Mind The (Employment) Gap

By Adam Karpiak

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Let's say you leave your job without another job lined up. Crazy talk, right? Many recruiters will tell you that it is career suicide. (In fact, if you are one of those recruiters, please make sure to read this...it's important for you to understand that sometimes life happens and not everything happens in perfect scenarios.

There are several reasons you might have to do this. Note, I said, "have to." People don't up and leave jobs because they want to run out of money and struggle with stress and finances. Tough decisions are made and they should be applauded. Life is more than your job. People get sick. People have kids. People make mistakes when they pick employers. People are harassed and beaten down. Imagine dealing with those scenarios, making the tough decision to give up your job security and income, to give up your livelihood, to handle these situations. And then imagine being judged for those decisions. It happens every day.

Employment gaps happen. Life happens. No big deal right? We're all humans with a story to tell. Surely people can't hold gaps against you. But...they do. Every day. Gaps in employment are a huge red flag to recruiters. Mostly out of laziness and assumptions. Don't believe me? Here's a quick recap of how recruiters scan resumes (I promise "quick" wasn't a pun) - Does Your Resume Pass The 6 Second Review ; In scanning resumes, they take notice of gaps in employment. Gaps in employment, to recruiters, can mean "ok so that person wasn't good enough to be employed." They can mean many things to a recruiter...most of which are red flags. When reviewing resumes, it is highly competitive and people need to be eliminated from contention. Recruiters/companies can't phone screen 100 people for each job...it's just not time efficient. Employment gaps can often be seen as a tiebreaker.

When looking for a job, remember that typically recruiters look for a reason to eliminate people from contention, as opposed to reasons to hire them. It's more of a process of elimination and you want to be the last person standing. One way to do that? Mind the employment gaps in your background. There are a couple of ways to do this. If they are small gaps (less than a year) between jobs, simply eliminate the months from your resume and only list the years. For example, if you have-

Company I Hated Working For, March 2016 - May 2017
Company I Hate Working For Slightly Less, December 2017 - Present

Then you are showing a 6 month gap. BUT-

Company I Hated Working For, 2016 - 2017
Company I Hate Working For Slightly Less, 2017 - Present

The gap is gone! LIKE MAGIC

Ok, but what if it isn't able to be hidden? (unhidable? That's not a word, right? Moving on.) Then magic is useless. You have to go into Damage Control Mode. I know it seems dramatic, but that's because it is. When companies and celebrities find themselves in a PR nightmare, they hire spin doctors to get out in front of the story. What you want to do is control the narrative. To recruiters, employment gaps are a PR nightmare. Don't let recruiters assume the reason for your gap.


Recruiters, can we talk? You know what happens when you assume? You make an ass out of...you and...just you. Not me. Don't be an ass.

Seriously, don't let recruiters use their imaginations...trust me, you don't want to know what's going on up here (I'm pointing at my brain). We think of the craziest scenarios, and they're never positive.

  • Fired for insubordination.
  • Incompetent.
  • Must have a bad reference if they have been out of work for this long.
  • If they were any good they would have found a job.
  • Tried to poison their boss

Candidates need to tell the story that they want recruiters to hear. Don't let Bossicide be an option. Mind the employment gap. Otherwise, you are bumped down into the 2nd tier of candidates. Or outright rejected. Don't just list a long-term gap in your work history and think "It's ok, I'll be able to explain it in an interview." Odds are you won't get an interview with a long employment gap. "It's ok, I address it in my cover letter." Oh I'm sorry, did you say "Cover Letter????"

I'm not sure if it's out of laziness or what, but for the most part cover letters are not read. Now, keep in mind, I didn't say "never." If you have something to explain such as a gap or a relocation or career change, you should always address it in a cover letter. At least take a chance that it'll be read. But sometimes online applications don't allow a cover letter, so odds are the cover letter isn't going to help.

My advice? Put the explanation for the gap(s) on the resume.

*NOTE* To all of you that say-

  • Adam, it shouldn't matter
  • Adam that is personal information
  • Adam why isn't it based on what I have, not what I don't have

Please understand I am not condoning the actions of those that judge employment gaps. Also, please understand that it is literally impossible for me to change the system. What I am doing is telling you the rules of the game so you know how to play. To those of you that will not change your stance on this based on principle, I understand. But I hope that you understand that others that DO change their mindset and play by the rules will have a better chance of getting hired. Sometimes getting paid is worth swallowing the pride a little.

Most times, your resume is your first AND ONLY chance to make an impression on a recruiter or employer. If you only have one chance to explain yourself, TAKE IT. List the reason for the gap on the resume. My suggestion is to list it chronologically on the resume as part of the work history. Why? Because if you list it at the top, your first impression to the recruiter will be I HAVE GAPS IN MY EMPLOYMENT HISTORY. If you list it separately at the bottom, chances are the recruiter will not even read it because you will have already been disqualified due to the gaps. If you list it chronologically, the recruiter has a better chance of 1) reading and 2) comprehending. Your gap has a story...tell it. If you took care of a sick family member, say that. If you were sick, say that. If you left your job for one reason or another, say that *NOTE* If you were burnt out, don't say "burnt out." "Burnt out" has a connotation that perhaps you can't handle something. I suggest saying "Sabbatical." If you list it on the resume 1) The gap won't be immediately noticed 2) You might actually be understood.

Cared For Terminally Ill Family Member, 2016-2018
Studied For/Completed CPA Exams, 2017
Career Sabbatical, 2014 - 2016
Decided To Change Careers And Attended School, 2016-2017

And then be sure to put a small summary explaining the situation. No need to get too personal/detailed/graphic. Just let people know what's up (it's a technical recruiting term). One note about the "Decided To Change Careers" scenario. Yes, I know it will be listed in the Education section, but to the untrained/lazy/scanning eye, the connection may not be made and it may still look like you were "just" unemployed at that time.

You know what happens when you are understood? YOU ARE REMEMBERED. Trust me, you want to stand out to those who review resumes. It matters.

If you have any questions about anything I discussed in the above article, looking for a job and/or working with a recruiter, just ask! Shoot me an email at [email protected]

For more about me or my firm, please visit www.karpiakconsulting.com or www.linkedin.com/in/akarpiak I am always looking to network with good professionals that share my values in recruiting, so shoot me an invite if you agree with me (or at least Follow me)

If you're curious about my take on recruiting in social media, or if you want to see me yell at T-Mobile about my phone bill, you can follow me on Twitter @Adam_Karpiak

You can find job postings, as well as loads of content on Karpiak Consulting's Facebook page www.fb.com/karpiakconsulting Please "like" or follow the page to be kept up to date on all of new content daily. I re-post articles of interest I find online regarding recruiting & public accounting, and I also post emails & messages I get (redacted of course) regarding recruiting that I think are of interest, including stories from candidates about other recruiters doing bad/confusing things.

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