So . . . somewhere on your career path, you’ve done something else other than be employed. People call these gaps or lapses – both of which sound very negative on the surface but really shouldn’t be.
The fact of the matter is that many people have not been employed 100% of the time. Life happens and sometimes these gaps are within our control, and other times not so much.
Either way, that’s okay.
If you think that the gaps on your resume are putting you at a disadvantage, there are a few steps you can go through to better position yourself to advance your career that will help flip the script. To do this effectively, you’ll need to start by Empowering Yourself with the following steps.
Empowering Step #1: Realize that resume gaps are normal. There are no perfect work histories.
First, let’s work on your perceptions. Remove any negative thoughts about why there are gaps in your resume:
“If I were better at my job, companies would keep me”
“I had to leave so there must be something wrong with me”
“I’m not talented or educated enough”
“If I were truly valuable, companies wouldn’t have let me go”
All these statements (and similar ones) are what’s called “stinking thinking”. This happens when our perceptions make us feel less than others – essentially, it’s when we’re too hard on ourselves. Here’s a remedy: Whenever you have a negative thought about yourself, replace it with examples of the positive work contributions you’ve had in the workplace (which are based on facts, not perceptions). Our own negative perceptions can come across in interviews – so nip these thoughts in the bud.
But what about people who do not have any gaps in employment? Aren’t they seen as better employees? Not necessarily. I’ve seen high-ranking executives stay at companies for over 20 years or more. One cannot dispute their loyalty to their employer. However, one could wonder why other companies haven’t snatched up their talent along the way. Who’s to say they were the most talented, valued employees in the market? When building a career, playing it safe also has its costs.
Empowering Step #2: Realize that YOU control your career narrative.
You are a valued employee and have many workplace successes that you can share. There may have been an employment gap, or two, or three in your career path. So what? There are multiple reasons why people have breaks in employment.
Some resume gaps are out of our control, and that’s okay – explain it. There are many reasons why people stop working for a company. Sometimes, the reasons are completely out of one’s control. For example:
I’ve seen established and well-sought-after executives lose their jobs simply because an organization was forced to reduce the number of salaries it was able to pay. It didn’t matter how many years of experience they had or how well-connected they were within the greater organization. Sometimes, companies cut costs that affect even the best employees.
I’ve also seen changes in departmental leadership that resulted in removing the current staff for new employees with different skill sets – not necessarily better, but different skill sets. From the employees’ perspective, there’s nothing that could have been done differently to change those outcomes – and that’s okay.
Some resume gaps were within our control, and that’s okay, too – explain it. On the other hand, sometimes the reasons why someone leaves a company are well within their control. I’ll share two of my personal examples:
I once accepted a position that moved my family across the country only to find that despite my best due diligence efforts, the role was not as advertised. This situation wasn’t anybody’s fault per se but wasn’t why I came on board. After trying to make it work, it just didn’t. My rationale to move on to a different opportunity was more than valid.
I’ve also resigned from a company due to having an abusive and toxic culture. When I was being recruited, everyone seemed so nice and excited for me to come aboard. Once I started with the company, it only took a few meetings with the senior leadership team to experience the yelling, name-calling, and accusatory theme. For my own mental and emotional health, I left that company – and that’s also okay.
Hence, it’s completely understandable and empowering to share the reasons why you left a company. Employment is a two-way street, there’s us and there are companies. Our goals, aspirations, and psychological health are just as important (if not more so) than a company’s revenue streams. Don’t be afraid to express the human element as to why you left . . . this makes you more human and trustworthy.
Empowering Step #3: When explaining your gaps - be direct, be accountable, but be brief.
When you explain the gaps in your resume, summarize the situation and why you left. If you were at fault, own it and express what you’ve learned. If the workplace was toxic, say so. If the reason you were let go was outside of your control, tell that story and perhaps how you would have liked to have stayed but company decisions were made. These dialogues are open, honest, and detailed.
Here's the landmine - be brief. It is humanistic to think we need to overexplain situations that led to gaps in our resume. I would encourage you to create “elevator speeches” for each gap, expressing your ownership while also sharing the whole story. You aren’t making excuses; you are sharing the details . . . which is empowering.
Empowering Step #4: Show your resilience.
You’ve probably heard the advice to be nice to everyone as we’re all going through some kind of challenging life situation. Career paths are similar in the sense that nobody’s work history is filled with rose petals and honey. Metaphorically, we are all gladiators competing in a coliseum. You might get knocked down while others are still standing – which happens to the best of us. The only question is how long does it take for you to rise and stand tall once again? Taking an empowering approach to all resume gaps will help keep you on two feet.
No resume is perfect and resume gaps are not imperfect. There are valid reasons that led to the gaps in your resume. Briefly share those situations and stories. Your previous work successes and what you can do for your next employer are usually more important. And above all, show your resiliency. Regardless of the what, the who, and how the resume gaps occurred, you are a valued fighter and have learned from all your experiences with grace. You are calm, collected, and better off for it.
Your story matters. Your reasoning matters. Your career persistence is essential.
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