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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Beth
Beth
5 years ago

Hey, GRS editor elves, did you mean “resume” in the title rather than “resument”?

These are all good tips! Another suggestion might be to use a functional rather than a chronological resume if you’re worried about gaps. You really have to be careful explaining the gaps because it opens the door to conversations that are technically illegal to ask about in interviews (such as whether you have kids, are married, etc.)

Linda Vergon
5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Good morning, Beth,

Yes, of course. Thanks for pointing that out.

Have a great day!

Linda Vergon
Editor of GetRichSlowly.org

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago

I quit working for 6 months last summer. I had a part time job prior and during my hiatus, so that prevented any real gap in employment. I was out of the country for about 2 of those 6 months, which was my reason for quitting. So I would add having a good explanation for why you quit is important as well (in my case it would have been impossible to work remotely so that was my excuse). It also helps if you choose your hiatus after you’ve been working at a company for a while, so you don’t look… Read more »

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago
Reply to  lmoot

*MORE than a few years at a time

Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia
Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia
5 years ago

Getting back into the workforce after a hiatus can and likely will be challenging especially the longer the time away. As long as you have a legitimate reason and, maybe more importantly, can spin/sell the reason to the employer, then you should be ok. But, yes, keeping up with your profession and not letting yourself go in the meantime is important.

Another Beth
Another Beth
5 years ago

I think you had some excellent points! I am a SAHM and I own my own business. While I don’t make at all what I was making before I stayed home with the kids, I feel good knowing I am keeping my skills relevant and current when I am ready to return to full-time work. I have actually acquired more skills working for myself than I did working for my last office job! This is a tangent, but it makes me crazy when I meet SAHMs (and it’s never SAHDs who do this, IME) who don’t feel they should keep… Read more »

Carla
Carla
5 years ago

In 2012 I reentered the workforce after being out for three years due to illness and disability. I think that is one of the hardest reasons to get around when trying to convince an employer that you’re ready for the job. You don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot and give them a reason to discriminate (especially if you have a chronic, lifelong illness), but they need a reason why you were out of the workforce. I think in those situation its a matter of being in front of the right people when interviewing. The chemistry has to be… Read more »

Marie
Marie
5 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I would say “Someone in my family was very ill and needed constant care.”

Jess
Jess
5 years ago

This is very well-timed, thank you! My position at my current company is being eliminated as of the end of the year, which happens to be a week and a half before I am due to have our first kid. I’ve been wondering how to frame my absence from the work force when/if I return, so I am bookmarking this for the future!

Melissa Cooley
Melissa Cooley
5 years ago

Many solid tips in this article. The one that is the most powerful is “stay connected,” hands down. People give jobs to people; if you are working your way back into paid employment, having a company insider who can vouch for your skills is invaluable. Plus, you can get the inside scoop on jobs that may have not even been advertised. I would definitely caution against a functional resume, which one commenter suggested earlier. Yes, it is a benefit to have your resume front-loaded with the applicable skills and accomplishments associated with said skills, especially if you have a gap.… Read more »

Katelyn
Katelyn
5 years ago
Reply to  Melissa Cooley

I have a very wide variety of work experience and not all of it is applicable to every job I apply for. So I’ve been using a functional resume for ~8 years. I’ve had excellent luck despite gaps (some gaps are real and some represent jobs that have no bearing on the new job). From my experience, I would say two things: 1. If you do a very good job tailoring your resume to the skills needed in the new job it will be obvious that you’re using a functional resume, and not that you were constantly in and out… Read more »

Angelina
Angelina
5 years ago

I will have to update you in a few months when I re-join the work force. I am a dentist who has taken time off since the birth of my first baby, and it has been 6 months now. I was thinking about this exact topic last night and it gave me some anxiety. Thank you for the tips and the positivity.

Lulu
Lulu
5 years ago

These are great tips! When my husband’s company shut down, it was networking that got him a new job. The weekly lunches also helped keep his sanity.

Unfortunately, I have not followed any of these tips and after trying to reenter the work force after 10 years – I am so sorry I didn’t read this article before hand!

Kelli B
Kelli B
5 years ago

Good article. If you’re seeking to re-enter the workforce after a gap look for things (even unpaid things like serving on the PTA) that may have given you valuable skills (ex. organization). If you raised money for the PTA you may be a good sales person. You just have to think creatively (and of course honestly) about any skills you may have developed in your “time off”

Kelly in SF
Kelly in SF
5 years ago

I am preparing to re-enter the workforce after 10 yrs due to graduate school, then child rearing. I don’t want to return to my old field. I’ve run a big fundraiser for my kids’ school & am setting up lunches with grad school friends, so I’m making progress. I do not regret taking the privilege to fully invest in my family. Still, it will be tough to compete for jobs with such a gap. Wish me luck!

Tony
Tony
5 years ago

When my mother was pregnant with me, she went on 10 months of maternity leave. On her resume she took out the months. So instead of Job #1 stating “ended in January 1990” and Job #2 stating “began in December 1990”, it merely stated Job #1 “ended in 1990” and Job #2 stated “began in 1990”.

Marie
Marie
5 years ago

This is why I hate Linked In. It’s so heavily skewed toward corporate mentality that career fields with a bias towards freelance work aren’t conveyed properly, and you end up looking like a job hopper or a slacker. Even a promotion can do that, because a change in job title triggers it to restart your seniority “count”.

Clare
Clare
4 years ago

Whatis the anx about a hiatus .. employers don’t own your ass so your response, if a HR goon thinks they need to know, can simply be “a delightful hiatus” !! If they are so brain damaged that they try to “question further details” just smile and say something like “made some great memories .. perhaps I’ll share with you one day if I join your organization” .. then inquire more about the company.. (see Will Smith in happiness movie). Having spent Ten years in HR .. I know it is NONE OF THEIR _______ BUSINESS!! Interviewers & HR use… Read more »

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