Gaps in Employment


A reader writes…

I’ve been out of work for a long time now.  How do I handle the question in interviews about my gaps in employment? When asked, “What have you been doing all this time?”  My answer is, “Looking for WORK!”  I appreciate any suggestions.

Dear, “Gaps,”

The dreaded question “What have you been doing all this time?” is bound to come up – whether you’ve been out of work for 2 months or 2 years!  I will say, however, that due to the nature of today’s labor market, most recruiters and hiring managers are more understanding and compassionate. They realize that lengthy gaps in employment are a harsh reality these days.

The key is to be honest about your situation and “practice” an answer to this inevitable question in advance. Don’t sound like you’re reading from a script… but definitely have an idea of what you’re going to say.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Share what you’ve done to look for work. This reveals your resourcefulness and determination.
  • Be open about how you have handled the stressful process of looking for a job.  We all know it is  a challenge, but what did you do to cope?  What have you learned? A common interview question is, “How do you handle stress?” Or “Tell me how you operate under pressure.”  Your answers (though not related to stress on a job) are equally relevant and valid. 
  • Highlight any skills you obtained during your unemployment period — aside from patience and perseverance, that is.  Did you learn any new software programs? Did you brush up on a second language? What about your ability to network?  All of these attributes build character but also reveal a lot about your abilities (and what you can contribute to a new position).
  • I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again… feature any volunteer work. You may be able to provide letters of recommendation and apply new skills and experiences to a job.  Here’s a link to a previous article I wrote on this subject:  http://anitaclew.com/2011/06/07/including-volunteer-work-in-your-resume/

In conclusion, when asked about your employment gaps, don’t get defensive… get determined.  Looking for a job is like a full-time job in itself.  The steps you’ve taken say a lot about you and your work ethic.

I have complete confidence. You WILL get through this!

Anita

26 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathy Liffick
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 17:26:05

    For the past 16 years I have been battling a medical disorder that has been the main cause of not being able to hold down employment or even obtaining employment. I was terminated from one position and I walked out on 4 positions. I suffer from bi-polar and have not been properly medicated until recently. I now feel I am ready to commit myself to a long-term postion. I have over 35yrs of Customer Service and Clerical experience and many other types of skills obtained from on the job training. I have also completed 17 college credits over this period of time and just last summer I completed a medical terminology class with a A. I feel I am having a difficult time getting employment due to this illness. How do I professionally explain my gaps of employment or “job jumping” to prospective interviewers?

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  2. FLORENTA CLAUDIA SMITH
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 10:17:25

    I WORKED FOR ROBB&STUCKY FOR 5 YEARS AND THE COMPANY CLOSED AT THIS DIFFICULT TIME .I HAVE EXPERIENCE IN OFFICE JOBS, CUSTOMER SERVICE AND AP AND AR RECEIVABLE. I WORKED FOR 2 YEARS ON PAIN CARE CENTER THE ONLY MEDICAL ASSISTANT WITH 2 DOCTORS

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  3. nina
    Aug 26, 2011 @ 17:40:00

    Please help me find a job one am welling to workany position I apply on your web and someone from your teme toll me you had make two mistekes.Please can you tell me which one is the worn on my applicatin?

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  4. cecilia perez
    Aug 11, 2011 @ 21:35:07

    my name is cecilia perez am 20 years old, leave in stockton and am looking for a job. Please help me find one am welling to work any position

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  5. Freddie Lynch
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 10:21:00

    I’ve been unemployed full-time for 9 years. During that time, I’ve applied for HUNDREDS of jobs that were almost a “twin” of the one I held with my previous company – yet I’ve never gotten so much as a “nibble”. I was on the job daily – except when I was ill – even coming to work in weather that kept a lot of my co-workers at home. But I thought I was going to get something in the way of assistance from the Trade Act legislation – which never materialized. In fact, I never KNEW about the job relocation and job-search assistance benefits until a few months ago – well after the deadling for enrolling for those benefits.

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  6. m.capriola
    Aug 08, 2011 @ 10:13:38

    I’ve recently completed a culinary arts program and passed the exam for my Food Handler’s Certificate. Naturally, mention of this goes on my resume. When they hand out the certificates I will make photocopies to attach to my resume. I also have a letter of recommedation from the place where I did my internship, and I am now doing volunteer work there and will add that to my resume. So, I am doing things to improve my job skills and such.

    And all w/o making sacrificial offerings to Lord Buddha.

    In my spare time, Bryan, I compare the King James version to the Eastern Orthodox version and make lists of errors in the KJV.

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  7. Robin
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 09:49:41

    to help begin filling in that gap start looking at volunteering…if it is something that will help support your career choice that is great…but get busy, stay focused, and be in the world as a player. Employers are no longer the status-quo and neither are the applicants.The one thing that helps is to stand out in one or more of the key competencies/ skills the employer is looking for in the applicant.
    I was out of work for 3 years (full time) I am still not in a position that is what I want but I am kicking, clawing and biting my way back. I find it amusing that I went back to school to complete a degree to land a position making less than I did 20 years ago!~ laughing to keep from crying but I am starting over and that is okay. I have been down this road before and the secret to finding the off ramp is to keep moving forward.

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  8. Shanee Ross
    Aug 04, 2011 @ 09:20:13

    Shanee I have gaps in my employment because I was taking summer classes and the job that I was previously working at did not work around my school schedule. I started taking CNA classes and I was searching for a job in that field but they want you to have experience as an CNA how can you get experience and no one will hire you in. So now I am just unemployed looking for someone to hire me.

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    • John Howard
      Aug 04, 2011 @ 13:03:41

      Shanee,
      Presuming that CNA is Certified Nursing Assistant, check with the job placement center at your school. They should have contacts with the local hospitals or medical groups. You might try going on LinkedIn. There are several Groups for nurses and one is centered on nursing jobs and registered nurse jobs. Maybe you can turn an internship into a permanent position. Be and think positive. Good luck.

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  9. John Howard
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 17:09:38

    In California the state has a program called Experience Unlimited (EU) that is run through the EDD, Employment Development Department. The EU has chapters in many cities around the state. Our local group goes under the name of O.P.E.N. which stands for Outstanding Professionals Employment Network. We meet twice a week to work on networking, scrubbing resumes, mock interviews, and general workshops to help the unemployed. This is a volunteer group run by the unemployed to help others, many of whom have worked for the same company for over 20 years. They have forgotten how to look for work; and the rules have changed a lot!

    Check with your local unemployment department and see if something similar is near your neighborhood. Working for any volunteer group during your “employment gap” shows that you were at least active during your job search. You can list your position on your resume. Please note that I mentioned networking as my first action at O.P.E.N. because most jobs come from networking, about 80%. Good luck.

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  10. dawn farley
    Aug 03, 2011 @ 11:49:44

    I am finding that most companies won’t even talk to you if you have recent gaps in your employment history. Your resume goes into the not interested pile to never be seen or contemplated on. So what now? How does one get work if you don’t have work? vicious cycle. and on the topic of credit reports , it is illegal in the state of Illinois for an employer to look at your credit report.as of January 1, 2011. for the purpose of hiring information.

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  11. Sheila Montgomery
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 10:56:17

    What do you do when your credit goes bad bc you cannot find a job? You have to have a job to pay bills but, also need good credit to get a job.

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  12. wstaff
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 08:57:05

    I have sent out 3,500 resumes with little responses. I also redid my resume to point more directly to my skills and what I have done in the past. Responses I have been getting is; Your over qualified or No response at all. My question is do I eliminate my College Criminal Justice degrees in order to obtain a job? The positions I have been applying too have been Security, here in the U.S. and applied to overseas security but it seems they want less credible people with no college in their back round. My long range goal is to complete my College Doctrine within ten years.
    I would appreciate any response you can give.

    Thank You,
    Bill

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    • John Howard
      Aug 05, 2011 @ 00:37:01

      Bill,
      Don’t let the age thing be an anchor. When you present your resume only go back only 10-15 years if you can. Write accomplishment statements about your self, even from positions not listed on your resume. I also have had only three jobs going backwards of 23, 8, and 13+ years. Most of my resumes only show the last job of 23 years unless it behooves me to list the 8 year job. When I list my accomplishments they are drawn from all of my 44 years. The important aspect is to remember you are showing the employer how you can fix his problem using your accomplishments. Adjust your resume for each employer. One size does not fit all.

      There are many forms of accomplishment statements, I use the PAR system. PAR stands for Problem, Action, Response. Try to quantify the response (solution) while stating how (action) you fixed the problem. For example:
      • Saved three hours of manufacturing time per day by reorganizing production line

      Share job opportunities with others and maybe they will find the right one for you.

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    • m.capriola
      Aug 08, 2011 @ 10:17:54

      It all depends on where you see yourself going with your Criminal Justice Degree. Most security services hire blue-collar types, and are not intested in (as they see it) college kids looking for temporary work.

      You might want to check out alternatives to Security work. What about paralega? Would your degree be of any benefit in that field?

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  13. Freddie Lynch
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 08:57:03

    I have two part-time/seasonal jobs that are included on my resume.

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  14. bryan k earley
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 08:43:05

    good day i am a single christain male 56 years of age riight i have been in the longest slump of my short life as far as working.i live in a town that i have attended the same church for 8years or longer but i have lived in a dozen different places and the longest i have held one job is 3 years i on my 56 birthday was hospitalized for low blood count stomach and liver problems high blood pressure i have no car but in all this i have learned to depend more of the GOD OF MY SALVATION than any other time of my . the reason i am here is to encourage people to get saved by trusting JESUS CHRIST AS SAVIOR AND THAN BELIEVING GOD AND THE KJV1611 BIBLE AND LET HIM MAKE A WAY WHERE THERE SEEMS TO BE no way.My first suggestion is to trust CHRIST as your SAVIOR THAN BELIEVE IN GOD AND HIS WORD

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  15. Susan
    Aug 02, 2011 @ 08:22:29

    I took an early retirement at age 51, never expecting my marriage to fail. I am struggling to even get an interview at age 57 now but have worked 20+ years in my field and nust return to full time work. What can do?

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    • anitaclew
      Aug 02, 2011 @ 09:05:53

      Hi Susan,
      Getting back in the workforce (especially these days) is difficult, but I know you can do it! The first thing I suggest you do is work on your resume. If possible, have it professionally reviewed and revised (here’s a resume writing source to consider: http://selectstaffing.careerperfect.com/?src=top-nav_rw). You should also make sure you’re actively networking with people you worked with in the past, or others in your field. With your experience, you may connect with someone who can help!
      Not sure if you’ve seen the article I wrote about “Getting Hired (or not) Based on Age,” but it includes a few tips you may also find helpful. Please take a look! http://anitaclew.com/2010/12/09/getting-hired-or-not-based-on-age/
      I wish you all the best!
      Anita

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    • wstaff
      Aug 02, 2011 @ 09:09:12

      Susan – The age thing seems to be working against all of us. I myself is 49 years Old, Male and on the verge of a divorce myself. Financial wows is at the heart of
      the divorce and its not that I have not been looking. I have a total of three jobs in my 30 + years in the work force plus military and you think lengthy times at those jobs would amount to something. At least so some type of commitment per job.
      All I can really offer is to hang in there. Hope is all I have to go on, but remember
      it is the older generation that spices up things at work. Companies need to understand we might be older but have a lot of gusto in us to give the teenagers
      a run for the money. I would say we are more dependable when it comes to commitment and reliability. Sorry i could not offer a better response.

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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