Do Gaps in a Resume Matter in Job Interviews?
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“In the end, it is all about storytelling. Tell a compelling story about yourself. Highlight your self-discovery, self-mastery, and adaptability. Always bring it back to a core story or narrative.”
Yuri Kruman, Award-winning Chief People Officer and CHRO
A resume is a tool to get you to the next step in the hiring process: the interview. A good resume will communicate your strengths, qualifications, work experience, and expertise and help you stand out in the sea of applicants. However, sometimes a resume may communicate things you would prefer were overlooked, like a gap in employment.
“The traditional definition of a resume gap is that you are out of a job or have been out of the workforce. It could be that you either were not able to work or you took a career break. Either way, it’s something that jumps out to a recruiter or employer,” says human resource expert Yuri Kruman.
According to Indeed, at least 68 percent of professionals in the US workforce have some kind of gap in their resume. These gaps will vary in length, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that at least 1.1 million Americans have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer. Resume gaps happen for many reasons, which we will cover later in this article, but the fact is that 60 percent of people with these gaps have said they feel like it hurts their chances when job searching.
It happens to people in all sectors with even the most robust work history. Kruman has been no exception: “I was hired for a job in January 2020. Come March, we were making great progress. Everyone like the initiatives I’m implementing. Then Covid happened, and I said it would be a big problem for the company,” he remembers.
“I was told it would be fine. Well, that didn’t happen, and they let me go because I was too expensive. I went back to consulting, but it wasn’t a good cycle, so it meant there were gaps of several months sometimes. I’ve always been a hustler, but if I’m intellectually honest and look at my background, I can see red flags in the classical sense that I jump all over and don’t stick around for long. But I’m aware of those biases because I’ve been through the wringer myself.”
Kurman’s personal experience with resume gaps, as well as his expertise in human resources, give him a unique perspective on how much gaps matter and what to do about them. Keep reading to learn more.
Meet the Expert: Yuri Kruman
Yuri Kruman is an award-winning chief people officer and CHRO, a sought-after HR industry expert, speaker, board member, and leadership coach.
He works with Fortune 500 companies, Top 10 Global Consultancies, VCs/PEs, and fast-growth startups. He also contributes to Fast Co., Entrepreneur, and Forbes, and has spoken at EY, Google, Columbia, and UPenn.
Reasons for Resume Gaps
The Indeed survey found that the top three reasons for a person to have a resume gap include family responsibilities (39 percent), layoffs (25 percent), and relocation (16 percent). However, there can be many more reasons for a gap on a resume.
“As someone who’s had quite a few gaps myself, it can be a lot of things. Maybe you got fired, let go, downsized, or furloughed. You might have left to take a career break if you can afford it because your job was really stressful. You might have given birth and wanted to spend time with your child,” says Kruman. Increasingly, new graduates are struggling to find work, and so they may have a resume gap as they look for their first career job.
Resume Gaps Impact on Hireability
Unequivocally, Kruman believes resume gaps matter: “There’s no question that it has an impact. I think there’s less of a stigma than there used to be five and ten years ago. I think there’s a lot more awareness that people have reasons for their gaps,” he says. “There are more conversations around why they happen and why it’s acceptable and not something that needs a penalty.”
He continues, “However, on the other hand, when you look at the dynamics of the hiring process, unfortunately, hiring managers tend to be later in their career and maybe more conservative. They may still have those kinds of older ideas about gaps in someone’s career and have the biases that come from that. At the end of the day, recruiters and talent acquisition professionals are looking for a way to sort candidates, and this is one way, even if they have been through layoffs or have gaps. People will use any excuse to filter you out just because things are so competitive.”
In Kruman’s experience, where you are trying to get hired can determine how much of an impact your resume gap has” “On the west coast, people tend not to care as much, but on the east coast, there is rampant bias,” he says.
Which Industries Care the Most About Resume Gaps
The type of job can also determine if a gap matters or not. The more professional or technical a job, the more significant impact a gap can have because employers may worry that a candidate hasn’t kept up with their skills. However, a less skilled position, or one that emphasizes soft skills over technical ones, may not care as much.
“No question that the more prestigious jobs care more about resume gaps. Professions like finance, medicine, higher education, and law can be very prejudiced,” says Kruman. “They might wonder if you had a mental breakdown. There are all sorts of inherent biases of survivorship, such as ‘I made it here. Why couldn’t you make it? What’s wrong with you?’ In professions that require a lot of education, maybe too much education, resume gaps can strongly impact future prospects.”
Covid Resume Gaps
In February 2020, the unemployment rate in the US sat at a near-historic low of 3.5 percent. By April 2020, that rate soared to 14.7 percent due to the Covid pandemic. This caused widespread resume gaps for many people to no fault of their own. Despite how common resume gaps are from spring 2020, they impact applicants the same way as any other gap: “Unfortunately, people’s memory is very short, and we’re very kind of willfully ignoring how the last three years went,” says Kruman.
“At the end of the day, it’s a case-by-case basis, but I would say that given the nature of talent acquisition and how recruiters work, the incentives are misaligned. They are rewarded for filtering people out rather than bringing in the right candidate.”
What To Do About Resume Gaps
With resume gaps being so common but bias against them still persistent, what is the best course of action for job seekers? “Well, there’s the ethical answer, and then there’s the practical, and they don’t always overlap,” jokes Kruman. ”Ideally, you should be transparent about it. Don’t try to cover it up. We all know bills are insane, but you have to learn to swim.”
Here are Kruman’s tips on what to do about resume gaps:
Be Strategic About Job Applications
If you have gaps in your resume, it is crucial to make a plan. “You have to learn to not just apply into the void. Customize your resume for each role and clearly convey your background and experience,” advises Kruman. “You should always try to go through an internal referral if possible because that often gets around the automatic filtering. No matter how in-demand your skill set is, you have to ask for help. When times are good and you’re working, you’re hopefully helping others. You shouldn’t feel a stigma about asking someone for their referral.”
Tell a Story
How you tell the reason for the resume gap matters. “In the end, it is all about storytelling. Tell a compelling story about yourself. Highlight your self-discovery, self-mastery, and adaptability. Always bring it back to a core story or narrative,” Kruman says. “Don’t try and twist it into something you haven’t done. Always show you have done the actual work with demonstrated results. But present it in a manner that the particular audience you are talking to will recognize the value.”
Building relationships, not just with recruiters and hiring managers, can help job applicants with resume gaps. “The classical networking event is usually a waste of time because it’s a bunch of other people out of work trying to help each other. Reach out directly to people that maybe you know, acquaintances, or connections, and talk to them about your job search. Sometimes people, out of the goodness of their hearts, decide to help because they have been out of a job, made a career change, or are from a similar background. The human angle is always a much better yield because people relate to each other and want to help.”
During a resume gap, it is essential not to sit idle. The more a candidate can do during downtime and demonstrate it on their resume, the better it is in the long run. “Use it as an opportunity. Learn to fill the gaps. Think about it as a hedging strategy. Open that LLC, do some advising, get on an advisory board, do coaching or consulting, or try out a side hustle. Do anything to get somebody to pay you money to help them with something. Gaps can be a golden opportunity to work on yourself,” encourages Kruman.
“You’re trying to create transferable skills and show that you can create something from nothing. If you have momentum any which way, that’s what will get someone’s attention, as opposed to just listing your past achievements.”