You already know that employment gaps in your resume will cause some recruiters and hiring managers to reject your resume. That’s unfair, but it’s a reality, so let’s discuss some ways to hide or explain the gap in such a way as to avoid rejection.

The reason for the employment gap determines how to handle it

Did you take time away from work to raise a family, care for a relative, or navigate your own return to health? Fortunately, everyone has families or has coped with illness, so there shouldn’t be a stigma. I recommend a parenthetical reference inserted chronologically that says something along the lines of “took family leave to care for ….” No need to go into detail.

But you do want to demonstrate that during this time, you had your head (at least sometimes) back in the business world. For specific tips on the best ways to demonstrate that, read this article I wrote published in Fast Company; I wrote it for stay-at-home mothers, but it works regardless of your particular reason for taking family leave.

What about employment gaps caused by you just plain being out of a job?  This is a bit trickier. If the gap was less than a year, you can hide it by not including the months of your tenure at each job, just the year. (Actually, you never need to include months on a resume). But if the unemployment gap is longer, don’t call yourself a consultant in order to obfuscate; it doesn’t fool anyone, and looks kind of pathetic.

Instead, consider these strategies to cover gaps in your resume:

Take on freelance projects within your core competency: Let’s say you’ve been unemployed for 2 years. By performing as few as three freelance projects during that time frame, you demonstrate that you are as engaged as you would have been were you employed. Even if paying gigs don’t come your way, invent one and offer it gratis to a potential client. What matters is that you have a documented evidence of work performed that you can honestly list on your resume.

Regularly publish thought leadership posts on LinkedIn While LinkedIn sadly made its publishing platform less beneficial for writers, go ahead and use it anyway. Then copy and paste as much of it as will fit in the area where you can post an update, and write, “continue reading – link posted in comments>” Then paste the link to the article in the comments.

Educate yourself for the future. Position yourself well for your return to paid employment by taking courses to sharpen your skills for inevitable changes in the workplace, such as “green” business practices or other projected trends. When applicable, this can frame a returning job candidate as being more valuable than one with consistent employment. Just be careful to take at least one course for each semester you’re not working to demonstrate your commitment to learning this new skill.

Want some real life examples?

Ellen, a former elementary school teacher, asked me for advice soon after she left her job to raise her little boy. “Now that you’re not working, it’s completely ethical for you to tutor children at the school where you used to teach,” I told her. “Tutoring provides you flexibility for family needs, but also keeps you current about educational trends.” So does working with former colleagues on developing new curricula, which you could publish and thereby further establish a credential to fill the employment gap.

Jonathan was laid off from his role in as a software developer when his company re-located his team to another state. He was confident that he’d find new employment within a year, but still worried about an extended gap on his resume. Jonathan has a graduate degree in electrical engineering, but I advised him to take one or two courses in programming for mobile devices. Doing so turned his gap from a detriment into a resume enhancement.

Remember I said that I had taken off several years to raise my own children? I had developed communications in the public securities industry before I had children, and wanted to return to Wall Street full time once the kids were older. A year or so before my planned return, I found freelance work by getting ahold of the annual reports of several small public companies, and re-wrote sections of the report. Then I emailed each company’s head of investor relations with my proposed text, letting them know I was available for outsourcing their communications. It worked; I soon had a portfolio of paid, current work to show on my resume and on interviews.

The key for you to explain gaps in your resume is to take time away from your workplace, not your profession.

This in an excerpt from a blog post I wrote for the WSJ Experts Blog originally to help women explain employment gaps in their resume. But many of the same tips are equally valid for men.

Employers shy away from candidates who have gaps in employment. Fair or not, job candidates need a strategy for how to address gaps in a resume. The excerpt below is taken from the WSJ Experts article and provides specific strategies for addressing the gap – primarily by not allowing there to be an actual gap, but instead to create work and either sell it as a freelancer or just creating an online portfolio to display work. So long as candidates can demonstrate that they have been involved and aware of what’s going on in their respective fields, they won’t need to explain a gap because there won’t be one.

Are you concerned about how to explain gaps in your resume? Read my pricing and process page to see how I can help.

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