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VOL. 35 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 11, 2011

Plugging gaps in your resume

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Not everything goes as planned during a person’s career. As a result, one of biggest problems that job seekers face is how to handle gaps in work history.

If you are faced with this situation, consider the reason for the gap(s), when they occurred and the amount of time between jobs. The demand for your skill in the employment market should also be considered.

If your skills are in high demand, gaps may not be important to the hiring manager. The employer may have only a few applicants for the position. If the human resource department cannot locate qualified people, you may have little to worry about in being called for an interview.

However, be prepared to answer questions about the unemployed times during the interview.

Most people, unfortunately, are not in this high-demand situation. If this is your circumstance, look for a viable solution that makes you look attractive.

Ponder the activities you were performing during the gaps of time. Where you consulting, volunteering for community service, performing a special activity or attending school or educational seminars? Can you use these activities to show you were busy? If it makes sense and strengthens your resume, use them to fill the gaps.

If the period of unemployment was short, is it really necessary to use one of these activities as filler? Don’t use them if you don’t have to. If continuing your formal education was the reason, you should include it in the resume

If the period is short, don’t use exact starting or ending dates in your resume. Use month and year instead. Many times employees have significant vacation time coming to them when leaving a job. If you have this extra time, add it to when you left your job. You may gain an extra month or two. You can always explain this in an interview.

Some unemployment situations present a much longer period between jobs. Explaining the reason for the gap is more important here.

If you are sick or hospitalized, having to deal with a family situation or raising a family, go ahead and explain it in your resume or cover letter (many hiring managers never look at cover letters). Most hiring managers will not hold it against you. Without exception, as in most everything, there are some who will. You may never get an interview, however, if you don’t explain it upfront.

In cases where the time period was long ago, not bringing it up may pose little or no problem. This usually means 10 or more years ago. Your profession should help determine your approach. For example, if you are in security management or a medical doctor, this would not be an acceptable practice.

Another approach is to use a functional or combination resume. In many cases, this approach may be used if you have a poor work history. Chronological resumes are preferred by many hiring managers. Human resource managers are accustomed to receiving this job-sequenced or dated format and may look close if you do not use this style. So be careful how you construct yours. When properly constructed, many job seekers are very successful using the functional or combination formats.

To make the process easy, first set up an outline of your proposed resume. If it appears to have holes in time that draws attention, what can be done to make it appear better? Try to accentuate the positive wherever you can. Use a summary to show your strengths of skills, abilities and accomplishments that reflect on the desired position. Highlight your skills in the body of the resume.

Whatever approach you take, make sure it is in your best interest and does not misrepresent. When you get an interview, be prepared to explain your situation adequately.

M.B. Owens is a Nashville-based columnist and journalist with a decade of experience writing on employment topics and business.

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