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How to Manage Time Gaps in Your Resume

Employment Absence, CV Tips, Job Search...

Less than thirty-years ago, it was not uncommon for someone to have one employer, for the duration of their professional career.  Life was simpler then, and employees found a great employer post-graduation, started from an entry-level position and did their best to work their way through the ranks, and escalate both salary, and title.   After working twenty-five or more years for the same company, star employees were given the proverbial “gold watch” and looked forward to retirement.   It was a different business and economic climate; we know that this career path is fairly rare now, and an anomaly.

Today the average worker can expect to have three or more employers, according to researchers.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker holds ten different jobs before the age of forty.   For millennials who are establishing themselves in corporate environments, the estimate is that they will have twelve to fifteen employers in their lifetime.

But it is not just workers between the ages of twenty to thirty who have experienced employment transience.

  • Individuals born from 1957 to 1964 held an average of 11.7 jobs from age 18-48 years.
  • From age 18 – 24, the average worker changed jobs 5.5 times.
  • 32% of employment roles started by workers aged 40 – 48 years were held for less than a year, and 69% were held for fewer than five years.

If your resume reflects the average labor statistics, consider yourself to be well within norms.  As economic factors, unemployment and downsizing impact career opportunities, being a marketable candidate is evident; it is in your job history.  Typically, there is progression of roles within the same professional or industry (but not always), and gaps in your resume may exist where you tried something different that was not in line with your career path.   Is that normal?  Absolutely, but in order to prevent assumptions when employers review your CV, there is a better way to manage them, rather than omitting them altogether.

Tips for Explaining Employment Gaps

The best approach when submitting your resume is to be honest.  Did you take a year off to travel or volunteer?  Perhaps you started your own business for a few years and tried self-employment?  There are many great reasons to take a sabbatical from your career, and employers do not always view gaps in a punitive way. In some cases, it might weigh in your favor.

Would an employer consider traveling abroad for a year a waste of time? No.  An insightful employer would view that as international business or cultural exposure, which is valuable in virtually every professional environment.  Volunteering? Social responsibility is a highly respected quality that employers reflect on as indicative of character, and generosity.  Did you start your own business (and it didn’t go well?) It’s not a failure that you tried your hand at small business, it reflects an innovative, hardworking nature.  Absences for parental leave or caregiving are also not viewed in a punitive way.

The only exception to the rule is dishonesty, and the inability to explain absences from the workforce. If you have a gap of a year or more, but are not willing to discuss how you were gainfully employed, it can be a concern for both recruiters and employers.  Was the candidate incarcerated?  Was he or she involved in illegal activity?  Employers shouldn’t be left to fill in the blank themselves, because concerns about liability will inevitably weigh against you.   Be forthcoming with breaks in steady employment, and when you are underemployed, look for valuable volunteer opportunities that can help you network and further your soft skills.   That is indicative of someone who has a true drive to succeed, and explore innovative opportunities; a characteristic that employers both respect, and favor.