Lowering the Red Flags on Employment Gaps
Updated: Apr 7
Have you noticed how much you ramble on when asked about something awkward like a gap on your resume? The more you talk, the more the listener figures out there’s a problem. During an elevator pitch or job interview, long, uncomfortable explanations expose possible red flags for hiring teams.
So how do you come to terms with a difficult time in your employment history?
Remove the emotion
Find the right fit
The Emotional Toll of Layoffs, Time Off, and Bad Bosses
Most of my clients are dealing with changes in their employment status, and, frankly, it sucks. Some experienced layoffs, while others took time off to care for sick family members. On top of these situations, many had awful managers that made the situation miserable.
Until you have that blip of time in the rear-view mirror – and it is nothing more than a moment – it’s challenging to be objective about the experience. However, to make the gap palatable to hiring teams, you must find a way to move on.
I counsel my clients to find an outlet to move through the experience. I like the idea of setting a deadline to stop focusing on the negativity. Some options for closure might include:
Talking to a counselor, coach, or therapist for a set number of sessions
Writing in a journal and then shredding the pages
Using meditation sessions with a pre-determined stop date in which you say you’re “over it.”
Chanting a mantra while working out at a high heart rate or while punching a boxing bag
Use “Ted Lasso’s” technique of being a goldfish - have a short memory
If you genuinely want to get over the difficult period in your life, you must stop giving the experience space in your head. Please recognize that you’re giving it more power and hurting your potential by hanging on to the negativity. Make time and a plan to get it out of your mind and into the past.
Get Specific in Your Description
Interviewers and recruiters identify with things that are familiar and simple. Think about the typical situations in which people lose their job or take time away. Use some of the examples below as a base to define your status.
Change of the leadership team
Very ill family member needing support
Shift in strategy or direction
Loss of funding or project support
Holding on to the belief that your situation is unique makes this part of the exercise more challenging. Yes, you’ve had a particularly rough time; however, you would be amazed to know how many people around you have had similar experiences. Almost every resume has a gap; become comfortable with yours.
Limit the focus on your gap by connecting your experience with something familiar to your audience. Show the gap isn’t significant by quickly defining that it’s not an issue and connecting it to similar gaps recruiters may have seen in their own or friend’s careers.
Make Your Narrative Succinct
Rambling about an issue indicates a red flag in the mind of the listener. Memorize a quick summary of what happened, deliver a simple yet compelling reason for the gap, and then stop talking. In general, the shorter your response, the less time the hiring team will devote to questioning the gap. Remember that overt criticism of the situation is a sign of a problem. Take out the emotion and avoid blaming your previous employer or boss.
Take a moment to shift your paradigm and look at the upsides of a gap. Discuss the skills or traits developed throughout your gap rather than focusing on the time off. Some examples may include:
There was a change in leadership. Every person on the executive team was either let go or repositioned in the broader organization. It was an opportunity for me to revaluate my skills. I took the time to add R-coding to my expertise, which is useful when evaluating new options for technology in the supply chain.
My sister fell ill and had no one to help care for her. We are very close, and I chose to put my energy toward helping her recover. I have always been committed to my work, as you can see in my previous positions. My communication and organizational skills were integral to dealing with her care staff and helping navigate the systems and insurance. Thankfully, she has completely recovered.
As markets change, so do the teams needed to promote the products. The company shifted both its strategy and its structure. Many people lost their job. I took the time to reassess my skillsets, became a professional project manager, and took courses in facilitation that will help me better work with consulting clients.
Practice Your Summary
The exercise of reciting your narrative in front of a mirror is cathartic. Practicing will help you feel more comfortable with your statements and make them easier to say in stressful situations. I recommended that clients practice their delivery for various questions and concerns; unemotional and relaxed delivery of your gap story is essential.
Find the Right Company Fit
It’s critical to keep a positive outlook during your job search. If you encounter a recruiter or hiring manager that is laser-focused on your gap, move on. If they’re focused on something that’s easily explained and is but a blip in time, then they will have other annoying hang-ups as well. You do not need to hide from an employment gap. You do need to assess your skills to determine the best next steps and identify target companies – organizations that welcome people who calmly cope with the ambiguity and surprise that is life.
Hillary Hufford-Tucker is a "Career Solutionista," a fun way of saying that she helps growth-minded professionals discover their unique worth to craft a brand, find new employment, pivot industries, or move toward cause-oriented work. She believes there's no professional dilemma that curiosity, commitment, and courage can't overcome. Hillary supports clients' career success with resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching, job search tactics, organizational strategies, and more.
Hillary's background as a brand marketer, corporate spin doctor, and graphic designer provides a unique perspective for personalized solutions to propel careers. She is a certified career coach (CPCC), certified digital career strategist (CDCS), has a master's degree in strategic communications (MA-SC), and is a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches (PARWCC).
Hillary holds a level two certificate in wine from the industry educator, WSET. When she's not coaching amazing clients, Hillary rides bikes, enjoys adventurous travel with her family, volunteers with her Lighthouse Rotary club, and appreciates wine and food with friends.