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GUEST COMMENT: Turning Resume gaps to your advantage

So, you've been out of the job market due to lay offs, job loss or personal circumstances?

It's all very legitimate but that's not the way some employers and interviewers see it.

If you're applying for a job in an investment bank, you will get questions about your career gap. It is, however, possible to turn these into a positive differentiator, using the steps below.

1. Don't be defensive

You are going to be asked about the gap, so come prepared.

Stand tall, sit tall and don't get anxious or shift around when the topic comes up.

If an interviewer sees you suddenly becoming uncomfortable and then lose eye contact with them when responding to questions about your gap, he or she won't quite believe what you're telling them. They will probably ask more probing questions and make things slightly uncomfortable as a result.

So be prepared, relax and just tell your story.

2. The story

The internet is full of "how to" advice on answering questions about gaps on your resume. These sometimes work, but usually they don't because they don't take into account two important things:

a) Your own individual reasons for the gap

b) The needs of employer you're sitting in front of

So instead of giving a 'good answer' from the internet, you need to tell your own story and explain what happened and what you've been doing. In particular, you need to focus on how that experience is going to benefit me as line manager or employer.

Tell me a story that is sincere, honest and doesn't make you sound like a victim and I'll like you. I'll trust you. If I like you and trust you, I may convince my boss to meet with you despite his reservations.

Tell me a canned answer you found on the internet and I just won't connect with you regardless of how valid it seems. And if I don't connect with you, I will never hire you.

And if you're speaking to recruiters, it's even more important to have a succinct story so that they're able to explain your gap to clients.

3. Don't BS

I've interviewed thousands of people - both face to face and via phone. Which means my BS radar is pretty strong! I can usually smell it very early on - and so can most experienced interviewers.

So by all means put your best foot forward and show yourself in a good light when telling your story. But don't fabricate.

We now live in a hyper-connected world and soon enough I'll know that you've been sitting at home for 6 months and not travelling around Australia (...yes, I know someone who said just that despite being in the UK for the whole period!)

4. Turn the gap into a differentiator

After leaving my full time job as a recruiter in 2003, I took some time out to figure out my next move as a consultant, coach (..or whatever I was going to call myself!)

During this fairly unstructured period, I read huge amounts about the recruitment market, career management and work place issues and consequently became much sharper and more knowledgeable.

I attended industry conferences, careers fairs and generally became much better connected than before. I also spent more time with family and friends and became more healthy and relaxed. Consequently, I became far more focused and mentally strong compared to my peers who were still in full time work.

All these attributes would be hugely beneficial to future employers and clients.

And that's precisely the angle I used when meeting with firms to sell myself onto consulting projects. Some people, of course, disliked me and the gap. But others absolutely loved me because of the reasons outlined above.

This is what you need to stand out.

So look at what you've done during your 'gap period' and identify what benefits this could bring to future employers.

Weave this into your story in a way that relates to the needs of the person in front of you and the employers you're interviewing with and you'll become very different from others and far more interesting.

If you've spent much of your time networking during a long job search, employers may benefit from the stronger network you bring. If you've up-skilled yourself in a new area, it may lend itself to employers.

5. Be willing to walk away

The above approach will be effective in many interviews.

But in others it won't. And that's okay.

Some people will never get over the fact that you've a gap in your career history and won't hire you. Maybe they'll want someone with more current experience. And that's their prerogative.

But when this happens your attitude should be, "Not a problem. Their loss, not mine." Move on with your self-esteem intact. Put it down to valuable interview experience.

You'll need your 'gap story' over and over again in the future.

So instead of shying away from it, stand up and be proud of your gap. Show people that it's an asset, not a liability.

Sital helps a variety of mid-career professionals make successful career transitions in less time and with less stress. To learn more, click here.

AUTHORSital Ruparelia Insider Comment
  • Ma
    30 June 2011

    Liked your straight-forward approach and advice.

  • An
    30 June 2011

    I think your comment is very encouraging and valid. Finally someone who thinks through rather than check the resume just because there's a gap and not asking why is there the gap. To me, someone who has a gap and went on to start an entrepreneurial venture is admirable and shows an appetite for risks.

  • Ma
    30 June 2011

    Appreciated your straight-forward, no nonsense advice on resume gap.

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