We all want a compelling resume that highlights an unbroken record of stellar accomplishments. However, almost everyone encounters missteps, and some even step away from work entirely for a period during their career. Explaining gaps in employment is especially important for remote workers who have to work extra hard to prove their credibility. Read on to learn how remote workers can effectively manage employment gaps and get the job of their dreams!
Explaining Gaps in Employment: A Guide for Remote Workers
Careers rarely follow a smooth, upward progression. Life is messy and there are a multitude of different reasons why you may find yourself explaining gaps in employment. Most obviously, you may have a gap of time between jobs, especially if you were laid off or terminated for cause. Other reasons can include attending full-time school programs, raising children, acting as a caregiver, volunteer work, and travel.
As long as these gaps can be explained and any loss of skills mitigated, a gap in employment does not need to be an obstacle to continuing your career. Your future employer is a person too and has undoubtedly encountered similar situations in their own life. It is important, however, to implement a thoughtful strategy for addressing your gaps. You don’t want to be unprepared when you’re finding it hard to get an interview, or get caught flatfooted when you get an interview if potentially awkward questions arise.
What is an Employment Gap?
First, it’s important to know what an employer will consider an employment gap. It may seem like forever to us, but six months out of work does not necessarily raise a red flag. You will still want to be honest when explaining gaps in employment, but it will probably not be seen as a problem. A gap doesn’t become a gap until you have been out of work for nine months to a year.
Why Do Employment Gaps Affect your Employment Opportunities?
Employers are skittish about hiring candidates with longer gaps in employment for a variety of reasons. Any new hire is costly and hiring mistakes will obviously compound those costs. In order to avoid mistakes, employers will have the following questions regarding applicants with employment gaps.
1. Why have you not been hired?
This is the first question a potential employer will ask themselves. When explaining gaps in employment, it is important to address this question honestly and up-front before their imagination can get away from them. The brain loves to fill in blanks, and an unexplained gap will immediately result in hiring managers looking for problems to explain why you have not found another job.
2. Are your skills out of date?
In today’s fast-paced world of rapid advances in technology and economic sea-changes, skills can rapidly become obsolete. Even if you were fully involved in new technologies at your last position, if you have been away for a year or more, chances are these have already been upgraded or replaced. In addition to new technologies, new management techniques and changing corporate priorities may require an employer to provide expensive additional training.
3. Are you committed to your career choice?
This question speaks to longevity and the goal of all businesses to reduce employee turnover. If an employer is committed to hiring and training you, they want to know (or at least be reasonably convinced) that you won’t be going anywhere for a while. An extended gap in employment may leave an employer wondering if you will leave your career again. If you are changing careers, this question may be amplified, with the employer wondering if you will be successful transitioning to a new role.
Strategies for Mitigating Employment Gaps
Explaining gaps in employment is a lot easier if you address your future employer’s concerns in advance. If you know you are going to experience a lengthy gap in employment, or find yourself experiencing one, develop a strategy to minimize the gap and neutralize the negative effects that a long employment gap can have on your career.
1. Maintain some type of job continuity.
The easiest way to avoid explaining gaps in employment, is to avoid gaps in employment. A couple of options to consider include:
- Continue working remotely on a part-time, job-share, or project basis. If you are on good terms with your current employer, try to negotiate part-time hours or periodic projects to keep you current. Otherwise, check out Virtual Vocations job database for part-time remote work.
- Establish a home-based business. Be creative and develop a product or service that you can deliver remotely on a part-time basis while you are away from the job market. It has never been easier with a multitude of internet platforms built just to support small businesses.
2. Keep in touch!
Make sure to maintain contact with your professional network. This will keep you in the loop with current trends and industry issues. Use your network to help you stay connected with your peers and identify areas where you may need to improve your skills. Social media has made networking a snap for remote workers. For most, this will mean leveraging a LinkedIn profile. To best do this:
- Keep your information up-to-date
- Engage in discussions
- Reach out to acknowledge promotions and accomplishments in your network
- Read, write, post, and comment on articles relevant to your career field
3. Get active or stay active in professional associations and networking groups.
One of the best ways to revitalize a career put on the back burner is to attend meetings and volunteer for programs with an organization relevant to your career goals. This is especially relevant when taking time to attend school as there are frequently free or discounted membership options for students.
4. Get your references in order and keep your resume up-to-date.
Since you may go a long time without needing their help, be sure to prepare your references for the long term. Explain your situation up front and stay in contact to ensure their continued support. It’s also important to keep your resume current and up-to-date, even when you’re not actively looking for work. Make sure to add anything that may be considered career-related, taking time to identify transferrable skills and quantify your impact.
5. Update your skills on a periodic basis.
Today, there are many options for updating and advancing your skills. With the proliferation of free and low-cost online training courses and certification programs, there is no excuse for not staying on top of advancements in your career field.
Resume Writing Tips
While it’s always good to get ahead of this issue and plan accordingly, you may well find yourself in a position where you are retroactively explaining gaps in employment on your resume. Here are a few ideas on how to minimize your gaps in ways that are both professional and ethical:
1. Only include the years of employment on your resume and LinkedIn profile.
Not including months has the pleasant effect of making gaps less than two years practically disappear. This strategy is best used if you have a good deal of prior experience and is not advised if you have several short-term positions and/or less than 3-5 years of experience.
2. Add volunteer, professional association, or any career-related work undertaken during your break.
You may need to get a little creative, but anything you can add to your professional experience during an extended break will add to your credibility and reduce your gap. In this case, it is okay to add volunteer experience to your professional experience timeline, just make sure not to exaggerate or embellish.
3. If you are graduating from an educational program, consider putting your education first.
While most people with career experience will put their education at the end of their resume, if you have an employment gap that is due to attending school, try putting your education first. Also, make sure to include any internships, research projects, or school organization experience you gained while you were a student. Voila! Gap gone!
4. Add a short explanation.
If you have a recent gap that can’t be addressed with any other method, you will have to add a short statement explaining your gaps in employment, both for the human reading your resume and, perhaps more importantly, to maintain the continuity of your timeline for the applicant tracking software (ATS).
Don’t try and be cutesy or trendy. Keep it as business-like as possible—so, don’t use titles like Chief Household Officer or Intrepid World Explorer. Also, keep your explanations short, you can expand as needed on your cover letter. Some experts advise structuring as you would a regular job entry, while others suggest just including dates and a brief reason for being away from the market.
LinkedIn Profile Tips
LinkedIn offers several opportunities for remote workers to include information explaining gaps in employment. Consider adding a brief paragraph at the end of your professional summary to describe what you are currently doing and why. If you have established your own business, add this information to your professional timeline. Also, add your volunteer experience, special projects, or work with professional associations in the appropriate profile sections.
It is important that your LinkedIn profile and your resume are in complete agreement. Chances are that any company considering hiring you will see both, so the facts need to match. Make sure dates, titles, and job descriptions are the same to avoid damaging your credibility.
Cover Letter Tips
In the cover letter, you can take a little more space for explaining your gaps in employment. You can develop a paragraph that not only explains the absence but also addresses concerns that the specific employer may have. For example, the company may have just introduced a new information management system or be dealing with a new economic trend. Briefly explain how your background and character can rise to the challenge. Show off your knowledge of your industry and the company you’re applying to.
Job Interview Preparation Tips
Explaining gaps in employment will become most important during an interview. In addition, remote workers need to take into account that interviews may not take place in person and so will need to ensure an appropriate environment for the interview to take place digitally. It is here that you will need to put the employer’s fears to rest, and preparation is key:
1. Set aside a location where you can be undisturbed for the duration of the interview.
Make sure that your technology is working properly and if you are having a video interview, make sure that your dress and the background appear professional to the camera’s eye.
2. Research the company and the industry thoroughly.
You will need to be able to intelligently address current trends, company goals, and how you specifically can make an impact in their organization.
3. Prepare and rehearse responses to the employer questions introduced above.
Why have you not been hired? Are your skills out of date? Are you fully committed to your career choice?
Job Interview Attitude Preparation Tips
In addition to the above preparations for your interview, it’s just as important to develop the appropriate attitude:
1. Be honest and open.
Don’t lie or embellish unethically. Chances are you will get found out and you will lose your opportunity. However, conversely, don’t shy away from emphasizing your skills and accomplishments.
2. Be positive.
Try to convey a confident, relaxed, and upbeat attitude both in your facial and body expressions as well as in the tone of your voice. This is especially important to focus on during remote interview situations where more subtle cues can be lost in transmission.
3. Be humble.
You may have been top of your class or top salesman in your company before your break, but if you have been away from the job market for a while, potential employers will want reassurance that you know things have changed and are willing to learn.
4. Demonstrate your commitment.
Be persuasive about your enthusiasm in returning to work and back it up with all the evidence you can provide. Discuss your prior achievements and anything that you have undertaken during your gap to keep your skills fresh and mind engaged.
5. Don’t get defensive.
Whatever it was that kept you away from the job market, put a positive spin on it. Identify the silver linings and don’t feel you need to apologize for anything.
Using the tips and strategies presented above, you will be able to successfully negotiate the sometimes frustrating road back to full-employment after a break. If all else fails, check out the career services offered by Virtual Vocations to help pave the way and support your remote work goals.
iStock Photo Credit: awayge
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