When it comes to addressing gaps in employment, job seekers tend to do one of three things: 1. lie, 2. leave everything as is and hope nobody notices, 3. provide an elaborate explanation that gives the prospective employer more information than they need or want. Every situation is unique, so it is impossible to give one solution that will work for every gap, but some strategies are more effective than others.
- Take credit for what you've been doing
If you have been a caregiver or a stay-at-home parent, it's better to put that down than to leave the employer wondering what you've been doing for the past several years. Be sure to incorporate any volunteer work you performed, committees you participated in, etc.
- Keep medical information to yourself
Never explicitly state that you were on leave due to a major illness or that you were taking care of a family member who had a major illness. This is not a door you want to open with a potential employer. If you mention that you were a caregiver, a prospective employer can probably deduce that whoever you were taking care of was not in perfect health, but they don't need to know more than that. The more detail you provide about health challenges in your family, the more the employer will doubt your ability to maintain a full time schedule.
Some books on resume writing will suggest negotiating a "shadow presence" with previous employers, if possible, where your previous employer agrees to let you claim you worked there for a month or two beyond your actual termination date. If you can and want to do that, more power to you, but in general, it's better to stick with actual dates. Making up dates is lying on your resume, and if anyone finds out after you're hired, it could cost you your job.
Align dates to the right side of the page so that they aren't the first thing the employer sees. Resist the temptation to create a functional resume. Using a functional resume will just make the employer think you are trying to hide something. Sometimes, it may be better to only use years instead of months and years for your dates.
Make peace with the fact that gaps happen and that employers will ask about them, but it doesn't mean they automatically assume something is wrong with you. The worst way to handle a gap, or any question from an employer, is to get defensive. Focus on what you have to offer now and going forward and let the past be the past. Also, as a general rule, remember that almost everything tends to sound more negative in print and on paper, so don't go into more detail than you need to when it comes to addressing less stellar pieces of your past.
For even more tips and tricks on how to plan your return to the workforce, attend John Crant's Returning to the Workplace After a Long Break or Sabbatical on Thursday, August 12 at 6 p.m. at The Science, Industry and Business Library.