I’m sure you’ve heard that resume gaps can hinder your job search. Some hiring managers have even programmed Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to disregard applicants who’ve been out of the workforce for more than a month or two. While a survey by jobs site Monster showed almost half of recruiters believed résumé gaps were no longer a red flag, that implies that the remaining half may use those resume gaps to disqualify candidates.
Consider that there are still almost eight million people without a job –– around two million more than in early 2020. Many are working moms who were forced to quit their jobs as part of a “she-cession” when their children’s schools and daycares shut down. Lots of folks who lost their jobs are slowly trying to reenter the workforce– a bit too slowly, according to economists. That’s because economists look at the labor force participation rate. This is basically the percentage of people over age 16 who are working or actively looking for work. That number is almost two percentage points lower than in February 2020. That’s a lot of “discouraged workers” who could stay discouraged if they are overlooked by hiring managers. So, no matter what the reason for your gap, here are some strategies for returning to the workforce that will boost your confidence and your chances of being hired.
If at all possible, please avoid waking up on some random morning and deciding today is the day you start randomly sending out resumes. If you’ve been out of the job market for a while, you might not get any responses. That’s not a recipe for self-confidence. Instead, do a personal inventory. Who are you and what are you looking for? If you plan a return to a familiar field, your task is considerably easier. However, plenty of people used pandemic-induced downtime to reflect on possibilities. They realized how unhappy they had been in their old jobs. Now they hope to do something different. That’s terrific.
Just keep in mind this collective career pivot is one big reason there are so many unfilled job openings, despite millions who are still out of work. You likely knew it was going to be harder when you decided to make a change. So, improve the odds by emphasizing any congruent skills. That’s why you should also consider upskilling and taking courses or certifications in your ideal field, which can help you stand out. Finally, look into adult internships or volunteer opportunities which will get your foot in the door.
Change Your Resume
There are two minds here, with some experts recommending a shift away from chronological resumes as a way to make gaps less obvious. This means instead of employment dates, you organize your achievements and skills under headings like “Sales Manager” or “Content Developer.” The obvious argument against using that sort of functional resume is that it looks like you’re hiding something. Instead, see if there are skills you acquired or interests you pursued that could be added to your resume. And remember, your cover letter and the interview itself are better forums than your resume for explaining any absences from the workforce. Keep your information short and sweet, and remember: your resume is a document here to highlight your relevant experience, not all of your experience. Your reasons for leaving a job may inform your choice of a new one. Michael Holder left his accounting firm last year as the pandemic spread. Now, he told The Wall Street Journal, “I’m going to wear that stay-at-home-dad badge proudly. If an employer has a problem with it, so be it. That’s not who I want to work for.”
Networking is always important, but never more so than when you’re trying to reenter the workforce. If you’ve spent the past few months at home, diving into a crowded event is likely a recipe for disaster. Instead, seek out small gatherings or even virtual networking events. You should also reach out to any alumni organizations that can help you in your job search.
Networking happens every day, it’s a way of life. Never underestimate the power of conversation. Networking is keeping your mind and heart open to engaging with those around you. And if you can’t see how someone can help you, find a way that you can help them. Give without expecting something in return. If your offering results in tangible results for that person, you’ve created a life-long friend and advocate in the career sphere.
Practice to Be Perfect
Don’t wait until the last minute to hone your interview techniques. It’s likely your interview will be virtual so enlist a trusted friend to play the hiring manager’s role and have them call in on ZOOM, Skype or whatever video conferencing app you prefer. Practice succinctly answering any questions about your resume gap and how you spent your time. Don’t shy away from an answer that includes your personal growth and skill development. The friend of a journalist who’d enjoyed extended leaves from the workforce wrote to him that, “I don’t have any gaps on my resume. And I regret it.”
You’ll also want to hone your elevator pitch for when you meet prospective employers away from their offices. This is a quick speech that you’ll be able to deliver about your career background, as well as your interest in rejoining the workforce. In my article The Importance of an Elevator Pitch, I highlight a three-step process to effectively plan and deliver your pitch.
Consider Part-time, Contract, and Freelance Work
Even if money isn’t a concern (and lucky you if that’s the case) you can’t put a price tag on the value of developing a routine and getting paid for your labor. That means answering ads for part-time jobs, as well as for full time. It could also mean developing freelance clients. You might have better luck with placement agencies, even if the temporary jobs you land aren’t at the same level as your former one. After all, even a three-day receptionist gig represents a tremendous networking opportunity. It should go without saying that if you do need money, anything will help.
I really believe that if you are persistent and improve yourself and your resume every day, you’ll find fulfilling work before you know it.