursuing a passion, embracing freelance work, or simply changing careers, gaps and breaks in work history are increasingly common.
Forbes’ Caroline Castrillon believes the traditional career ladder is being replaced with “career waves” and that resume breaks could actually become a strength in becoming a more versatile and well-rounded individual.
If you’ve been worried about your own resume gaps, know that the stigma is over. We’ll analyze the data surrounding resume gaps before covering how to use those gaps to accentuate your value as a job seeker.
Career gaps are increasingly common
What was once a red flag has become a sign of a well-rounded worker. What changed? Millennials becoming a major demographic in the workplace and the cultural changes resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic have caused a major shift in how companies hire.
A 2019 Manpower study found that 84% of millennials expected career breaks throughout their journey, and this was before the pandemic forced many workers into an involuntary gap. The pandemic also led to the Great Resignation, which led to pickier job seekers and employees having more power. Employers must work with the candidates they have and embrace new ways of thought to maintain and bring in top-tier talent.
“Because it was such a high volume of people who chose to stay home for a variety of reasons and the labor market is so tight, those things factored in together made it that employers are much more flexible now about their ‘red flags’ toward longer career gaps.” –Jeramy Kaiman, head of LHH Recruitment Solutions
LinkedIn has embraced this new meta and introduced titles such as “stay-at-home parent” and the option to add career breaks (with reasons including bereavement, career transitioning, layoffs, volunteering, and more) to normalize gaps. Their 2021 research found that employers were much more open to workers with unemployment gaps.
“79% of hiring managers today say they would hire a candidate with a career gap on their resume, according to LinkedIn.
59% of hiring managers are interested in learning about any transferable skills you have learned, and 58% are interested in lessons that can be applied to a particular job.” –LinkedIn
Addressing the gap
No matter why you needed a career break, it will come up in your interviews. Thankfully, with a little preparation, you can expertly counter these questions and turn them into selling points.
Have a plan
If you’re re-entering the workforce, especially after a long gap or while entering an entirely new industry, you want to have a clear vision for your job search.
Corporate Escape Artist suggests taking time to find positions that align with your vision and to take control of your personal brand. Re-entering the workforce is much easier with a strategy in mind, and it will make you more excited about getting back out there. You get to control the story of your employment gaps and taking time to reflect on your previous career journey and your time away can provide clarity into your future goals.
Focus on skills
One reason employment gaps used to be a red flag is that employers worried important job-related skills would atrophy from time away. But in today’s world, the Great Resignation led to many employees switching industries to find positions that better aligned with their passions and values. Many skills, especially soft skills, are highly-transferable and desirable. Make sure to highlight them.
If you gained any new skills or certifications during your gap, make sure to detail them on your resume and cover letter.
Mariana Toledo says to think of these skills as your personal toolbox. The job may be different, but these tools are always useful. In fact, you may have developed new skills or insights in your time away that other candidates lack.
Focus on accomplishments, not absences
It’s always to focus on the positives over the negatives as a job seeker. Just because an important contribution happened months ago doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. While your cover letter may be a way to explain your gaps, don’t make them the focus. Instead, let your experiences sell you as a candidate.
Find value in your absence
If you had valuable experiences that didn’t align with a traditional 9-5, don’t hesitate to add them to your documents. Just because they didn’t occur in a traditional workplace doesn’t mean your experiences weren’t valuable.
It doesn’t matter if you volunteered, freelanced, took up independent projects, acted as a consultant…don’t hesitate to include that in your resume. Something is better than nothing. –Hiration
A person’s career journey looks much different than it did in the past. Employment gaps used to be an issue, but they’ve become normalized as the culture changes. Employers are much more open-minded and view your unique career journey as a plus. Your time away may make you a more well-rounded candidate than someone with a more straightforward career path, and you may have skills your competition lack, but it’s up to you to make that clear.