Concerned about showing an employment gap on your resume?
Life happens and work gaps happen, too.
Executives, just like other candidates, often experience lapses in employment due to job searches, board work, illness, layoffs, downsizing, performance, and of course, COVID.
Your resume, however, is meant to be an impressive picture of your accomplishments, value proposition, and skills – NOT the place to bring up a potentially negative aspect of your work history.
So how DO you explain a gap in employment?
Here are 5 strategies for handling the gap – both on your resume AND in your interviews:
1 – Realize that gaps in employment aren’t rare.
You aren’t the only leader facing this issue.
Maybe you lost your passion for the industry – or realized the company was headed for troubled times. Some executives find themselves job hunting after realizing their employer had a much different cultural, financial, or leadership philosophy (see Regret Taking Your New Job? What to Do Next).
Business Insider even suggested applicants with resume gaps should be seen as more valuable, as they have often experienced a period of upskilling, self-reflection, or career exploration.
Of course, layoffs, mergers, or restructuring inevitably hit many industries in 2023. All of these situations are, unfortunately, VERY common.
You may also find attitudes toward gaps have softened (as a similar shift has occurred with hybrid work). Your gap is probably not the huge issue you might think it is.
No matter what the cause, most gaps are easier to explain in person during your interview – and some won’t even come up, especially if years have passed since you left.
2 – Add a brief note to your resume if your gap occurred during COVID.
If you were unemployed between 2020 and 2022, you have plenty of company.
The pandemic and its impact on business disrupted many operations and left businesses reeling – with little opportunity to recover.
Many executives and senior leaders worked hard to keep the company afloat during this unprecedented time. When revenue tanked, costs soared, or supply chain issues surfaced, you may have needed to shut the doors or scale back teams.
If this happened to you, a COVID gap can be easily noted on your resume, with an entry such as “Left operation after COVID-related shutdown” under the description of your job.
Depending on the pandemic’s effect (especially in retail or restaurant businesses), you might not even need to mention why the operation didn’t survive.
3 – Leave a long-ago gap for discussion during your interviews.
You may fear disclosing a gap in your work history, no matter when it occurred.
However, it’s likely that recruiters or employers aren’t as concerned about a long-ago gap as you are. Downsizing and industry changes have become so common that you might not find it necessary to mention a lull in employment.
Here are situations where a gap from 6+ years ago may NOT be relevant (and you don’t need a resume entry for it):
- You transitioned from one leadership role to the next, but were unemployed for a few months while job hunting;
- Your executive team experienced a reorganization, and while it took a while to find your next job, you’ve been employed steadily for the last several years;
- Most of your industry or company took a substantial hit due to circumstances beyond your control (such as the fallout from a previous recession), and nearly everyone was unemployed at that time.
In these cases, try leaving your work gap to be discussed during the interview (and plan to be ready with a brief summary).
Resist the urge to over-explain on your resume or LinkedIn Profile, unless you are presented with evidence that these gaps are hurting your job search.
4 – Take action if a recent (non-COVID) gap could affect your brand.
Perhaps you left a former employer of your own accord in recent years, then went back to work. In this case, you SHOULD mention the gap on your resume.
It’s best to show this time between employers as a positive career step. For example, your work history can show an entry called Sabbatical or Master’s Degree Studies that covers the time you took to upskill, work on a special project, or attend an educational program.
You could also use Family Care to describe how you managed the needs of children, tended to an ailing relative, served as executor of an estate, or handled similar scenarios.
Don’t worry about the implications of these situations. Recruiters and employers have seen these circumstances before; you didn’t invent them!
Whatever you use, stick to the TRUTH and use a simple, concise description. (If your situation was more complex, such as incarceration or extended layoffs, consider working with a career coach to come up with an overall plan.)
The idea is to offer employers a glimpse of what may have happened, without dwelling too heavily on this aberration in your career.
5 – Bring the focus back to your personal brand.
Even if an employer comments on your break in employment, your BEST interview and job-search strategy is to emphasize what you OFFER.
If you’re prepared with a synopsis of your gap – coupled with reasons you can drive revenue, growth strategy, compliance, or technology modernization – this part of your employment will be less important.
As an example, consider these interview statements that place emphasis on the executive’s future contributions:
“It’s true that I left the manufacturing industry during a family situation that is no longer a factor in my life. I’m ready to continue delivering the same level of insight and change that took 6 of our regions to the top of the market.”
“Taking a sabbatical to re-center my career into non-profit was the best move I ever made. Combined with my development experience raising more than $7M in 2 different companies, I’m ready to lead the $25M in growth important to you today.”
The bottom line: no matter when and how your gap occurred, it may not be a deal breaker to employers.
Your executive resume and LinkedIn presence should ALWAYS emphasize capable leadership and a strong value proposition, rather than draw attention to unrelated periods in your career.
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