While economic recovery indicators like a declining unemployment rate are often celebrated, they don’t show the whole picture.
For many long-term unemployed, finding a job becomes a bleaker prospect the longer they’re out of work. A September 2014 report from the Brookings Institution found that people who are long-term unemployed (defined as being without a job for six months or more), have a 20% to 40% lower probability of being employed one to two years in the future.
But as the economy adds more jobs, that means more opportunities for employment. If you’ve been out of the office for more than six months, you should make some tweaks to your resume to increase your chances.
1. Explain the absence
Instead of trying to hide a big gap on your resume, explain it, says veteran human resources director Daniel Quillen, author of The Perfect Resume. Either in your resume or on your cover letter, address the fact that you’ve had a large employment gap and give it some context. This is especially helpful if you left the workforce to care for children or if you were part of a large layoff.
“That’s important because it helps me understand that he or she wasn’t laid off for performance. If they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or they were one of the last ones in, so they were the first ones out, that knowledge helps me erase that gap as an issue,” Quillen says.
2. Create a job
If you’ve been out of work for a while, create a small business, suggests management consultant John Paul Engel, founder of Knowledge Capital Consulting. Determine which of your skills and expertise are salable to others and market yourself for hire. You may do consulting or sales work as an independent contractor, for example.
“You have to be truthful about the work you’re doing, but this can help bridge a gap and bring in some income,” he says.
3. Skip the chronological format
Traditional resume formats that present your experience based on the chronological order of your jobs can shine a white-hot spotlight on the gaps. Quillen suggests a hybrid resume that ditches clunky objective statements and, instead, includes an upfront summary of the job you’re seeking with some bullet points that highlight key strengths and accomplishments.
“You might have nine or 10 bullet points that really summarize who you are and what your strengths are–I’m an HR professional and looking to do X, Y, and Z, and here are my strengths–so that it takes up about the top third of the resume, then the rest is chronological,” he suggests.
4. Focus on Results Not Tasks
Engel says you should scour your resume for opportunities to “eliminate the risk of hiring you.” Each segment of your resume should focus on the results you’ve achieved for your employer. Too many resumes focus on tasks, he says. To stand out, focus on the results you generated.
5. Show how you’ve kept current
List contract, temporary or even volunteer work to show that you’ve remained active in a work environment. Also, use your time off to improve your skills, learn new technology, or get an industry certification and document it on your resume–even if your effort is still a work-in-progress, suggests career coach and resume writer Cheryl E. Palmer.
“Certifications have become very common in many fields. Being able to show that you have recent training in your field can definitely be a plus. It demonstrates that you are staying current,” Palmer says.
6. Customize your resume for each job
Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all resumes. Customizing your resume is as easy as highlighting sections and changing them, but few people create tailored resumes for the jobs they’re pursuing, he says. If you’re going after a job in sales, think about that company and that specific job and highlight areas of your past experience that are most relevant, maybe reordering bullet points or skills presentation to make you the most perfect candidate you can be, he says. A caveat: Multiple versions and making changes means you need to relentlessly proofread your resume. Grammatical errors and typos can get you nixed pretty quickly, Quillen adds.
7. Send it to everyone you know
Once you have a good resume, send it to everyone you know who might be in a position to pass it along, Quillen says. You might think that everyone knows what you do or that you’re out of work, but that’s often not the case or they may not think of referring you, he adds. Later, if a contact uncovers a lead, you can send an updated, customized resume. But get the word out by distributing your resume. You never know from where a great job lead can come, Quillen says.
If you’ve struggled with it, know that you’re normal. Yup. 100% human … I’m presuming, of course. 😉
Cover letter writing experts agree. Addressing employment gaps in a cover letter can create the biggest headache.
Jobseekers like you feel like date gaps in a work history are equated to wearing a scarlet letter … or, so it seems.
But, no matter how painful, addressing unfavorable work situations can be tricky.
To help, below are a few tips (and content samples) to help you address an employment issue. Not knowing your EXACT situation, I covered different situations. One of these examples should fit your current situation.
When you’re employed, there’s nothing to explain. There are good reasons for changing employers. For example, higher pay, better benefits, new horizons, and better working environment.
Sometimes, the reasons can be awkward to explain in a cover letter. For example, when a jerk boss causes you to resign or get fired. [Editorial Note: When fired, check out this in-depth guide on what to do before and after a layoff or firing.]
Fired? Should You Still Explain The Employment Gap in Your Cover Letter?
The truth is, getting fired isn’t an end of the world (even though it might feel like it). The cover letter shouldn’t get the task of explaining what happened at your last employer.
This is why you may not want to explain a firing in your cover letter.
There are other ways of addressing employment gaps (including getting fired). For example, a job interview is a good time.
Despite your best instinct, try to ignore your need for explanation. Explaining employment gaps in the cover letters you write isn’t that critical.
Should You Use Cover Letter “Fudge”?
You could make THIS all go away with a few clicks of a mouse.
Hiding a gap in your employment can be the quick fix.
But, you don’t need me to tell you about the fudge factor, right?
The truth is, there are many great solutions for handling employment gaps.
For example, think about using a different resume format. For example, a combination resume format versus a combination format. And, with your cover letter, don’t talk about the gap … at least for the time being.
This might sound counterintuitive …
A big issue with some employment gaps is when the person doesn’t learn anything from the experience.
Were you fired? Who was at fault, you or them? Be honest. If you, what did you learn? If you screwed up, learn your lesson, take your lump, and move on. Whether you’re 20, 40, 60, or 80 years old, you’re going to screw up and learn more lessons.
Life works that way.
We’re all getting heaping, healthy servings of lessons and lumps. 🙂
Were you let go due to a layoff, merger, departmental downsizing, or heck, you left because your boss was a jerk?
I’d tell you to get over it; but hey, we’re all pigheaded, not only you. 😉
Did you leave your job to be with your kids or ailing parent for a while?
I’m going to tell you something you can’t tell anyone else. Ready?
Okay, here we go … human resources and bosses have kids and ailing parents too.
But, there is a dark side …
Do employers REALLY care about gaps in your work history?
It seems unreasonable that employers obsess over gaps in employment — particularly in light of the economic situation over the past few years. Nonetheless, there are some in American culture that presumes someone who’s experienced a period of unemployment is probably lazy, unproductive or has some character defect. It seems unfair and inaccurate, but it’s an unfortunate fact.
In short, don’t draw undue attention to this in a cover letter.
In fact, unless it’s a gap of over a year — to recover from a long illness, care for a sick relative, take care of young children, or retrain for a new career, for instance — there is no reason to explain it at all.
That is information better left for the interview.
HERE’S A RECAP:
So, in short, your reasons for leaving or wanting to leave a job shouldn’t by default be included in your cover letters.
FREE DOWNLOAD:Click here to get your copy of Professional Cover Letter Examples for Managers & Executives. Available via download.
Let’s say you’re not listening to me. And, you want to explain the employment gap anyway.
Okay, I understand that.
Sometimes we just feel the need to explain the WHYs, if only to make ourselves feel better.
Below I’ve outlined 3 writing examples that explain an employment gap.
Use the one that works best for you:
Sample Cover Letter Content Explaining Gap in Employment
Are you wondering if your cover letter should use the same header as your resume?Here’s a quick how-to cover letter guide to help you with this.
Writing Ideas #1 & #2:
“After working in systems administration for 7 years, I decided to pivot to a new area and took time out from my career to complete a data science master’s degree. An internship with Company X during my studies convinced me that this field is the perfect match for my skills and interests.”
“After completing my master’s in accounting, I worked for 8 years as a senior auditor for Organization Y while also obtaining my CPA license. Following a five-year career break to raise two children, I am now searching for a challenging position in a small- to medium-sized firm. Over the past four years, I have held volunteer positions as a treasurer and tax advisor for two community organizations.”
Writing Idea #3:
“I was employed for four years as a shift manager in steel manufacturing before my position was eliminated due to large-scale corporate downsizing. In addition to engaging in an aggressive job search, I have been completing an online certificate in (subject) and volunteering as a team coach for a high school softball team.”
As you can see, cover letters can sometimes be useful tools to clarify issues in your employment history.
Just remember when to provide an explanation and when not to.
Want more on crafting great cover letters that let you put your best foot forward? Here are some additional resources for you:
Filed Under: Resume & Cover Letter