By James Reed
Many CVs have employment gaps. When there are internal promotions or new jobs around, they can count against you. This is particularly unfair if they weren’t by choice. Though not quite sticking to the Queensberry Rules of employment legislation or natural justice, like it or not, CV gaps from taking time out to raise a family, go on maternity leave or from undertaking other time-consuming family care duties and responsibilities (for example, looking after elderly parents) needs to be proactively addressed.
While the world would be a much less compassionate place, in a competitive jobs market it is a sensible precaution for everyone but especially women to consider finessing these inadvertent or notional career gaps. Even if you aren’t seeking out new positions or moving on to pastures new, canny employees of any stripe, experience or seniority need to consider turning their own individual career gaps or breaks to their advantage.
After you return to work from raising a family or family leave, let us consider how anyone can mine their gap rather than mind the gap. Whatever your reason for having holes in your CV, you can be forgiven for thinking a recruiter may be ‘suspicious’. One thing you can be sure of is that they will notice them, so be prepared to go into greater business-related detail about what you did with that time beyond just stating you had, raised or looked after your children.
Having a family — or caring for family members — is an exercise in many business-related skills and attributes. Don’t underestimate their significance and importance. These business-critical qualities often include: time management; exceptional motivational skills (for those around you and yourself); the ability to set, keep and make priorities as well as adapt to sudden change; ad hoc and in-depth research; extensive networking allied to liaison with and farming of new contacts. What is taken for granted in parenting requires a mindset prized by many organisations, irrespective of your present level of seniority. Even juggling your career and outside family responsibilities demonstrates adaptability and fluent multi-tasking.
My key message would be that though having gaps in your work history can – in an unenlightened organisation or business setting – do you a disservice, it is really an opportunity to shine or further burnish your available talents.
When it comes to looking for a new job – rather than returning to an existing one – after a family break, do recognise that while recruiters and hiring managers often have hundreds of applications to sift through during the shortlisting process, this means that they’re quick to find easy reasons to reject people. Their job is to find the best candidate for the job, which means if you don’t tick all the boxes you’re unlikely to be top of the pile. But rest assured there are tactics you can use to work around this problem and give recruiters a reason to consider your application, despite your gaps in employment.
Explain the gaps when you write your curriculum vitae (CV). Don’t cross your fingers and hope recruiters won’t notice — rest assured, they will. When you’re listing your jobs include the gaps, and in your bullet points explain the reasons for them along with a couple of key achievements if possible. Word them positively, too.
Your personal statement also comes into play here. You can mention some of the things you’ve learned and achieved or skills you have burnished at the same time — it’s all about confidence.
Instead of hoping a recruiter will turn a blind eye, take the initiative. Confront and mine these gaps on your CV and use them to your advantage. You don’t have to go into great detail, but list bullet points to briefly explain your new-found or enhanced skill set and mindset. Honesty is always the best policy. For your CV format recruiters prefer the basic reverse chronological layout (where you list your most recent experience at the top of your CV), so try to use this if you can.
Also, if your gaps are pretty minor (covering months rather than years), consider just listing the years rather the months that you started and ended work. However, if your work history shows more time out than in, you need to focus on your skills rather than your work history, which helps you highlight the positive. Given how many people family breaks apply to, we even have a ‘career break template’ on our website to get you started. You do need still need to list your work history along with the gaps, though — don’t miss them out, or try to hide them — this is precisely what makes you the ideal candidate.
This article has been written by James Reed, chairman of the REED recruitment agency in the UK.
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