Recently I’ve been coaching a lot of people who are trying to get back into employment after a gap in their employment history. One of the questions that comes up a lot is;
“What should I do about this gap on my CV?”
There is no easy answer to this and I’ll tell you what I tell everyone who asks me this question; as much as you’d like to, you are unable to control the perspective of the person who will make a decision about your CV. You may influence them, certainly, but you can’t control their decision. I also firmly believe that you should not deceive them. I’ve spent enough time hiring people to know how much I hate it when I think a candidate is lying, or worse, when I know that a candidate has lied about something. It’s not a nice feeling. In small markets, people remember these things and humans are programmed to pay more attention to potential threats than rewards. It’s just a bad idea. So what choices do you have?
I say own the gap. Acknowledge it up front. Don’t dwell on it, (unless it goes in your favour eg. if you are applying for a position as a travel agent and the job spec says something like “We’d particularly like to hear from you if you have a passion for world travel” and it just so happens you have spent the last three years traveling the world, then dwell on the gap), but do acknowledge it.
As soon as you try to cover it up a number of things will happen; you will know that you are trying to be deceptive, and this may create a dissonance for you that comes across at interview. Recruiters and hiring managers may not know exactly what it is that comes across weird when someone is lying, but they know something isn’t right. They’ll feel like something doesn’t add up and it doesn’t really matter whether they figure it out or not, in a market where there are fewer jobs than people looking for them, they don’t need a great reason to put your application in the ‘no’ pile.
Here are a few tips for owning the gaps;
- There may be a number of reasons why you weren’t working. List the things that were going on in your life at that time and pick the thing you’d be most comfortable talking about at interview. Be prepared to tell the story when someone asks “So what were you doing between ’08 and ‘12?” Recruiters are trained to look for gaps and inconsistencies, make it easy for them by ensuring your CV is formatted nicely with dates.
- Always highlight periods where you undertook some sort of professional development, personal development or took on either a formal or informal voluntary role. Personally, I don’t see these things as gaps. Someone who was unable to find work but actively undertook education or professional development in that time is made of tough stuff, in my opinion. A candidate who has taken time to raise a family or care for a relative has a well-rounded experience and can probably handle ambiguity quite well.
- Do not be afraid to talk about time spent working in a family business. This is completely relevant and if you’ve worked in a small family business my hunch is that you understand cash-flow pretty well and that is only ever a good thing for someone to have.
- If you tried out your own business, and it failed, please talk about that. Not only does it tell me that you are not afraid to try something new, but it means that you understand and have hopefully learned from failure. Be prepared to answer the “What did that experience teach you?” question here. It’s also a great one to pull out if some tired interviewer asks you the age-old “Tell me about your weaknesses” question. The best answers to those questions are things that go like this; “Well I tried to start my own business once and it failed because I was unable to market the product in a compelling way, so I wound that down and did a course in marketing to see where I went wrong.”
- Remember that in a post-recession market lots of people will be in the same boat as you, maybe even the person making a decision about your CV. If a potential employer doesn’t like the honesty with which you talk about a gap, do you want to work for them?