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Mind The Gap? Explaining Employment Gaps Effectively

by Mark Ellwood

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Until recently, the common understanding was that, just as nature abhors a vacuum, employers abhor gaps in employment. As a result, many job hunters felt compelled to try and cover up these gaps for fear of rejection.  However, in today’s market, there’s much less concern over gaps if they are properly explained.

 

In this blog, we go over the history of employment gaps and give you a guide as to how to approach them on your CV and in interviews.

 

 

Old perceptions

 

Usually, when you become a recruiter, one of your earliest training sessions will be spent analysing CVs, and top of the check-list will be employment gaps. Certainly, if we look back some ten years, the existence of employment gaps was critical. While most employers, naturally, would want to understand why there were gaps on the CV, some would simply reject the candidate outright and think no more about it.  Consequently, recruiters often rejected those CVs off hand, even if they were otherwise spot-on for what they were looking for in skills and experience.

 

Why the horror?

 

Originally, employment gaps were big red flags. The commonly held belief was that the person must have been fired and wasn’t able to find a new job. If you worked in the comms industry, such as public relations, there was a certainty that you musty have lost all your media contacts and would have to rebuild your ‘black book’ because you’d been  “out of the game” for an extended period. Finally, it could be because you had a life-changing event happen, and at that time many employers just didn’t want to know or deal with this - whatever the reason.

 

So, many people would paper over the gap, such as altering employment dates to cover it or putting down some experience freelancing that they didn’t really have.  This façade would sometimes crumble at interview, scuppering the chances of the candidate and reinforcing the preconceptions of employers in the market that:

 

You are not to be trusted.

 

 

The sea-change

 

However, since then, several factors have helped the employment market to mature. Firstly, the flexible working revolution has gathered pace. Secondly, there’s been what one might call a humanising of Human Resources and the elevation of Chief People Officers, with a focus on understanding people instead of pigeon-holing them. Thirdly, the digital revolution has changed what it means to have a network and also the ability of people to work flexible. Finally, major events such as Covid have helped to solidify changes that were already taking hold in the market – such as understanding that people will usually need to take a gap at some point.

 

 

Closing the gap

 

It is now common to see a gap on CVs. In fact, some employers actively encourage sabbaticals for people to rest, shift their minds and recuperate.  The key is to have the gaps explained.

If a CV turns up with an unexplained gap – that immediately poses questions and creates an aura of mystery around the applicant. If the gap is already noted and explained on the CV, there are no question marks or flags raised.

 

Honesty is the best policy

 

It could be you took time off to home-school. It could be you were looking after a sick relative. It could also be you had some personal issues and needed to work them out, such a receiving therapy of some kind.  None of this should count against a motivated candidate seeking a new role in the market.  You simply have to have an explanation.

 

Put the gap on the CV with a very brief explanation. Here’s a couple of examples:

 

 

Apr 2013 – Jan 2014

I was involved in a skiing accident. Recovery from this took several months of surgery and rehabilitation. However, after 10 months I was fully recovered and able to return to active employment.

 

And one that’s currently very pertinent and we’ve already seen this year:

 

Nov 2019 – Sep 2021

During this period, I contracted Covid19 and was hospitalised.  In March 2021 I was given the all-clear but was diagnosed with long covid and had to resign from my role to recuperate. By September I was fully recovered and back to work.

 

The Dos and Don’ts of Employment Gaps:

 

  • Do: Expect that any gaps will be found on your CV and through employment background checks

  • Do: Explain gaps briefly up front on your CV and prepare to talk through them briefly at interview stages

  • Do: Expect to have follow-up questions -e.g., will you need further therapy sessions when you come to work for us?

  • Do: Reassure employers that the issue is resolved (they’ll want confirmation that it won’t impact their projects to employ you)

  • Do: Fill any gaps with any relevant activities you can. Maybe you did some freelance work, maybe you learnt a programming language. Turning a gap into a strength is the best possible outcome

 

  • Don’t: Try to lie or cover your tracks with fake dates – this will destroy your application and potentially your market reputation

  • Don’t: Be too concerned about employment gaps of less than 6 months. If you were job-hunting during this time, you can confidently put that down, although it is advisable to say what else you were doing at this time to use the time wisely in improving yourself as an applicant

  • Don’t: Be overly concerned about employment gaps that were more than 6 years ago. A simple explanation will cover this and your employment since then will reassure any prospective employers that there isn’t going to be an issue

 

 

Employment gaps have undergone a re-evaluation in the employment process. The employment world of the 2020s is no longer the world of the 1980s, or even the early 2000s. There is a better understanding that we are all human and have human needs and responses. There’s also an appreciation that we learn from these events and circumstances and how you get through them can make you a stronger, more rounded employee.

 

So, don’t fear the gap; embrace it and wear it.