Traditionally, gaps in work experience on a resume have been viewed as a bad thing. Millions of women returning to the workforce after taking time off to care for children have struggled with this bias for years.
This article was originally written after talking to several Millennials returning to the workforce after taking time off to travel or work on a volunteer project. These candidates often graduated from college, worked for five to seven years, and decided to take a break and travel through Europe, volunteer to teach English abroad, or pursue an advanced degree. But Millennials are not the only professionals with work gaps. This phenomenon appears on resumes of non-Millennials and for a number of different reasons. For example, the Great Recession left many people out work less than 15 years ago and the post-COVID-19 future is uncertain.
Even in a booming economy, we are not immune to job loss. Before COVID-19, the healthy real estate industry triggered many investment banking firms, REITs and funds to purchase one another, buy or sell off portfolios, switch management companies, and change operators. We also saw a few banks make high profile acquisitions in order to reach a greater market share and compete with larger rivals. This buying, selling and changing of partners also creates job uncertainty. Companies attempt to absorb and integrate both work forces, but mergers and acquisitions often create position duplications.
Do not skip over a potential candidate because of a work gap somewhere in their background. As hiring professionals, we need to be open to exploring further. Did a candidate take time off to raise a child, care for a sick parent, pursue an advanced degree, build houses for a nonprofit, etc.? Are they out of work due to a layoff? Whatever the story, it frequently reveals a candidate’s character, integrity, and values; as well as transferable skills such as: problem-solving, leadership, ability to successfully engage with different personality types, or an aptitude for teaching or even consulting.
Three recent searches ended with placements of individuals with gaps in their work history. One candidate was unable to relocate after a merger moved the company’s headquarters across the country. Another took a year off to reenergize after burning out from years of heavy travel in a multi-state regional role. The third candidate took a year off to care for a terminally ill parent. As a recruiter, my job is to recognize when the overall experience of a candidate is relevant, get to the bottom of a hiatus, and make sure that my search clients hear a strong candidate’s story. Thankfully, all three clients were open-minded and receptive. Sure enough, it paid off and those candidates were the right fit.
Candidates, own your gap! Do not be afraid to explain it, along with any expertise gained, on a cover letter, on your LinkedIn profile, or in a resume. Be proud to say; “After working for ABC Company for seven years, I planned a two-year career hiatus in order to teach English to children in China. After six months, I became a lead instructor helping train new teachers and design curriculum. In addition, I am fluent in Mandarin.” This is a fantastic way to highlight skills that may benefit you in a new role.
As hiring professionals, we want to see well-rounded, passionate, innovative, and experienced candidates. These candidates may not come to us in neat, traditional packages. So, take the time to look deeper at a work gap; you may be surprised by what you unwrap.