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How to Address Gaps in Your Employment

Several of my clients are professional immigrants, aka Internationally Educated Professionals. While they are trying to navigate and understand the job search maze, they are either not working or they are working in survival jobs. Invariably, these jobs are not related to their professions, and some prefer not to mention such jobs on their resumes. Those who haven’t yet found a job face the same challenge – how to account for their time away from the job market.

In a recent survey, a group of Canadian HR professionals and hiring managers were asked “How should candidates address gaps in their employment history?” Nearly thirty-six percent (35.9%) said they should include a statement in the ‘work experience’ section and twenty-three percent (23.4%) indicated that they should give an explanation in a cover letter. Sixteen percent (15.6%) said that candidates should explain (in a chronological resume) where the gap occurred, or they should fill the gap with professional development. From this statistic, it is safe to conclude that 75% of respondents want you to account for the gap.

While keeping the hiring managers’ preferences in mind, here are some additional ways to compensate for, or explain gaps in your employment:

  1. Prepare to tell stories about what you have learned in the survival job without focusing on the title
  2. Register with employment agencies to get some short-term assignments, or look for freelance projects
  3. Use the functional resume format to emphasize notable skills and accomplishments gained from a number of jobs
  4. Arrange practice interview sessions with a family member or friend and make sure you are prepared to answer the ‘gap’ question
  5. Reflect on some activities you have been involved in and see if you can link those activities to the company’s business strategy
  6. Remind yourself that unpaid work is ‘experience’
  7. Attend industry-related seminars, engage in professional development activities or gain an additional certification

Employers understand that there are various reasons why someone may have gaps in his or her employment history. Just be honest about it, and always steer the conversation back to the value benefits they would derive from having you on board.