Job candidates who have to deal with employment gaps need to be creative as well as honest

2013-02-17T00:00:00Z Job candidates who have to deal with employment gaps need to be creative as well as honestBy Bob Moulesong Times Correspondent
February 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

According to the Wall Street Journal, as many as 20 percent of U.S. employees will be out of work for some time during the upcoming year. So it is not surprising that many job candidates will have some type of employment gaps on their resume.

Job candidates need to recognize that, and have a strategy for how to handle those gaps on their resume and when they interview. That can make the difference between landing a job or missing out.

Frequent downsizings and job hopping have become much more commonplace than they were twenty years ago. However, non-traditional or non-sequential employment dates can still raise eyebrows and harm candidates’ chances of landing a dream job.

Or, if handled properly, they can be an opportunity to showcase talents.

Job candidates should always assume that a company is going to check out references and employment history. Hiring personnel do not like surprises. If a resume shows no employment gap and one appears in their checking, there will be trust issues.

So it is critical to be honest on a resumes. It is equally important to be creative. Presentation can be all the difference.

First, it’s important to detail why there is an employment gap. For example, many take time off of work to start a family, or to care for an elderly parent. Their return to the job marketplace can be months or years later, leaving an employment gap that will be hard to ignore.

But in many instances, there were several activities done during that timeframe that can provide relevant experience to the job target. Volunteer activities, such as working with the school PTA or chaperoning day-care trips can provide valuable learning experience to add to a resume. Negotiating with health insurance companies and Medicare can provide opportunities for skills that were previously missing.

Some fields, such as consulting, are prone to short periods of employment, and job-hopping may not be as much of a concern. But overall, hiring managers still tend to frown on resumes that list several jobs within a relatively short period of time.

There still is a stigma to the term job-hopper. One way to handle many jobs is to combine them. For example, someone who sold real estate for four different realtors in one year could format their resume with the title of "Real-Estate Agent", and highlight accomplishments during that timeframe. With the focus being on accomplishments, the fact that there were four firms doesn't stand out as much.

It's divide-and-combine strategy. The truth is not avoided or altered. Once again, it's how the facts are presented.

Downsizing can leave someone without easily transferrable skills. That, in turn, can lead to a gap in employment while new skills are learned. If the target job is one that will utilize newly learned skills, that fact should be highlighted in the resume.

If a displaced worker took computer classes at the local community college, and the potential new job will utilize those new skills that becomes more important than what was done during the last twenty years on the assembly line.

Those last twenty years should not be discarded, however. There are many non-tangible soft skills that were developed during that timeframe.

A job candidate can also use a cover letter as a showcase of all the team skills built up at a previous company. Cover letters allow job candidates more flexibility in what is said and how it is said. Hiring managers and recruiters read cover letters as well as resumes, so job candidates should not be quick to dismiss the value of a good cover letter.

Employment gaps also come up in the conversation during an interview. Job candidates need to be ready to discuss employment gaps and the detail behind it. Consistency between anything listed on a cover letter or in a resume is critical during an interview. The recruiter is going to want to feel comfortable that they know the reasons for employment gaps, in case they are asked about it by their management.

Sometimes, looking for a new job can result in getting a counter offer from the current company. Next week, JobsSunday examines counter offers.

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