Well, gaps are pretty common in a resume. Periods of unemployment happen to all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons, whether it’s an unexpected layoff, caring for a loved one or an extended illness. This is a natural concern for folks who are looking for a job after spending some time out of the workforce. You may worry employers will look at you differently than other candidates or doubt your ability to perform. Having a good rationale for any gaps will help you eliminate any negative effects during the job search process.
Historically, gaps on resumes have been seen as red flags to some recruiters and hiring managers. There might be a concern that the time away leaves the candidate with technological gaps or a need for more time to acclimate back into their role, or there’s a fear that they aren’t serious about returning. Previous research also showed that hiring managers discriminate against candidates who have a break in their resume. That puts some folks at a greater disadvantage (such as folks who have to take a break to care for children or family). This can lead to a scarring effect as those out of the labor force take longer to return or are hired at lower levels, and they lose out on earning potential and career growth in the long-term.
But in a new study, researchers found resumes that listed years of tenure at an employer, rather than the actual dates of employment, were more likely to get a callback for a job. For example, instead of saying you worked for a company from January 2018 to January 2023, you would simply list your length of tenure as 5 years.
Researchers were focused on seeing the impact for working mothers and tested resumes with no career break, resumes with an unexplained career break, and resumes with a break and brief explanation that they left the labor force to care for children. In each case, though, resumes with just length of experience listed received more invitations to interview than those with dates, with or without a gap. This isn’t to say that people shouldn’t include dates of employment - it’s just one indication that hiring managers are looking for long-term employees who will be committed and dedicated to their company.
Explaining gaps in employment can be intimidating, but there are a couple of effective methods you can use.
For example, if you’ve been a Caregiver or someone who took care of a sick family member - you likely picked up certain skills throughout that experience: scheduling and administering medication, coordinating doctor's appointments, ensuring your family member was fed and clean, etc. Think through how that could translate to project management, prioritization and managing deadlines. In addition to soft skills you developed such as patience, empathy, flexibility & resiliency.
Remember, whatever your career break entailed, it’s all relative.
A few months out a couple of years ago will probably be ok. However, if you’re talking years out of employment, then planning is key. It’s not unusual to have a gap in your employment history and it’ll only stand out if you don’t explain it. The main thing employers want is for you (1) have a plausible or reasonable explanation and (2) to demonstrate your enthusiasm and readiness to re-enter the workforce. For other tips on how to craft a solid resume, read this blog post.
Finally, confidence and honesty are desirable qualities for any interviewee. Approaching the situation with the right degree of both will speak volumes about your personality.