Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Unemployment gaps and related resume problems

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on March 20, 2010

The competition for landing that next job can be very strong, and in many ways this is a job market that favors the employer. When there are so many candidates out there for any given position they can afford to be very choosy. That is the basic perception in the marketplace and there is some real justification in support of it, and I write this posting with this source of concern in mind.

There are a number of potential problem issues that can come up in a resume as to the work history of a job seeker, and it is very important how you present them if you see possible landmines in your work history. The key bottleneck for this is in your resume. This is the document that has to stand on its own as the candidate list is initially screened and filtered in selecting candidates for more detailed consideration. The good news is that there are often effective ways for dealing with problem areas and the bad news is that there are also very damaging and limiting ways to deal with them too, and that make it look like you are simply trying to cover them up – and some of them are commonly used.

• You were laid off through no fault of your own as a part of a general downsizing at your former employer, or from their going out of business and you have been unemployed for a period of time that may very well extend beyond the period of time you would be receiving unemployment benefits.
• Your resume shows you to have gotten new positions but that you have moved around a lot too. Some and perhaps more than just some of the positions you would list lasted less than a year and in cases less than six months.
• You were laid off with cause – fired rather than downsized in a recent position, and perhaps on your most recent job.

And for issues that might keep you up at night wondering how you can explain them there are always ones like:

• You have a criminal record that has kept you out of the job market for a period of time.

There are other issues and gaps that can come up in a work history and I am not going to try to exhaustively list them all. I will simply add in that regard:

Many job seekers have issues in their past that they might legitimately see as a source of concern to prospective employers – points that might raise questions and red flags in the mind of a resume screener or hiring manager.
How do you more effectively present your case as a great potential hire if you have areas in your work history that might misrepresent your true potential?

There are some basic rules that always apply in a situation like this and I will start with them to bring this discussion into clearer focus.

Never lie in your resume. If for example, you worked until June don’t claim you worked until October, and even if you got a generous severance package that had them sending you payroll or other checks through that period. Any good hiring manager will have someone from HR check and if you say one thing and the HR department at your former employer says something else your chances for this new position are over.
Focus on the positive. This applies to your resume and cover letter and in what you say in any interviews you get. Never speak badly about your former employer as a company or about your former supervisor as an individual. If you do speak badly of others in this way and even with complete accuracy you will raise basic questions about how you would fit into the new company as to discretion, reliability and interpersonal skills.
Look for positive gap-fillers that genuinely apply if you do have gaps in your history of any significant length. This can mean consulting and part time work, or temp work. This can mean taking advantage of a time off to get further training or certification that would add real value in that next position. In this, if you are looking and out of work actually do these things so your claims are valid.
Never, ever submit a “functional resume!” The functional resume, stripped of specific details as to where you worked or when raises the types and numbers of red flags as to automatically send it to the discard pile and with the first preliminary screening. These resumes always raise two questions at the very least: “what are they hiding and who are they trying to fool?” This resume format’s name should come equipped with a skull and cross-bones.

What do you do if you see a real problem in your past? Good people have found themselves unemployed. Good people have found they were working with a business that was not exactly operating according to the ethical or legal standards they would demand of themselves. Good people can work for inept managers and for badly run companies or for companies that simply run into a lot of bad luck. Bad things can happen to good people.

If at all possible, network into the company you seek to work with and start conversations with people on the inside. After you get to know them, and they have a basic sense of who you are candidly tell them about the issues you are concerned about, asking them for their advice on how to present this. This gives you a chance to both learn more about the corporate culture and policies there, and to better understand how to address your issues in ways that would work there. This may also end up giving you an in-house recommendation.

Do not throw any and every possible issue on the table up front but be ready to discuss them and acknowledge the obvious (e.g. I have been out of work for 18 months and have the resume gap to show it.)

Focus on the key points you would want to focus on in any resume, cover letter, and interviewing with a prospective new employer – what you can do for them and in the context of what they need as your research as helped you understand. Focus on being the answer to their problems that bring them to hire in the first place. Approach this process from the consultant’s perspective and as a problem solver who seeks to help them to reach their priority goals and objectives, and as the person who can take these issues off their desk and get them done.

I am going to post a series on jumpstarting your business networking in the next few days that should be of interest to anyone who is seeking that next great job too.

7 Responses

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  1. […] put up a first posting on unemployment gaps and related resume problems on this blog just under two weeks ago and quickly saw the number of views for it jump way up. I […]

  2. […] Unemployment Gaps and Related Resume Problems • Unemployment Gaps and Related Resume Problems, part […]

  3. […] searches, with for example my postings on how to present yourself as a candidate if you have significant unemployment gaps in your work history and part 2. I have also posted a subseries on jumpstarting your search, as entries 47 to 50 in the […]

  4. […] Unemployment Gaps and Related Resume Problems, • Unemployment Gaps and Related Resume Problems, part […]

  5. […] points, review the postings I have added on employment gaps and multiple short-term positions: Unemployment Gaps and Related Resume Problems, Unemployment Gaps and Related Resume Problems, part 2, Multiple Brief Jobs and Related Resume […]

  6. Venicia El-Amin said, on April 1, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    Great Information. I have forwarded to the Career Development and Employment Service teams.

    • Timothy Platt said, on April 2, 2011 at 2:26 pm

      Thanks Venicia, and I will keep your Training, and Career Development and Employment Service programs in mind as I add to my blog.


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