How to optimize your resume for employment gaps

Are you currently taking a hiatus from paid employment? Maybe you want to stay home with your kids until they're in school. Maybe you haven't been able to find another job after a layoff. Maybe you had some savings and took a mini-retirement. Or maybe you just wanted a break.

Self-imposed or not, taking a break from the paycheck can be scary.

You know what I find even scarier? Trying to re-enter the job market after a long hiatus.

In your worst nightmares, the Human Resources person — assuming you even get an interview — is scrutinizing your resume and asking, “So, do you have anything to explain this gap between 2014 and 2016?”

You'll be ba-ack

I have those same nightmares.

In 2013, I resigned from my full-time position as a community college professor. I stayed on until mid-2014 on a part-time basis, before quitting completely.

Before I left, I questioned whether I had made the right decision. Maybe you can relate. If I leave, will I ever be able to come back? Will I be able to stay current in my field? Do I want to stay in my field?

Obviously, not everyone has these questions. And some people don't even have these choices if they were handed a pink slip rather than handing in a resignation letter.

But my first tip is this: Until you're absolutely certain (and how many things in life are certain?), plan to re-enter the workforce at some point.

How should you plan?

Stay connected

Despite being self-employed now and sure on most days that I won't return to teaching, I keep in touch with my former colleagues. I'm connected to a few close colleagues through Facebook, and even more through LinkedIn. If you're on LinkedIn, keep your profile updated and current.

Stay connected beyond social media too. Periodically, I schedule lunches with former colleagues.

I actually don't stay connected to keep my future job prospects open. Instead, I genuinely like these people and treasure my relationships. The possibility that these relationships may benefit me in the future is just the icing on the cake.

Serve in your field

See if there are opportunities — even unpaid opportunities — to stay connected. I currently serve in a volunteer capacity on my former employer's advisory board committee. While we meet just twice a year, I can connect with former colleagues and current decision-makers in my field. Plus, I am able to keep up on local news and changes in my field.

Seek out opportunities for self-improvement

While you're out of the workforce, take advantage of learning opportunities. Continue your education by learning new skills online or by taking a course or two at a community college. Use the time to achieve new certifications.

Don't overlook skills such as becoming proficient with specific computer programs or enhancing your leadership or interpersonal skills. By volunteering to be president of your child's PTO or volunteering with any other organization, you can build organizational and leadership skills … without investing money in a class.

And, of course, always seek to sharpen your skills in your own field, if possible.

Stay outstanding in your field

Taking classes or certifications that directly relate to your field is important. But so is subscribing to industry magazines, trade journals, or blogs.

Join or maintain membership in professional organizations or societies. Doing so when you're employed is important. But I would argue that doing so when you're not employed is even more important.

By reading current information, you can spot trends and react more easily to changes in your field. Maybe you can even search out specific professional development opportunities, based on what you're reading and hearing.

Continue to take care of yourself

And don't forget to take care of yourself.

Saying goodbye to employment doesn't have to mean saying hello to comfy loungewear and junk food, or to say sayonara to your exercise routine.

Surprisingly, I have found that losing my work-away-from-home routine has had repercussions on many aspects of my life. And most of the repercussions are of the “sloth-like” variety. To combat my inner sloth, I now get dressed in regular clothes early. I may have spent a day or two in my pajamas all day, but trust me when I say it did nothing for my perceptions of my value to anyone, let alone the workforce that keeps chugging along without me.

If you don't have a paying job anymore, still take yourself seriously and treat yourself like a professional. It shows. Ignoring your own needs is a slippery slope.

By continuing to practice good habits, you'll be in good mental shape to tackle the job market when that time comes again.

Invest now, reap the benefits later

Investing time into these tips is not always easy. For instance, attending my advisory board committee meetings, even if they occur just twice per year, requires a sacrifice. I have to find a place for my kids after school. I devote several hours to the meeting without any compensation. I drive almost two hours to attend a one-hour meeting. Sometimes, I just don't feel like going. And always, it would be easier to stay home.

You may feel the same futility about reading up on trade journals, paying professional organization dues, and struggling to keep up with old colleagues. You may ask yourself, what's the point? Is this a good use of my time?

But you never know. This investment may pay off in a big way when it's time to job search again later.

Have you tried re-entering the workforce after a lengthy hiatus? If so, was it easy to find a job? Which tips do you have to keep yourself marketable and your skills up to date?

More about...Career, Planning

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