The days of employees staying with one company for 10, 15, even 20 years are long gone for many.
Similarly, changing attitudes to work and life in a post pandemic world mean many professionals are actively seeking a better work/life balance. Having a personal life and having a career is increasingly seen as complementary, not conflicting goals.
And it’s more usual for professionals to take time out.
In other words, a career break, and it’s corresponding gap on your resume, is an increasingly common occurrence, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty over how best to address it on your career timeline.
You’re not the only one that feels like re-entering the workplace is an insurmountable goal.
You might feel that the hiring landscape is competitive and a career gap can feel like a disadvantage – but it really doesn’t have to be.
Highlight Your Transferable Skills
Whether you were bringing up children or caring for an elderly relative, travelling the world or focussing on study or personal development, you bring a diversity of experience that a colleague without those experiences will lack.
It’s common advice that jobseekers with a large career gap should only display years on their resume, or create a ‘functional resume’, listing roles by type instead of in date order in an attempt to conceal a gap.
Often, this isn’t the best way.
Instead, confront your career gap head-on and explain how you used the time constructively. It often works well to create a separate ‘Additional Career History’ or ‘Personal Development’ section on your resume dedicated to this.
This doesn’t just apply if you’ve been overtly pursuing development opportunities.
Certainly, if you’ve had time to volunteer, take a course or learn a new skill, it can be easier to pull these skills out on your resume. But let’s think transferable skills.
Caring for an elderly relative or a child has been an opportunity to develop your communication and negotiation skills, for example, and has likely improved your ability to resolve conflict.
You’ve probably honed strengths in multitasking and can better handle administrative tasks. Your ability to work under extreme pressure has obvious application in the professional sphere.
By pulling out the transferable skills you developed during your career break, you can rightfully frame that gap for the positive, and could be the differentiating feature on your resume that sets you apart.
Show You’ve Stayed Up-to-Date
Particularly within fast-moving industries such as digital (and – let’s face it – every industry today can be considered digital) HR managers and talent acquisition leaders may be looking for knowledge gaps in the search for potential candidates.
Think about including any industry events or relevant courses you’e attended to show that you’ve stayed on top of industry trends.
Publishing content is another effective way to demonstrate current knowledge plus if you’re tight on time it’s a task that can easily fit around personal responsibilities and can result in a sense of satisfaction.
This can be considered tangible evidence that someone has kept their finger on the pulse during their time off.
Focus on the Bigger Picture
A resume isn’t simply a list of previous jobs. A great resume tells a story, weaving an overall narrative of who you are professionally and the value you add.
This becomes more important if you’ve had a large career gap.If you approach your resume as a list, that gap will stick out like a sore thumb.
Instead of viewing each role as a series of discrete occurrences, focus on constructing an overarching story – in which each role is valuable for its contribution to the whole.
Focus on creating a really exceptional introductory paragraph or summary at the beginning of your resume. This paragraph should focus on your professional value in holistic terms, and every role you’ve had will feed into it. This summary should be the last thing you write.
First, outline the roles you’ve held so far with a focus on the core mandate of each, then evidence your tangible achievements to show you met that mandate.
Over the course of writing, certain themes will recur – maybe it’s driving growth in complex stakeholder environments or maybe it’s championing positive cultural change in the face of resistance.
Whatever your themes are, pulling them out and painting the bigger picture takes the focus off a career gap and places it onto your value as a potential employee.
Key Points To Remember
It’s no longer unusual to have a career gap, and there’s no reason it should have a negative effect on your job application.
A few careful tweaks to your resume will ensure that you position yourself competitively, and will give you the best chances of landing your next career move.
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* This original article was updated Aug 2023.