One of my clients’ most common concerns is that an employment gap will put them at a disadvantage when looking for that next job—especially given the circumstances surrounding the pandemic. A recent LinkedIn survey of 2,000 U.S. adults who became unemployed between March and October 2020 found that 84% of those surveyed believe there is a stigma associated with being out of work. And roughly two-thirds (67%) assume that stigma affects their ability to find a new job. However, another LinkedIn poll of hiring managers found that 96% would hire a candidate who was laid off due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you were laid off or furloughed due to the current economic situation, don’t despair. An employment gap on your résumé doesn’t have to be the kiss of death. Here are some tips to navigate the situation in a positive way:
Be transparent about your employment gap
If you’ve been laid off due to the pandemic, be honest about it. If you lie or try to hide it, recruiters will wonder what else you may be withholding. You also don’t want them to assume you were let go due to lack of job performance or some other reason. If you’ve been furloughed, you should handle it differently because you’re technically still employed. Hari Kolam, CEO of Findem, a recruiting platform, suggests this approach, “Next to your employer, put your start date to present, and then put furloughed in parentheses next to it,” he says. “Your cover letter will provide an opportunity for you to explain what’s driving you to job search while technically furloughed. You’re subject to recall, and that means you’re valued and wanted.”
Fill the employment gap and highlight it
Regardless of why you find yourself in between jobs, you should use that time productively. This approach will keep you busy and help provide valuable talking points when you meet with a recruiter or hiring manager. Some ways to do this include volunteering, taking courses, getting certifications or freelancing. Keep building your professional network and attend virtual events. Then highlight those experiences on your résumé. List them as you would your other jobs, including job title, company name, job description, and employment dates. If you took a class, include it in the education section of your résumé. By filling the employment gap, you’ll show recruiters that you are proactive and resilient.
Provide context in a cover letter or interview
Rather than waste valuable space on your résumé, use the cover letter to explain the reasons behind your employment gap. Because a cover letter has more space than a résumé, there is more opportunity to add context to your situation. The best approach is to be upfront and honest but be concise. If you’re making a career change, the cover letter is the ideal place to explain how your skills and experience translate to the new role. However, keep in mind that some hiring managers don’t read cover letters, or they skim them at best. So, you’ll want to be prepared to provide that same explanation in an interview setting as well.
Consider a different résumé format
The typical résumé that functions as a timeline may not work in your favor. In that case, don’t hesitate to adopt a hybrid format that is part functional and part chronological. Fill the top half of the résumé with a summary of qualifications and a list of key competencies. Then you can follow that with a chronological list of your work experience. In some cases, it may be best to remove full-time positions from your résumé altogether. The general rule of thumb is to delete jobs from your employment history if they lasted less than three months. An alternative is to briefly mention the position in a career note at the end of your work history section.
Having an employment gap isn’t a deal-breaker. But if you let it interfere with your mindset and self-confidence, it could prevent you from landing the job. Focus on highlighting your accomplishments and the valuable skills you bring to the table. Maintain an upbeat attitude and explain your break in a positive way. Practice explaining the reason for the gap before the interview. The more comfortable you are, the more confident the hiring manager will be that you are the right person for the job.
Recruiters recognize that there are millions of outstanding professionals out of work. And the interview process goes both ways. More than ever, workers are looking for flexibility and empathy from their employers. So, if a hiring manager views your employment gap as a negative, it may signal that the company isn’t the right fit. If that’s the case, don’t hesitate to move on until you find an employer who understands your worth.