How to Fill an Employment Gap on Your Resume

26 March 2021 by Vadim Revzin and Sergei Revzin

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There was once a time when people were expected to — slowly — climb the corporate ladder, work for one employer that paid for their insurance, and stack up a neat series of consecutive job titles on their resume. This narrative, however, is no longer realistic. A predictable, linear career path is now the exception, not the norm.

Today the job market shifts at an incredible pace. Rapid innovation means that new industries are created every year — industries that require nimble job candidates who can learn quickly, adapt, and cater their experience to new roles as they become prevalent.

On top of this, early to mid-career professionals are increasingly finding that there are a lot of directions that they can take their career and not a great deal of certainty as to which path to choose. We surveyed more than 1,000 professionals at School16 who were pursuing non-technical roles in tech; 90% of them expressed interest across at least three completely different disciplines, from sales and product marketing to user experience and design.

The result of this reality is that more people find themselves with shorter stints at several companies listed on their resumes, and sometimes brief employment gaps between opportunities. These gaps have become even more common during the pandemic as a result of layoffs and hiring freezes in several industries.

As markets continue to shift in unpredictable ways, it’s important for job candidates — especially for those of you who are unemployed right now — to understand how to address resume gaps and what you can do to avoid them in the future.

Fill Current Gaps on Your Resume

Lots of job candidates assume that hiring managers favor people who have held several long-term roles. But this is not entirely true. Employers often look for applicants who can illustrate their problem-solving skills and tell stories that prove their capacity to get things done. You can showcase these skills whether or not they are tied to a long-term, 9-to-5 job. To them, your abilities are not limited to the tasks you performed in a role. If presented correctly, you can showcase your experience as a combination of those tasks, as well as initiatives you have participated in and learned from outside of your primary “job.”

That said, there’s a good chance you’re omitting projects or stints from your resume that could boost your job search and fill in some gaps. Maybe you took part in a startup competition during school or helped a friend create a social media campaign for their new Etsy store. If you did (or are doing) something interesting in between jobs, something that’s helping you develop new skills, include it.

Try this exercise to get you started: Write down every project you’ve spent time on in between the roles currently listed on your resume, or since you’ve been unemployed. Now, look at the descriptions of the jobs you’re interested in applying to and see if you can make any connections between your list and what the hiring managers are looking for. Ask yourself, “Have I gained any skills that align with the job requirements?”

Your goal is to reframe your experiences in a way that will help employers draw a connection between the role they are trying to fill and the skills you can offer.

For example, let’s say that one of the projects on your list is a podcast that you made during college. You might think that this project has nothing to do with your job search, but if framed right, it could actually add a great deal to your resume. You could highlight tasks like recruiting guests to the show, preparing them for interviews, and making sure they had a positive time during and after the recording. These experiences show communication and production skills that are valued in a variety of industries.

Avoid Future Gaps on Your Resume

If you recently lost your job, and are worried about how long it will take to get hired in today’s market, there are a couple of ways for you to fill anticipated resume gaps while searching for a more permanent role. Our advice: Start a personal project. Being a self-starter is a trait that’s valued by the majority of employers. After all, what’s more impressive than a person who can create something out of nothing?

Your project can take on many forms, but to figure out where you should be spending your time, think about the next job you want to land. What industry is it in? What positions are most exciting to you? What projects can help you build the skills required for those positions?

From there, there are two directions you can go.

Option 1: Venture Out on Your Own

The easiest way to quickly fill a resume gap is to become a creator. Let’s say you recently lost your job as a project manager. You’re still interested in this kind of work, but the wave of layoffs in your sector is causing you concern.

Consider which skills you can leverage while you search for another role. Perhaps your last job provided you with some valuable insights that you could share with other people in your field. You could begin creating content (whether written or on social media) about best practices that companies, employees, and job hunters can use. Within a few months, you may even have enough material to adapt into training modules to share with your contacts.

You may also consider becoming a community organizer or hosting events for people interested in your area of expertise. Today there are plenty of ways to get started — from organizing a virtual meetup to creating industry specific Slack and Facebook groups. Clubhouse, an invitation-only audio chat social networking app, is the newest medium for people interested in starting new communities.

The key is to take your niche — whatever it may be — and use it as a tool to help other people. Whether or not you “succeed,” you now have a project that shows creativity, drive, and initiative to add to your resume. Not to mention, you will expand your network (and your opportunities).

Option 2: Expand Your Network

If you’re not interested in venturing out on your own, and are more focused on landing your next job as soon as possible, you need to get comfortable reaching out to people, often ones you don’t know. Let’s walk through a more specific example:

Let’s say that you are someone who’s interested in a marketing career and you were recently laid off. You hope to join a company as an audience development associate, but most of your experience is in sales. In your last role, you worked with the marketing team occasionally, but only to give them feedback on product and website copy.

What should you do?

As a first step, make a list of all of your friends, family, and acquaintances that run or work at small businesses. Email them offering to help with different marketing activities, like growing their social media following or getting influencers to share their products. If you run out of people that you know, reach out to small brands you find on Instagram for products that resonate with you, and offer to help them reach new audiences by introducing them to communities that you belong to or online groups that you can help them gain access to.

If you do enough outreach, some of these people will engage with you, and pretty soon you’ll have a portfolio of clients that can speak to the value you’re able to bring to a team. Even if you don’t get paid for some of this work, it is still experience that can be referenced on your resume.

This outreach strategy is one that can be applied to almost any industry, and any role.

As workforce dynamics continue to change, savvy hiring managers recognize that tangible skills are acquired through a combination of long-term work experience, self-education, side projects, and freelance work. How you position your background as part of your personal narrative to prospective employers is ultimately under your control. If you’re confident in the value that you can bring to others, your dynamic experience will be seen as the asset that it is.

Source: Harvard Business Review