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How to Handle Gaps in Your Employment History

Smooth out a bumpy work history with these tried-and-true resume tips. [TWEET]

Not everyone is blessed with a picture-perfect employment history that matches their career goals. With a less-than-stellar economy over the past decade, many professionals find themselves with substantial employments gaps or a string of short-term or unrelated gigs dominating their resume. Still, others are battling the same gaps because they took time off to raise their families, care for an ailing relative, or overcome a health condition of their own.

If any of these situations applies to you, keep reading. Below are some ways you can pump up your professional resume and supplement your work experience to make a better case for your candidacy.

Highlight unpaid employment history.

If you volunteered for a role or took on an unpaid internship that allowed you to build relevant skills or gain industry experience, then these positions deserve a place on your resume employment history. Treat each opportunity as you would a paid job by describing your role and highlighting your major contributions and accomplishments to the organization on your resume.

If you stayed at home to raise your children, don’t discount the valuable experience you gained while managing the household and caring for your family. Take a look at this piece I wrote for TheLadders that explains how you can highlight the core competencies you developed as a stay-at-home parent.

If you’re looking for opportunities to help fill your current employment gap, check out resources such as Catchafire and Hands On Network for volunteer work and FlexJobs for flexible and telecommuting internships.

Group freelance work together.

If you freelanced for a number of different clients over a period of time, consider grouping these experience together under one position and then combining the dates. When breaking down the position, use the role description section to describe your expertise (i.e. the services you offered). Then, focus each bullet to highlight the work you did for a particular client and the results you achieved. This will give your resume a cleaner look and make you appear less like a job hopper and more like a committed consultant.

If you held a series of temp jobs that were similar in nature, you can apply this same technique to make your resume look less cluttered.

Remove a position.

In some instances, it may be best to omit full-time gigs with incredibly short tenures from your resume altogether. The general rule of thumb is to remove full-time jobs from your resume employment history it they lasted less than three months. If you’re concerned about deleting the work experience entirely, you have the option to briefly mention this position in a CAREER NOTE at the end of your work history section. Click on the following link to learn more about using career notes on your professional resume.

Invest in professional development.

If your recent work experience has little to do with your current job goals, look for opportunities to bolster the skill sets your target employers care about. If you’re unsure which of your skills need an extra boost, search your network for individuals who work in field you’re pursuing and ask them. It’s amazing how many insights and resume tips you can gain over a lunch or coffee date.

There are many free and low-cost training opportunities available online and in-person. Take a look at SkillShare, edX, Coursera, Lynda.com, and CourseHorse, to name a few. Also, use sites like 10times.com to find conferences related to your target field. In addition to being networking goldmines, these types of events often offer certification programs onsite. If you’re considering a major career change, you may need to go back to school for more extensive training.  

Consider using a different resume format.

If the popular hybrid resume format isn’t doing your qualifications justice, you may want to switch to a functional layout. With this type of resume, the focus is placed on your abilities instead of a chronological summary of your work experience. Monster offers a downloadable Word version of a functional resume template that’s worth checking out.

A word of caution, though; recruiters and hiring managers really don’t like this type of layout, so avoid using it unless you absolutely have to. Click on the following link to learn more about using a functional resume.

Keep your employment history consistent.

A word to the wise: however you decide to modify your resume, don’t forget to edit your LinkedIn profile to match. 93 percent of employers will review your social media profiles before contacting you for a job interview. Make sure the person they see online matches the one they read about on your resume.

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!