10 May 2018

Gaps on CVs

I regularly come across candidates who have 'gaps' on their CV.  As with anything on a CV, there is no point in trying to disguise or cover up anything that you think might be less than impressive to a potential employer.   You are likely to be asked about any gaps at interview so rather than disguise it, I find it's better to rehearse your response to that question and to ensure that it's a positive one.  There are a variety of reasons that individuals might have taken time out of employment and actually that reason is critical in how you respond to the question so that employers don't count it as a negative.

I actually started thinking about this because a friend was made redundant 9 months ago.  She is a confident and experienced individual but was struggling to find a new role.  Her mindset was negative to start with - she was bruised from the redundancy process and as each month went on with further rejections, her confidence was further bruised.  Now, rationally, we know that redundancy is seldom personal, it's about the numbers and the bottom line.  But the mind plays tricks and if you're feeling a bit vulnerable, then interviews can become very challenging.  Success at interview is about confidence and displaying that confidence in an engaging and personable way.  If you're at all defensive or negative about redundancy at interview, and you've been out of work for an extended period, then it starts to come across - and there starts a vicious circle.   My friend has just secured a new role after changing her interview mindset.  She began to:

  • Talk about the positivity of redundancy getting her out of a rut.
  • Highlight all the positive and proactive things she had done during her time out (they don't necessarily need to be work related, community work and the opportunity to do something non work based can also be positive).
  • Talk about how she was re-engaged with the work process, the time out had given her time to realise how much she enjoyed her job and what she wanted to achieve in the next 5 years.
  • Talk about how varied were the opportunities she was now looking at and she had proper time to review what was right for her and she was excited about the future.
We had a conversation where we discussed how things had to change during interviews and within a fortnight, she had an offer.   A great offer.  Because the other thing that can happen after a 'gap' on a CV is that individuals just accept something for the sake of it.  Whilst this is understandable - after all, you need the money, it's not a long term solution and because you know you're accepting something that possibly isn't right, then you're going to struggle to make it work in the long term.    So I think a bit of fine tuning in interviews can go a long way- and the P word is vital.

Several candidates have gaps on the CV because they've taken a sabbatical to go travelling.  This is on the rise as individuals delay the traditional gap year post university to do it in their late twenties/early thirties when they can do it on less of a shoe string budget.    Depending on where you are travelling and your reasons, it can be useful to add in a bit of work experience en route.  I've seen a lot of candidates increasingly spend time in Sydney for a 3 month period before heading off to travel and there are a lot of Australian advertising agencies who love to take on a Brit short term.  The work experience can be useful when you come home - shows that you've added a bit of value by learning more about advertising in other areas of the world.   It's by no means essential though and actually travelling (or gaps due to travel) is generally not something that employers are concerned about.  After all, a well travelled individual demonstrates that they are inquisitive about the world, adventurous, cultured and confident - all skills that are highly rated in the world of work.   The other key difference here is that individuals returning from travelling are not apologetic about having a gap on their CV.  It has been a life enhancing experience and they are ready to re-enter the world of work. Thus, these individuals are positive from the get go.  This is interesting from a psychological point of view.  Your work skills do not disappear when you have a break from work - for whatever reason.  However, in the mindset of a potential employer, I do think that someone whose break has been due to redundancy has to work harder in an interview than someone whose break has been due to travelling. Plus the recently returned traveller is refreshed and confident compared to a battle scarred person who has had 8 months trying to find a new role.  It's important to remember this and even if you're not confident, you must give the impression of being...  

Increasingly too, we're finding individuals taking time out to look after family - not just women returning to work post maternity, but also people looking after elderly parents and then returning to the work environment.  Typically any period up to 12 months is not going to be an issue but with any extended periods of time out, it's essential to stay up to date with changes in the industry and to focus on the positives for an employer in bringing someone on who genuinely wants to work.  I generally recommend to returning mums that they negotiate with their present employer in the first instance for reduced working hours. It's a legal obligation for employers to consider this and it's much easier to find a 4 day week from an existing employer who knows you than a new employer (note we VERY rarely see 3 or 4 day week roles advertised).

If you've been unemployed due to something potentially 'sinister' - i.e. you've been in prison (I've only come across this once so clearly marketing & advertising people are generally a law abiding bunch) - then the only advice is to be honest...and talk about transferable skills and how you have used the time constructively.

If unemployment has been due to ill-health....again, honesty is the best policy.  You'll need to ensure that you are fit to return to work and that the employer is confident of this - anything you can support this with will be helpful.

The final thing I'd say is that regardless of whether you've had a gap in your CV or not, always ensure that you are applying for the right jobs.  There is nothing worse than continuous rejection but I find that often, continuous rejection is most common where the skills are not right for the role.....and individuals returning to work after a gap do have a higher tendency than most to apply for any role that 'looks ok'.  Whilst volume in applications is important...the conversion to interview can only work if you have the right skills for the role.  I'd recommend you talk to multiple recruiters, make LinkedIn your friend - contact old work colleagues and network furiously.  You'll need to be more proactive than someone who is currently in a role but conversely, you'll be available immediately which is usually attractive to employers.  Be prepared to be flexible - yes financially but also on job title and even whether the role is contract or permanent.  Often, all the carrot that an employer needs is the opportunity to go from temp to perm, thus reducing their immediate recruitment costs.   And try to fill your time with enjoyable things - before long, you will be back at the grindstone so make the most of it!

Top Tips:

Be Tactful
Be Honest
Be Professional
Be Concise
Be Candid
Remember that it's normal for people to become unemployed
Focus on your transferable skills
Have written references available
Be Proactive