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Résumé Writing Roadblocks

Mind The Gaps In Your Employment Time Line

Job Seeker's Story

Elizabeth was a stay-at-home mom for the past six years. Although she had volunteered during that time for a few local organizations, and even performed bookkeeping for her husband's business, she did not think these counted. So she just left a six-year gap in her résumé, and listed her last secretarial position with the ending date of six years before.

Alternatively, Sarah Beth did not want to leave a gap, so she listed, “Home care to children—2002 to Present.

Timothy had a stroke and had spent seven years learning to walk, speak, and retrain for his career. He left a seven-year gap in his résumé.

Job Seeker's Stumble

Deciding how to cover gaps in the timeline was a real problem for Elizabeth, Sarah Beth, and Timothy. Each sought to overcome the gap: two by ignoring it and hoping for the best, and one by listing something that could possibly hurt her chances for a job. Each of these techniques would act as a red flag for the reviewer, which could create a solid barrier to a job interview despite how qualified the early career experience might have been.

All three were going to struggle landing interviews until they found ways to successfully deal with their gaps.

Job Seeker's New Strategy

First of all, there are typically five types of gaps:

  1. Taking time off to be a full-time caregiver to children or elderly parents.
  2. Requiring time off to recover from an illness or accident.
  3. Taking time off to go back to school full-time.
  4. Pursuing time off for some type of sabbatical (to write a book, travel the world, and so forth).
  5. Losing months of time due to inability to find a new job after a layoff or downsizing.

Regardless of your situation, you need to address your gap. It can be extremely easy to deal with, as in #3 (going back to school). All you need to do in this situation is to incorporate it into your employment chronology: “Full-time Student, Business Administration—University of Georgia, Athens, GA—2005 to 2007.” If this represents a new career field, then you might also include highlights of school projects, papers, and subjects to show reviewers what you now have to offer.

If you have taken time off to be a caregiver to children or parents, then it can be as simple as including the single line “Home Care to Family Member—Chicago, IL—2002 to 2007” in your employment chronology. It is not a good idea to mention children, because the employer you are targeting may be influenced based on negative experiences with parents of young children having attendance problems.

If you have been providing care to parents or children while also working, volunteering, or taking career-advancing courses, you might want to alter how you address your gap. For instance, if you volunteered you might put “Administrative & Fundraising Volunteer—Yellow Umbrella, Stokes, FL—2004 to Present” followed by a description of your contribution, if it is relevant. If you were performing bookkeeping for a family business, list this as you would any job: “Bookkeeper—Dowling Plumbing, Seattle, WA—2001 to Present” followed by the description (again, if it is relevant).

Perhaps you were taking time off for a sabbatical. In this case, how you incorporate it into your time line will depend on what you are doing. For instance, if you were also working on a degree, enhancing cultural experience by traveling the world, finishing a manuscript that you are now shopping around for publication, or sitting on a board of directors, any of these items could become listings in your chronology versus simply listing “Sabbatical—Greenville, SC—2006 to 2007.

If you were not working due to an illness, using the “sabbatical” listing is the best way to go. You will just need to be prepared to provide a positive explanation of how this will not be a barrier to your performance today.

If your gap is due to unemployment, seriously consider how long the gap is before choosing to mention it in your time line. Statistics show that it can take one month of job search for every $10,000 you want to earn. Therefore, multi-month gaps are not uncommon. If your gap is several months or over a year, you might just shift to listing years only versus months and years in your employment chronology.

Think your way through your gaps to provide a positive and proactive listing in your work chronology so that a reviewer is not left having to figure it out and thinking the worst.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesJob Search, Job Interview Questions, & Job Interview TipsRésumé Writing Roadblocks - Be Selective And Careful With Your Résumé Content, Caution: Résumé Typos Ahead!, Oh, The Tangled Web We Weave…